More and more schools in Northern Ireland are turning to classroom assistants to fill the gaps left by absent teaching staff, trade union NIPSA has revealed.
The largest union from the non-teaching workforce in education has released details of a survey which shows that 68% of assistants, who are not qualified teachers, have been asked to step in as emergency cover.
The results showed that a further 63% said they had been left feeling under pressure to step in to cover classes.
Schools across Northern Ireland have been struggling to secure substitute teachers to cover as staff absences through Covid and close contact issues have soared in the past few weeks.
With some schools unable to secure substitutes despite making over 100 phone calls, principals have reported being left with no choice to send home whole classes and year groups as no cover was available.
There have also been fears some classes are being left with teachers who are not qualified in specific subjects.
Alan Law, Assistant Secretary (Acting) of NIPSA, said the growing use of classroom assistants to plug the gaps in the education system is alarming.
“Classroom assistants have a vital role to play in the education of pupils but they should not be used to fill gaps created by the absence of teaching staff,” he said.
“This misuse of non-teaching staff has to end. It is disingenuous to pretend that normal teaching is taking place and is creating an environment where some schools are nothing more than a free childminding service.
“The NIPSA survey has revealed that 68% of respondents have been asked to cover a class in the absence of a teacher, with 140 of our classroom assistants indicating this can be for periods up to four hours, 86 indicating this has been for up to one day and 106 confirming they have done for two or more days at a time,” he added.
“The most alarming aspect of our survey was the revelation that 63% of classroom assistants responding told NIPSA that they felt under pressure to cover classes when teachers are absent.
“I am horrified that the goodwill of classroom assistants is being abused in this way. It has to stop and we will be working with colleagues in Unison, GMB and UNITE alongside the teaching unions to ensure that this practice is brought to an immediate end.”