Assistants 'exploited', says union

4th January 2008 at 00:00
Classroom assistants are being exploited in schools which use them as supply cover for absent teachers, according to the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association.

David Eaglesham, the SSTA's general secretary, said it was not acceptable for schools or authorities to save money by asking classroom assistants to substitute for teachers to lower staffing expenditure.

"Our members have reported to us with increasing frequency that in a number of schools classroom assistants are being deployed to cover for absent teachers.

"While it is clear that classroom assistants do an excellent job and are a valuable asset to schools, they are neither trained nor paid to be substitute teachers. Their role is to assist in classrooms, not to be alternative teachers," he said.

The Equal Opportunities Commission's report Valuable Assets found that 20 per cent of classroom assistants had indicated they were routinely asked to take whole classes for absent teachers; only 58 per cent of teachers surveyed said they would feel the need to raise this as an issue with the headteacher.

The SSTA fears the encroachment in Scotland of the practice in England whereby teaching assistants are allowed to cover for a teacher. Mr Eaglesham called for assurances that:

- children are taught only by qualified teachers;

- classroom assistants are not required to act as teachers, no matter how capable they may be; and

- classroom assistants are given the opportunity to train as teachers if they wish to pursue such a career.

The education spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Isabel Hutton, denied that classroom assistants were being exploited.

"We value classroom assistants for the job they are employed to do," she said. "I agree that they are not teachers. Only teachers can teach and we are very clear on the role of a teacher and the role of a classroom assistant

"No one has the authority to ask classroom assistants to cover for teachers - if there are any abuses we would want to know," she said.

COSLA was involved in a working group looking at the Valuable Assets report, she added.

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