For a whole variety of reasons, but normally because of budget constraints, schools are increasingly using support staff as de facto teachers. Indeed, some schools have been found to use TAs and even non classroom-based support staff to stand in for absent teachers.
The evidence is stark: In our 2023 survey of support staff members, 75% of members who undertake cover supervision reported no difference in criteria between their duties and those of a supply teacher. Furthermore, 73% of those acting as Cover Supervisors said it is not possible to supervise a class in their school without delivering the lesson themselves.
The workload agreement
The primary aim of the 2003 workload agreement was to tackle the excessive burden faced by teachers, to eliminate all non-teaching functions from their daily workload. The agreement established two new support staff roles: higher level teaching assistant (HLTA) and cover supervisor.
What is an HLTA?
The agreed definition of an HLTA is:
“To complement the professional work of teachers by taking responsibility for agreed learning activities under an agreed system of supervision. This may involve planning, preparing and delivering learning activities for individuals/groups or short term for whole classes and monitoring pupils and assessing, recording and reporting on pupil’s achievement, progress and development.”
Specified work is defined as:
- Planning and preparing lessons and courses for individual pupils, groups and whole classes
- Delivering lessons to pupils including delivery via distance learning or computer aided techniques
- Assessing the development, progress and attainment of pupils
- Reporting on the development, progress and attainment of pupils
The teacher will exercise their professional judgement, based on what is best for pupils, as to whether it is more appropriate for them or an HLTA to carry out particular ‘specified work’. This will depend on the level to which the professional judgment and expertise of a teacher is required, e.g.
“Delivering lessons to pupils” could include anything from an ‘A’ level class in Further Maths to practising times tables. A higher level of professional expertise and judgment of a teacher is required in the former whilst the latter could be delegated to an HLTA of sufficient competence
“Assessing the development, progress and attainment of pupils” could include anything from the formal assessment of coursework to marking and collating scores from a multiple-choice test. The former is a more complex and demanding task that requires the skills of a teacher, whilst the latter could be delegated to an HLTA.
The responsibility for teaching, learning and outcomes remains with the teacher and, ultimately, the Head:
Qualified teachers make the leading contribution to teaching and learning, reflecting their training and experience. Each class/group for timetabled core and foundation subjects must be assigned a qualified teacher to teach them (subject to the existing unqualified teacher provisions). Accountability for the overall learning outcomes of a particular pupil must rest with that pupil’s qualified classroom/subject teacher.
(Workload Agreement, Paragraph 61, first indent, page 12)
Yes, they can, but only on a short-term basis.
Cover supervisors and high level teaching assistants are for short-term absences only ….. they should not be used as the remedy for the medium or long term absence of a qualified teacher.”
(Workload Agreement, Paragraph 33, last indent, page 8)
NEU advice is that HLTAs should not be used to cover whole classes for more than five consecutive days in a secondary school, and no more than three consecutive days in a primary setting.
The use of HLTAs to undertake ‘specified work’ is not intended to worsen pupil teacher ratios but improve them so in a situation where support is normally present the level of support should not be reduced. So if the HLTA or another TA is normally present in the classroom when the teacher is present, there should be additional support for the HLTA when the teacher is not present.
Yes. HLTAs who undertake specified work should have an appropriate percentage of paid time within their contracted hours set aside to enable them to plan and prepare for their own role in lessons and liaise with their class teacher/s.
Sometimes TAs with HLTA status are issued with split contracts, whereby they are deployed to do higher level work for part of the week and paid a higher rate for this, but are then deployed for the rest of the week as a general TA at a lower level of pay.
Such practices are based on the assumption that HLTA work only relates to working with a whole class. However, if a TA has the skills and knowledge to take a whole class they clearly have a range of skills that can also be used in a variety of other settings supporting the work of teachers.
WAMG advice on this states that casual arrangements – which give to TAs who meet the HLTA standards enhanced pay only for those hours when they are deployed with whole classes – are not in line with the aims of workforce reform and the principles of the National Agreement. Therefore, schools should consider whether they have a broader range of work that would enable them to maximise their use of an HLTA’s skills or, indeed, whether these resources could be used more widely in collaboration with other schools.
In a four-level grading system, HLTAs should be paid at Level 4 i.e. the highest support staff grade.