AN INVESTIGATION by the Equal Opportunities Commission has found that Scotland's 15,000 classroom assistants are not only undervalued and underpaid, but that some are working as teachers.
A small but significant number are undertaking teaching tasks, from marking pupils' work to looking after a class in a teacher's absence, according to the report.
But responses to the findings suggest there will be pressure on schools to confine classroom assistants to the remit first set out for them in 1999, rather than enhance their role.
As a result of its investigation, the EOC has advised local authorities to examine their pay (between pound;7,000 and pound;10,000) and grading structures to ensure classroom assistants are receiving equal pay for work of an equal value. If not, it warns, they may be leaving themselves vulnerable to challenge under the Equal Pay Act.
Its report also reveals that some local authorities, as part of the im-plementation of the single status agreement, are proposing to re-duce classroom assistants' pay and grading. "This is contrary to the expectations of our independent job evaluation research," it says.
The commission calls for the creation of a national action group led by local authorities, in partnership with the Scottish Executive and trade unions, to address the factors contributing to the undervaluing of classroom assistants.
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities described the report as "over the top" and rejected the EOC's call for an action group. Instead, Pat Watters, Cosla president, said councils would investigate and address claims that classroom assistants were either working beyond their duties or their hours.
Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said he wanted to see greater clarity and respect for the limits of what classrooms assistants should be asked to do.
He warned that "role creep" could have implications for Scottish teaching, pointing to the debate in England over the role of teaching and higher level teaching assistants where they are almost "substitute teachers".
"People should get the right pay for the job they do, but there should be greater clarity about what the job is that they are doing," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive said ministers would be studying the report, but added that guidance issued in 2005 had made it clear that classroom assistants were not substitute teachers.
She added that, when classroom assistants took on quasi-teacher roles, they often did so voluntarily and not necessarily because this was council policy.
"The guidance is clear - they are not teachers and should not be doing a teaching job," she said.