Assistants deserve a better deal if they cover long-term in the classroom, says union.
SCHOOL SUPPORT staff, alleging bullying and intimidation by headteachers, have begun a fight for better pay and conditions.
Many are being forced to cover classes long-term to allow teachers scheduled planning time, according to a survey of 1,000 support staff to be published soon.
Christina McAnea, the head of education for Unison, the public services union which commissioned the survey, said support staff should be paid the rate of unqualified teachers if heads expect them to do teachers' jobs.
There are nearly 600,000 support staff in schools, most working part-time.
Ms McAnea said some earn as little as pound;5,000 a year.
Recruitment firms have been advertising for cover supervisors to teach classes for longer periods. They are meant to fill in only for short-term or unplanned teacher absences. Reed Education advertised last month for cover supervisors in east London who could teach subjects including maths, science and history, paying pound;70 a day for long-term contracts.
ITN Mark Education advertised for cover supervisors to "teach and inspire"
in East Midlands schools, paying from pound;100 a day for assignments of varying length.
A petition on the Downing Street website demanding that every child should be taught by a fully qualified teacher and not a covering assistant has attracted more than 120 signatures.
Unison, which represents 230,000 school support staff in England and Wales, voted at its annual conference in Brighton this week to press on with government-sponsored negotiations to set up a national deal.
Support staff and other local government workers also voted to co-ordinate with other unions on a possible national strike over the Government's bid to freeze pay rises below inflation.
Ms McAnea said that about 85 per cent of school support staff earned less than pound;16,000 a year. "It's absolutely appalling," she said. "People feel totally vulnerable. It's not just the bullying - it's the moral blackmail to work unpaid hours so that little Johnny can go on a school trip. When you're at the bottom of the pecking order, it takes a strong individual to stand up to the head."
Ken Owen, a Unison delegate, said heads intimidated low-paid staff into taking on extra work. "Headteachers are prepared to bully to do things on the cheap," he said.
But John Dunford, general secretary of the Association for School and College Leaders, said he was not aware of heads forcing staff to take on inappropriate work. "There's a fine line between one person's perception of bullying and another's attempt to improve standards of work," he said.