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Monday, 12 November, 2001, 15:34 GMT
What are classroom assistants?
Classroom assistants could play a much wider role under a reform of teaching proposed by the government. But what are classroom assistants?

What is a classroom assistant?

They are people who support fully-qualified teachers, taking on non-teaching tasks such as photocopying, but also with duties such as listening to children read.

What's new about the proposals?

Classroom assistants have been around for many years - especially if you include parents volunteering support as well as paid staff. But the present government has seen assistants as a way of changing how teachers work.

The proposals are that teachers should take on a more strategic role, given more time for lesson planning and preparation.

The classroom assistants are intended to take up the slack, carrying out tasks such as photocopying or collecting dinner money.

Already classroom assistants help with the literacy hour in primary schools, for example, listening to children reading, and this type of involvement could be expanded.

This could also extend to looking after classes when teachers are not present, such as supervising a project already set by teachers.

This has been challenged by teachers' unions which say that assistants should not be used as substitutes for teachers.

Are they vetted to work with children?

The Department for Education says that all classroom assistants are subject to the same vetting procedures as any other staff working with children.

How well qualified will they be?

Unlike teachers, classroom assistants would not need to be graduates and would not have undergone teacher training. And unions have emphasised that assistants should not be used to tackle the shortage of fully-trained teachers.

But there is funding available for training - and assistants will emphasise they are making a skilled contribution that is more than just "helping out".

Levels of training can vary, because "classroom assistant" can cover many different types of support. A survey recently found that there were at least 21 different job titles used to describe classroom assistants.

How many more are to be recruited?

The government wants another 20,000 classroom assistants in place by the end of next year. But there have been claims that to allow teachers a reduction of five hours a week in the classroom, another 50,000 would need to be recruited.

How much do they earn?

A survey carried out by a teachers' union found salaries ranging from 9,531 to 12,444 based on a 32.5 hour week.

The public service union Unison, which represents about 50,000 of them, says their pay averages 8,000.

Pay is negotiated locally and is not subject to the national review process for teachers' salaries.

Typically they are not paid for holidays - but nor can they claim benefits when not working in school.

See also:

12 Nov 01 | Education
Teachers promised support staff
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