Teaching assistants covering twice as many lessons in the pandemic

UNISON survey reveals huge rise in numbers doing higher-grade work as teachers fall ill or fail to get tests

Typical classroom scene where an audience of school children

UNISON has discovered that twice as many teaching assistants (TAs) are standing in for teachers and giving lessons than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

A survey from the union has seen 4,460 teaching assistants respond, with 25% saying they had been asked to lead classes and 27% saying they’d been asked to provide cover supervision.

A survey in 2018 revealed that 12% of teaching assistants had been asked to undertake tasks from a higher grade, including standing in for teachers.

UNISON head of education Jon Richards said that teaching assistants were being asked to cover for teachers who were falling ill or having to self-isolate due to lack of testing in the pandemic.

“UNISON has been raising concerns with the government about the exploitation of teaching assistants for years,” he said. “Austerity saw higher-grade jobs cut and increasing numbers of TAs asked to cover the work of their missing colleagues – often without the training or support they need.

“The COVID pandemic has exacerbated the problem, as some teaching assistants are asked to do the full role of the teacher, but on a TA’s pay.

“We put this directly to the Schools Minster recently and asked for extra guidance for schools.”

Earlier this month, the National Education Union teaching union was reported in TES as saying that schools were less inclined to employ supply teachers during the pandemic due to fears about visitors to the premises, as well as concerns over funding.

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