Headlines: June 15th, 2010

A new survey says schools are relying increasingly on teaching assistants to step in and cover lessons. The study, commissioned by the public sector union UNISON, reveals a lack of proper planning to cover for absent teachers leaving assistants to fill the gaps without enough training and support.

In the survey, 40 per cent of assistants reported not having access to lesson plans when they had to cover classes. Only just over a quarter of them had the higher level teaching assistant training they needed to teach whole classes. The study said a change in legislation in September last year, which freed teachers from having to cover for absent colleagues, except in emergencies, had meant an increase in the number of lessons being covered by TAs. Two thirds of assistants in the survey reported that they were actively teaching, not supervising pupils.

UNISON has written to Michael Gove, the Education Secretary and is calling for national standards to be drawn up for lesson cover. It has also warned that children, particularly those with special educational needs, could pay the price if no action is taken. The union’s Head of Education, Christina McAnea, said: “Too often children and parents are being short-changed and teaching assistants exploited by schools that don’t plan properly, with cover arrangements that are ad-hoc, at best, and potentially damaging to children at worst.”