Education & Family

Schools 'misuse' support staff, union conference told

Anon teacher and pupil
Image caption Support staff are employed to work with individual pupils or small groups, the union heard

Too many schools are misusing support staff by making them cover for teachers "for protracted periods", a union's annual conference has heard.

This has the effect both of depriving children of proper teaching and putting support staff under pressure, the ATL conference was told.

Delegates voted to campaign to limit the amount of cover that support staff are asked to provide.

Instead, schools should use more supply teachers to do the job, says the union.


"I was flattered my school thought I was up to the task," said Donna-Marie Bryant from Hampshire, who seconded the motion.

"But in reality one cannot teach by enthusiasm alone," she added.

Ms Bryant said she had been asked to cover long-term absences and perform administrative duties.

She referred to research by the union earlier this year which suggested half of support staff who acted as cover supervisors were expected to do the same job as a supply teacher.

Some 62% of almost 600 support staff who responded felt it was not possible to supervise a class without delivering a lesson, said Ms Bryant.

"Long-term absences should be covered by qualified supply teachers," she told the conference.

"The role of cover supervisor is still a valid one to provide a sense of stability and continuity for the class without its regular teacher for a short time, on short notice.

"This role deserves some form of formal training and certification, an opportunity to progress and cover the key skills a cover supervisor uses on a daily basis.

The conference voted to "deplore the misuse of support staff in schools to cover for teachers at short notice and for protracted periods".

'Valuable work'

Support staff who are employed to work with vulnerable children, or small groups, are taken away from this "valuable work" when asked to cover classes, the resolution warned.

"Thus depriving one group of the support they deserve and depriving another class of a qualified teacher."

Julie Huckstep, from Kent, said this practice was the equivalent of being seen by the practice nurse instead of a doctor when visiting the GP.

"If a GP is absent, a locum GP is employed instead, allowing the nurse to continue with his or her own tasks.

"Locum teachers exist. We call them supply teachers. Why is the education sector allowed to be treated differently?"

The union voted to investigate the number of support staff in schools being used to cover classes and to campaign for training and support to help cover supervisors qualify as teachers.

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