More than twice as many teaching assistants are standing in for teachers and covering lessons because of the coronavirus pandemic, Tes can reveal.
A total of 4,460 teaching assistants (TAs) responded to a survey by public service union Unison last month, in which 25 per cent said they had been asked to lead classes and 27 per cent said they had been asked to provide cover supervision.
A similar survey in 2018 revealed that only 12 per cent of TAs had been asked to perform tasks at a higher grade, including standing in for teachers.
Teaching assistants: Schools' 'invisible' TAs need recognition, not snobbery
Exclusive: TAs' worry over missing help for poor pupils
Jon Richards, head of education at Unison, said TAs were being asked to cover for teachers who were falling ill or having to self-isolate due to lack of testing amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Coronavirus: Teaching assistants under pressure
He said: “TAs filled the gaps during lockdown. It was a crisis and they stepped up. Often teachers were working at home but the TAs were still in schools keeping schools running.
“Now they’re being asked to step up again and do a teacher’s job – yet on a TA’s pay. It’s shocking.
“They want to do their best, and they often don’t want to say no to the headteacher. But they’re being put in a difficult situation, and this is causing added stress.
“And the pupils are getting passed around and missing out on valuable teaching.”
This month the NEU teaching union said schools were less inclined to employ supply teachers during the pandemic due to fears about visitors to the premises, as well as concerns over funding.
Rob Webster, associate professor at UCL, who has carried out research into the effectiveness of teaching assistants, shared this view. He said: “I’m guessing this [situation] is being driven by schools taking a pragmatic response to maintaining safe bubbles and keeping the infection risks down by not getting in external supply teachers.”
He added: “A quarter of TAs [being asked to step up] does seem on the higher-than-average side compared with what we’d normally see pre-Covid.”
Meanwhile, teachers on social media website Reddit said a secondary academy was “taking the piss” after a cover supervisor said she was asked to teach English on a permanent basis to years 7 and 8 for three days a week with no extra pay, after she was told the regular teacher was “not coming back”.
The former FE lecturer said: “Am I being taken advantage of as a cover supervisor? I essentially am planning all the lessons now. There has been no talk of them trying to find a replacement for this teacher and it seems that they intend for me to teach these classes indefinitely.”
The Department for Education has been asked to comment.