Byline: Tim Ross Education Correspondent
THOUSANDS of former postmen, driving instructors and nightclub bouncers are being hired as "cheap labour" to teach children as young as five, the Standard can reveal.
Ministers insist that only qualified teachers should give lessons but schools are employing untrained staff - also including former security guards and soldiers - as "cover supervisors" on as little as [pounds sterling]6.50 an hour.
A damning report prepared for the Government reveals how the inexperienced staff regularly teach classes for weeks at a time, putting children's education at risk. The situation will worsen, especially in London, under new rules this term.
The pattern emerged in a 538-page evaluation of the Government's flagship reforms to teachers' working hours. In response to lobbying from unions, ministers introduced laws to limit their workloads six years ago.
But the research team at London Metropolitan University - which surveyed 1,800 headteachers, 3,200 teachers and 2,400 support staff - found 80 per cent of state schools were forced to use unqualified support staff to cover lessons when teachers were absent.
Some of these staff are teaching assistants with "higher level" training, which means they are allowed to teach, but cover supervisors should simply keep order while pupils complete work set by teachers .
The report said: "While in theory the cover supervisors' role was to supervise, most reported that they sometimes did more than this."
A few covered classes for more than two weeks in primary schools or for as much as a term of regular lessons in secondary schools. Professor Merryn Hutchings, who led the research, said her findings should concern ministers and parents.
"Cover supervisors were teaching - setting a task, giving advice and commenting on pupils' work," she said. "They are not trained or in any way qualified for that. The people we met had had careers working in the post office or being a driving instructor."
She added: "It's fine to use them for short periods but when we find that some of them in secondary schools are taking the bottom set for weeks on end, I think that is distinctly worrying."
Teachers were also concerned. One told the researchers: "I feel it's cheap labour." Some headteachers admitted their use of support staff "was driven largely by budgetary concerns".
Schools in London with pupils from the poorest families were less likely to use cover supervisors. This was because headteachers believed "challenging" pupils needed fully trained teachers to maintain discipline and provide an effective education .
From this term, more untrained staff will be hired as new rules mean teachers must only cover "rarely" for absent colleagues. Professor Hutchings suggested this would force some London schools to hire cover supervisors. …