Large numbers of teaching assistants are being thrown in front of classes to cover for absent teachers without proper support - and in many cases, without appropriate qualifications, a new survey has found.
Unison, the largest support staff union, has called on the Government to "clarify" rules on cover, after its study also revealed 66 per cent of teaching assistants covering classes were "actively teaching", instead of merely overseeing work, as existing guidance requires.
Around 40 per cent of the 389 assistants who took part in the survey said they were not given lesson plans when they covered classes, and 22 per cent were only qualified to level 2 or below, under the minimum level 3 required for cover supervision.
Unison, which surveyed teaching assistants and cover supervisors in primary, secondary and special schools, said since "rarely cover" legislation was introduced last September, support staff were also being drawn away from work with special-needs pupils as managers used them to cover for absent teachers.
Rarely cover arrangements now make it impossible for teachers to cover for colleagues except in "unforeseeable circumstances", increasing the bill for auxiliary staff.
Christina McAnea, Unison's head of education, said she wanted Education Secretary Michael Gove to draw up a set of "national standards" on who could cover lessons.
She said: "Too often children and parents are being short-changed and teaching assistants exploited by schools that don't plan properly. Cover arrangements are ad hoc at best, and potentially damaging to children at worst.
"Parents expect their children to be taught by a qualified teacher. And if a teacher is not available, whoever steps in should have the right training and support.
"Since new legislation on lesson cover was introduced last autumn, teaching assistants are increasingly being asked to step into the breach. Many of our members tell us they feel a moral pressure to cover for teachers."
Assistants who replied to the survey expressed concern over the amount of time they had to prepare for cover lessons. One employed as a cover supervisor admitted to being "out of my depth".
Tony Callaghan, a former Bedfordshire headteacher who recently worked several stints as a cover supervisor to investigate how managers were exploiting support staff, said assistants were often left "lion taming" whole classes of pupils. The work left by teachers was often "inappropriate" or "tedious and boring," he said.
He added: "None of the findings in the survey surprise me at all. Lesson plans are often given over the phone or by fax, sometimes not at all."
The Unison survey comes just months after The TES revealed that some agency supply teachers were being forced to accept work at cover supervisors' rates, because schools were now reluctant to spend money on expensive supply staff.
`RARELY COVER' IMPACTS
Since the advent of "rarely cover", cover duties have increased for 37 per cent of teaching assistants.
The majority of teaching assistants said they were "actively teaching" during cover lessons, but 22 per cent were only on level 2 or below, under the minimum required to take whole classes.
Only half of teaching assistants said they had been consulted about being used to cover lessons and had agreed to it.
Source: Unison survey, 2010.
- Original print headline: Two-thirds of TAs engaged in `active teaching', survey finds