By Gary Eason
BBC News website education editor, at the NUT conference
Teaching assistants are intended to reduce the burden on teachers
Schools are employing bouncers to "crowd control" classes in teachers' absence, a union conference has heard.
A London teacher told the National Union of Teachers annual conference he knew of a school that had gone to an agency to recruit two bouncers.
One left after a month after falling out with staff but the other was still employed, he said - the school wanting someone "stern and loud".
The government said cover staff should only be used as a short-term solution.
The union wants all lessons to be taken by qualified teachers but says there are likely to be more cover supervisors taking lessons in future.
Talking to journalists, the teacher, Andrew Baisley declined to name the school involved. But he said the bouncers had been taken on as permanent members of staff.
"I think it's the idea that it's about crowd control and child minding, and if you are stern and loud that's what is necessary to do the job," he said.
The school was paying them £20,000 a year, about half as much as it would have to spend on supply teachers to cover lessons when their regular teachers were not there.
The bouncers had not been trained, he claimed. They were supervising work prepared by qualified teachers.
Mr Baisley stressed he had no complaint about people from any walk of life retraining to be teachers. That was not the issue.
"If a member of staff is away you don't want just any teacher, you want someone from that subject who can interact with the children and advise them and so on."
He added: "You regularly see adverts which say, 'Would suit people with military or police experience'.
"I have absolutely no problem with that, in fact I know of teachers who have come from that background.
"I just think there's something questionable about thinking that that sort of skill is appropriate in a school."
'Firm but fair'
A recruitment agency, Aspire People, advertised vacancies for "Hard Core Cover Supervisors".
"You might be an ex-marine, prison officer, bouncer, policeman, fireman, sportsman, actor or you might be an overseas teacher looking to get some experience in the classroom.
"Which ever it is we need someone who thinks they can get involved in a school environment and control the kids in schools throughout the midlands."
Experience working with children was a requirement, along with "a good sense of humour, a firm but fair approach, a willingness to go that extra mile".
The role involved helping with every aspect of school including administrative work, "taking kids on trips or helping to cover lessons when the work is set".
The NUT conference noted that the use of cover supervisors in England and Wales had increased significantly since changes to teachers' working practices in 2003.
In many cases they were employed on a casual basis and on low wages, with little or no career progression, officials said.
"They are doing a teacher's job for a cleaner's wage," said West Sussex teacher Derek McMillan.
The conference resolved to work with other unions representing many cover supervisors to ensure they were:
• Appropriately qualified
• Trained in school policies
• On a proper contract with decent pay and career prospects
• Used for no more than three days' absence in secondary schools and one day in primaries
A spokesman for England's Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "We're clear that cover supervision should only be used as a short-term solution, to provide continuity when the regular teacher is unavailable.
"Pupils should continue their learning through pre-prepared lessons and exercises supervised by support staff with appropriate skills and training."
Some people think having bouncers in schools would be a good idea, in light of widely reported discipline problems.
The writer and family rights campaigner Lynette Burrows has argued that in pubs and clubs these "large and implacable figures
keep order with a remarkable degree of success".
"Oriental countries show how it can be done," she has written.
"They have a disciplinary janitor, always on hand, whose attention, summoned by the teacher to remove the child from class, is sufficient to maintain an atmosphere where serious learning can take place."