Classroom assistants and support staff … the modern day staff that plays a vital role in our classrooms all through the ages, whether it be a 1-1 TA to support a child with physical disabilites, or a TA dealing with groups of children. It is no secret that they have helped significantly improve the way we teach in this day and age.
However, a union today has claimed that classroom support staff say that they are increasingly being asked to stand in for fully qualified teachers. A third (32%) of support staff in UK state schools polled by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said they took classes for absent teachers. Over a fifth (22%) said they took more classes in 2012-13 than in 2011-12.
A Department for Education (DfE) spokeswoman said: “The rules are clear – they should not be teaching.”
The DfE said teaching assistants and other classroom support staff played a vital role in the classroom, short of teaching whole classes of children. “The government’s recent review of school efficiency showed that, when properly trained and deployed, teaching assistants play an important role in helping to improve learning,” the spokeswoman said. “It is for school leaders to use the expertise of all staff to ensure any disruption to pupils is minimal and that taxpayers get value for money.”
The ATL polled more than 1,400 of its members working as support staff in state schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A spokeswoman for the union said the rules allow classroom assistants to teach small groups of children under the supervision of a qualified teacher, but they should not teach whole classes or prepare teaching material. Higher level teaching assistants may prepare material under the supervision of a teacher but should not be teaching whole classes, while cover supervisors are employed to supervise classes while pupils complete work set by a teacher. A quarter (25.4%) of the teaching assistants and learning support workers surveyed and almost half (49.1%) of higher level teaching assistants said they were asked to cover lessons.
Of the 400 who said they stood in for the regular class teacher, 60% said they did the same work as fully qualified teachers, claims the union, while a third (31%) of these staff said they had been used to take classes for three or more consecutive days. The union quotes a higher level teaching assistant at a secondary school in England: “I prepare, teach and mark at least four lessons for two year-7, bottom-set classes, and a year-8 set for at least three hours a week. It is teaching on the cheap.”
I’m not going to sit here and justify schools using these tactics. It is wrong. Support staff are there for supporting children’s learning, hence their name, not as cheap replacements for teachers who have had training in their roles. But let’s sit back and think about why schools would do this sort of thing. Schools have gone through reform after reform, budget cut after budget cut in real terms, so these schools will want to look at ways of getting their wage bills and other expenses down. It is a sorry state of affairs and schools who have used this tactic should be ashamed of themselves. There are rules in place that you must follow, so refusing to follow those rules means you are not acting professionally and therefore should be shut down. There are enough issues going on in the education system without schools breaking the rules. I would rather have fewer, larger, higher quality schools than a load of schools who don’t have a moral or professional sense.