How Can We Set Decent Purposeful Cover & Ensure It Gets Done?

Setting cover can be a real pain!

Either you’re, in some sense, being expected to be in two places at once.

Or you’re sick.

Either way, it can feel somewhat futile if you doubt that the work will being done, perhaps more so if you’re home struggling through a migraine or the like and are sacrificing your health staring at your laptop screen at six in the morning so it can be sent in and ready…


I guess there are really two issues here:

  1. How can the cover be purposeful?
  2. How can you ensure that the cover work is actually done?

This is not to say that all the answers lie here but here are a few ideas…

  1. How can we ensure that cover is purposeful?

I’ve learned not to set cover that a subject specialist can’t cope with. In the past, I had all sort of high faluting ideas about continuing with the sequence of lessons I’d planned, developing students explanatory skills. That’s fine if another English teacher takes the lesson and knows the mark scheme or basic structures, even the text being studied. It’s really not for any other teacher. I’m expecting too much of them and, experience tells me, often classes claim that they’ve never done it before.

How many times have you had to take cover only to be greeted by cries of:

“We’ve never done this before?”

“Our teacher said we were watching a video.”

“I don’t understand…”


When their teacher returns and you chat the lesson through casually in the staffroom before briefing, they tell you that the class have been studying it or a term already and knew INTIMATELY what to do! As I’ve said before, our students can be naughty but nice…

I’d suggest, keep it simple.

Set one creative writing task, breaking it down to teacher introduction, planning, talking plan through with a partner, writing, correcting and then improving. Give the cover teacher advice on timing and any ideas needed for setting the task. There need not be much more for that…

Perhaps analysis of an unseen extract or poem would work too.

Give the teacher copies of the text, advising them to introduce the big question for the text (How does the writer use language to…), get them to read the text together, summarise it in pairs, select three/five key quotes, use them to answer the question, listen to examples and say which is best.

I’m sure there are lots of other brief simple ideas you could add in the comments!

  1. How can we ensure that cover work gets done?

This is tricky, even for someone as idealistic as I can be.

Two methods I’ve found work are letting the class know (either yourself or through the cover teacher) that the top two students will get some sort of reward (my college sends postcards home) while the bottom two will get some sort of sanction.

Having students work on paper makes it much easier to see whether they’ve actually done the work.

Another method I’ve found effective is to leave a couple of prizes, like lollipops, with the cover so that they can be given out by the cover teacher to the students who have put in the most effort.

Taking the time to write this into the cover might save on a wasted lesson and only takes a minute or two.

Realistically speaking, there is no quick fix that will ensure every cover lesson goes smoothly. A difficult year nine class, last thing on a Friday with a frazzled NQT in charge, may still get very little done. Still, if we make it clear to our classes that we firmly expect them to work hard with or without us, cover lessons may be somewhat smoother and more productive. Plus, we may feel less guilty for not being there, allowing our students to become more independent of us.

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