Don't resort to 'cheap labour'

24th January 2003 at 00:00
The NUT threatens action if support staff get jobs at expense of teachers.

Warwick Mansell reports

INDIVIDUAL schools face the threat of industrial action by Britain's biggest teachers' union if they attempt to use support staff as "cheap substitutes" for teachers.

The National Union of Teachers, which refused to sign last week's agreement on reforming the profession, is launching a campaign to stop schools boosting support staff numbers at the expense of teachers.

Heads warned that it would be a "non-event" because no school would take on support staff simply to cut the pay bill.

The move comes as teachers contacted The TES backing the NUT, particularly the warning from Doug McAvoy, its general secretary, of the possibility of pupils being taught in double classes.

Five teaching unions and three others representing support staff signed the deal to cut working hours, which guarantees teachers time out of lessons to do marking.

Routine administrative tasks are to be transferred to support staff and new "super assistants" will be able to cover for teachers.

Jean Webster, a primary teacher from Falmouth, Cornwall, was "appalled" that her union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, had given in to government "threats" to sign the deal. "Much as I admire many assistants, I do not want to spend my time planning their lessons," she said.

A Nottingham teacher wrote on the TES website: "Cheap labour! That's all the Government wants. I can't believe they expect teaching assistants to teach a whole class and only be paid peanuts for it."

The NUT will next month issue guidance stating that the ratio of qualified to support staff in any school should reflect the needs of teachers. Any reduction in that ratio would prompt regional union officials to talk to heads and governors, with the threat of industrial action on a school-by-school basis a possibility if there was no progress.

But David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "This will be a non-event. Heads are not going to introduce support staff at the expense of teachers in the way the NUT envisages."

The NUT has been frozen out of the talks on workload reductions by ministers after refusing to sign last week's agreement. It has no immediate plans for a national campaign of industrial action.

One school is already using non-teachers to take timetabled lessons, allowing qualified staff a morning and an afternoon of non-contact time every week.

Little London primary school, in Leeds, hired a sports coach and a musician to offer specialist tuition to pupils from last September.

Head Peter Hall Jones said staff absences had fallen dramatically and morale had been enhanced.

"The staff say this is the best thing we've ever done. We have clear evidence of the impact this has had in PE, and it's made a big difference to the quality of music lessons," he said.

However, research published yesterday by Britain's general union the GMB revealed that teaching assistants commonly carry out only six of the 25 routine tasks which the Department for Education and Skills wants teachers to give up. The remaining 19 were usually done only by clerical or administrative staff.

The GMB's survey of 1,033 teaching assistants and nursery assistants also found that many felt they were treated as "second class", "invisible", "spare parts" or "servants".

More than 50 per cent of the teaching assistants delivered lessons prepared by a teacher, 80 per cent marked pupils' work and 46 per cent contributed to lesson planning.

Meanwhile, England's General Teaching Council this week supported the NUT by suggesting that ministers draw up a list of duties which only qualified staff can undertake .

The Government has refused. All teachers' duties can be taken on by unqualified staff under appropriate supervision, say draft regulations.

Peter Wilby, 29 Letters, 31 Briefing, 33

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