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Schools ‘break law’ on teaching assistants, NUT claims

3 July 2010 14,166 views 11 Comments

teaching-assistantsBBC TV News 3 July 2010 09:53 UK - Some teachers are comfortable leaving support staff in charge at times
Schools could be breaking the law by asking support staff to teach lessons when qualified teachers are absent, the National Union of Teachers has claimed.
Since September, teachers in England and Wales have only been expected to cover for colleagues on rare occasions.
But some schools are using classroom assistants to fill in, rather than more costly supply teachers, the union says.
Ministers say that if support staff deliver occasional lessons, they should be under a teacher’s overall direction.
Assistants are allowed to supervise classes if they have the right level of qualifications.
But the NUT says they should not actively teach and, if they do so routinely, then schools could be breaking the law.
“What the regulations say is you can only do specified work, which is teaching, if you’re under the supervision of a qualified teacher. What you can’t do is take over on your own, plan lessons, run classes etc,” said John Bangs, head of education at the NUT.
‘Cheaper option’
He said the employment of supply teachers – qualified teachers employed to cover absent staff – had “gone through the floor” because “they [were] being replaced by cheaper cover supervisors and support staff”.
Governors have got to be very clear they ensure there is money and provision for a supply teacher to come in
Headteachers faced a “real temptation to employ cheaper, unqualified staff” in the current climate, but evidence showed putting support staff in inappropriate roles led to a drop in standards, he said.
Mick Brookes, who leads the head teachers’ union NAHT, said their policy was to make sure the “appropriate person” was infront of the classroom.
“Mostly that’s a teacher, but there are circumstances where somebody else would be perfectly fit and competent to be infront of a group of people, for instance a sports teacher, someone teaching music or a languages specialist,” he said.
He said there were cases where teaching assistants could manage a class well.
Some teachers felt confident their assistants could supervise the class because they knew the children and subject work, whereas they would not know the qualities of any supply teacher they might be given, he said.
The NUT’s John Bangs: “This is not anti-support staff”
“My fear is that teaching assistants… will be first in line [for job cuts] and that will mean – as most of them provide support for children with special educational needs – a deterioration of that support.”
Christina McAnea, head of education at Unison, said she was “very concerned” some teaching assistants might be being stretched.
“Most of our members are actually being paid incredibly low rates of pay, most of them haven’t got sufficient qualifications.
“Part of the workforce agreement says that to do specified work, to actually be actively teaching, should be someone who is HLTA – higher level teaching assistant level – only about 25% of the people we surveyed actually had that qualification,” she said.

Margaret Morrissey, from the campaign group ParentsOutloud, said teaching assistants were “probably the best thing to have happened to schools in the last decade” but there was reason to be “cautious”.”The occasional emergency teaching or class supervision by a teaching assistant is going to harm no children.
“But they don’t have a teaching degree… they are not there to teach, they are there to assist.
“So governors have got to be very clear they ensure there is money and provision for a supply teacher to come in,” she said.

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11 Comments »

  • Helen said:

    I am a Teaching Assistant and cover the class when my teacher is out of school. I have a degree, better general knowledge than the young teacher I support and better spelling and grammar too. I have a wealth of experience in a classroom, supported by fantastic training in classroom management and other aspects of teaching. I am not a teacher as I took ten years off work to have my three children and am now finding it extremely difficult to fit in a teaching qualification with my families needs. Out of the five assistants in my small village school, three of us are graduates with children of our own. We can cover a class of children that we work with every day, knowing their topics, be consistant with the teaching style of their teacher and have continuity in the class. I have seen some appalling supply teachers and know of many teachers who use this as an easy way to earn good money for very little effort.
    The flip side to this is that Assistants earn a very small amount and much of what we do is for the love of the job. I do think Headteachers are using some Teaching Assistants as cheap cover, but when you consider the very expensive alternative, who can blame them.

  • mzdw4w (author) said:

    Philip said f.a.o Margaret Morrissy I applaud your interview on BBC this morning and your philosophy. But the problem is more widespread than Teaching Assistants occasionally overstepping the mark . I know DEFINITELY that in a large school in Maidstone near me, a woman with no GCSEs or qualifications, trained as a hairdresser, is teaching “problem children” full time. I am told this practice is common.

  • Nikki said:

    This practice is common because schools are trying desparately hard to cut costs so you can understand why it occurs. However, schools need not find themselves in this situation as there are many options available to them to cover supply staff costs. The most expensive is to use commercial insurers that pay out to cover the supply staff costs but this is the least-risk/most-expensive option. All schools should be members of a mutual staff sickness fund of some sort. These are undoubtedly the lowest cost for the lowest risk and are often run by the schools’ local authority, so all schools should be campaigning for their authority to operate such a scheme. However, many authorities cannot be bothered, do not have the necessary experience or just run them inefficiently and so the schools must either go to the commercial market or cover costs themselves (self insure). Despite this, there are now organisations who can help local authorities setup and run these schemes in an optimal fashion so there is no longer an excuse for authorities to shirk this responsibility. Mutual sickness funds save money and keep qualified teachers in front of the children. All schools should be searching for “schools staff absence and claims management” in Google to get more guidance and persuade authorities to act more positively to help them.

  • Petronius Philips said:

    t is totally unacceptable, undermining, disrespectful and hypocritical to both pupils, parents and teachers who have worked hard to get qualified, made many financial sacrifices, passed a rigorous probationary year and then have UNQUALIFIED staff acting as “teachers” in our classrooms.

    Every lesson in every school should have a graduate qualified and registered GTC[E] teacher otherwise the education of our pupils is severely compromised.

    Teaching assistants, learning support staff, cover supervisors etc are there to assist the qualified teacher and this must be enforced by all right minded headteachers otherwise the entire educational system is severely undermined. Cynical cost-cutting and bluffing one’s way through lessons actually harms pupils and is unacceptable in any society particularly in developed nations.

    It is appalling that it has been allowed to happen in this country!

  • Petronius Philips said:

    It is totally unacceptable, undermining, disrespectful and hypocritical to both pupils, parents and teachers who have worked hard to get qualified, made many financial sacrifices, passed a rigorous probationary year and then have UNQUALIFIED staff acting as “teachers” in our classrooms.

    Every lesson in every school should have a graduate qualified and registered GTC[E] teacher otherwise the education of our pupils is severely compromised.

    Teaching assistants, learning support staff, cover supervisors etc are there to assist the qualified teacher and this must be enforced by all right minded headteachers otherwise the entire educational system is severely undermined. Cynical cost-cutting and bluffing one’s way through lessons actually harms pupils and is unacceptable in any society particularly in developed nations.

    It is appalling that it has been allowed to happen in this country!

  • ConcernedTA said:

    I am afraid to say unqualified staff covering whole classes is widespread, very common and can only happen because head teachers allow it too!
    To the poster Helen above who claims she is better than a regular teacher re spelling etc, I say if you are that good, then go and get QTS and do it officially then.
    It is NOT acceptable that unqualified staff can cover classes on the cheap, keeping qualified Supply Teachers out of work, who have taken the trouble and cost of going to teacher training college and getting QTS.
    Yes, I know there are poor Supply Teachers, but that is a separate argument and certainly NOT an excuse to make it worse by using unqualified staff to teach children!(There are poor teachers and TAs too!).
    In my school, people who have NO qualifications of any description, regularly cover classes for a few extra pounds an hour (around £10 an hour as opposed to their normal £6 to £8 an hour), purely so the head can save a fortune on paying Supply Teachers their going rate (£35 an hour).
    Even worse, these people are held in high esteem by the head, whilst those of us who object and refuse to take part in this shoddy practice, get the cold shoulder treatment and are labelled as trouble makers!
    If you want to be a teacher, and think you are good enough, then please do the children and yourself some justice and go and get QTS.
    Otherwise, leave teaching to the professionals, and let our children have the qualified teacher they are entitled to!

  • Anne said:

    A little confused regarding this issue. My friends children were being taught by high level teaching assistants for 6 months as they did not replace the teacher who left. This year they have a teacher 3 days a week the other 2 days they are being taught by a high level teaching assistant again. The LEA said to my friend that the above was ok. Is this correct? This is an important year for them as they are in Year 6 now and have not had a full time teacher for 3 years.

  • QG said:

    The employment of unqualfied staff as cover “teachers” is unacceptable, undermining, devaluing and actually in denial of the basic educational and human rights of all our children.

    TAs are by definition in the classroom to assist the teaching and learning of pupils under the general direction of the qualified teacher.

    Siouxsie above, I believe has become misguided, unprincipled, brainwashed and hoodwinked by others into the morally wrong and illegal? belief/practice that children should be “taught” by unqualified but experienced teacher assistants.

    Of course there are some excellent TAs within both the primary and secondary sector but because the curriculum is a lot easier to deliver at primary level, headteachers in collusion with TAs are getting away with this highly dubious practice.

    One wonders whether anyone fairminded would accept children being “taught” by dubious, bluffing unqualified staff at Key stages 3, 4 and 5 i.e. GCSE and A-Level as a cynical cost saving ploy!

  • Helen said:

    my son is in year 2 and over the last few weeks I have noticed his class is being covered by a teaching assistant on a regular basis.
    His class teacher is deputy head and this role tends to mean she is not available in class.
    A lot of the teaching assistants are unqualified, and have been employed after previously working as dinner time supervisors.I have found out today that all the dinner time supervisors have now been given the title of teaching assistants too,even though they have no experience or qualifications.
    I feel that covering lessons with an unqualified teaching assistant is totally unacceptable.

  • [email protected] said:

    Iam also a teaching assistant but in hairdressing college, i also cover

  • Anonymous said:

    I am not surprised that standards in our country are falling,if children are being taught by unqualified people……………what is happening………….are we giving every child the best opportunity with their education………I don’t think so.

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