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"Teaching on the cheap" as a third of support staff forced to take lessons

Schools have been accused of “getting teaching on the cheap” by using support staff to teach students.

A survey of teaching assistants (TAs), learning support assistants, cover supervisors and higher level TAs in schools across the UK by the ATL union found that one in three (32 per cent) said they were asked to take classes themselves on a regular basis.

And the expectations on support staff appear to be increasing: 22 per cent said they covered more lessons in 2012/13 than in the year before.

Of the 1,400 respondents, more than 440 said they stand in for the regular class teacher when they are off sick or on a training course. Of these, 60 per cent said they have to carry out the same work as fully qualified teachers, and 65 per cent have to prepare work for the lessons they cover.

While most of the support staff affected said they only occasionally have to cover for absent colleagues, nearly a third (31 per cent) have to take at least one class themselves on most days of the week.

While the minimum salary for qualified teachers in England ranges from £21,588 to £27,000 (in inner London), there are no statutory pay scales for support staff, with salaries varying enormously between schools in different parts of the country.

“The pay for TAs here is dreadful,” said one higher level teaching assistant at a secondary academy in England. “We are paid the same as the toilet cleaner, but more demands are made all the time.”

A cover supervisor at an English secondary school in England said: “We are expected to teach subjects, answer questions, supervise controlled GCSE coursework, and make up lessons on the spot. I have even been asked to give copies of lessons I have prepared to members of teaching staff.”

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted told TES schools are “selling children short by using teaching assistants to teach classes when the regular teacher is unavailable”.

“We are totally opposed to this exploitation of support staff who are being used as a cheap option to teachers,” she said. “It is grossly unfair on them and on the children and their parents who rightly expect their children to be taught by qualified teachers.”

Brian Lightman, the Association of School and College Leaders, also criticised the practice of using TAs as teachers.

“We would not expect people who are support staff to be teaching. They have an important role to play covering lessons and directing the completion of work, but I would not expect them to be teaching. They should not be used as a way of teaching on the cheap,” Mr Lightman said.

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