Nearly 78% of support staff at UK schools are having to fill in for teachers amid nationwide shortage

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A “worrying” majority of support staff at schools across the UK are being asked to take on responsibilities normally held by teachers, as the country faces a shortage of teaching staff.

According to a survey conducted by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), up to 78 percent of school staff said that they’re having to stand in for qualified teachers due to budget cuts.

For most schools, it is too costly to replace staff who leave by hiring short-term supply teachers – schools in England often spend over £800 million on supply staff annually.

The survey, involving nearly 1,000 members working as support staff, found that 29 percent of support staff said they are expected to take on the full range of duties of a teacher.

One of the survey’s respondents, a librarian in a secondary school in Sussex, said: “On occasion, no teacher has turned up with a class – not something that I am happy about as I have other children also being sent to the library for books, laptops, to use a PC or print out work, whom I need to see, and I am not paid to teach.”

However, teaching unions are saying that this trend, which has increased by 14 percent compared to the previous year, cannot continue.

The government has also warned schools against this practice, as support staff are only meant to help supervise pupils and provide teaching support, but are not qualified to replace teachers and carry out lessons on their own.

A spokesman with the Department for Education told the BBC that while teaching assistants were allowed to teach classes, “we are absolutely clear that schools should use them to add value to what teachers do – not replace them.

“It is up to individual schools to decide how to train, develop and use their teaching assistants effectively.”

The spokesman pointed out that as the core schools budget had been protected, “in 2016-17 schools have more funding than ever before”.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: “As these results show, support staff are feeling the pressure to actually teach lessons and to plug the gap in staff shortages when teachers leave and do not get replaced.

“As the government continues to squeeze school budgets, there simply aren’t enough funds to replace staff.

“It is worrying that this year more support staff feel the work they do when acting as cover supervisor is identical to that done by supply teachers.”

Speaking to the BBC, Rob Webster, who has worked on a project focused on maximising the impact of teaching assistants (TAs) at the Institute of Education, said: “The survey results suggest TAs, cover supervisors, and other support staff are being deployed to backfill teaching staff shortages on top of covering their existing demands, all at the same time as overall staffing numbers are in decline.”

The staff shortage plaguing UK schools appears to be worse compared to neighboring countries.

In the recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study, which looked at education systems in 72 countries, it mentioned that a “relatively large share” of UK head teachers reported that their school was affected by staff shortages.

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