Schools may be using unorthodox and even "illegal" means to get round supply teacher shortages, it has been claimed.
Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, cites reports of classroom assistants, a community policeman and a retired teacher who did unpaid supply because she missed being in school, all being used to provide cover for classes.
She acknowledges that she has no hard evidence to back up the claims, but says she has received a flood of complaints in recent weeks, not just from supply teachers angry at the cut in their pay under the latest teachers' agreement, but also from teachers concerned about corners being cut.
"Sometimes we complain about rules that govern teachers, but standards are there for a very good reason - to protect teachers. If schools have started using people who are not bound by these regulations, it is the pupils who will suffer," she said.
Ms Ballinger told TESS she had "heard sufficient reports to be very concerned about the situation".
In TESS's online forums, supply teachers have claimed that some schools are deliberately manipulating the situation so that their continuity of service is disrupted, leaving them unable to claim the higher rate of pay for doing supply cover for five days or more.
One teacher describes being "caught out with the `continuous' clause, saying: "I worked every day for two weeks in three different schools, thinking my second week would be paid at the top of the scale. Had a shock when I got my pay slip. I didn't realise that the proper salary scale only started if you were covering the same class for five continuous days."
Another points out that some schools are bending the rules in the other direction, paying the higher rate to short-term supply teachers before they have completed five days' cover.
Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, said: "Headteachers will do everything in their power to ensure it works. Some will play it by the book, others will find ways of rewriting the book."
The Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT) is currently monitoring the pay and conditions agreement, including the supply cover aspect, said Drew Morrice, assistant secretary of the EIS union.
"I am unaware of any circumstances in which a school is using a non- teacher to cover a teaching post. If such a matter were raised with the SNCT, it would be dealt with timeously," he said.
He added that if a teacher were asked to cover for "Mrs Bloggs" in P4 for four days and then to cover Mrs Smith's P1 class on the fifth, these would be considered separate "engagements". However, if on the fifth day, Mrs Bloggs were still off and the supply teacher's service were being deliberately split, that would be a "potential misuse of the system".
John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said it was "very difficult to believe" that schools were using inappropriate cover arrangements.
What TESS forum users say
The treatment of supply staff by different schoolsLAs is like a postcode lottery as I have heard of schools bending the rules slightly and paying short-term supply staff full rate sooner than the five days.
My nephew's father works as a community police officer in a high school. He was asked, on two separate occasions, over the past two weeks to "cover" classes for a while! By his own admission he sat the class in front of a DVD! disgruntledaggrieved
I have also come across a last-year's probationer "volunteering" at the school he did his probation in to keep in with the school.
Original headline: Ballinger gets `flood of complaints' over cover
Photo: Ann Ballinger