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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 13:56 GMT
Class assistants 'vital' say ministers
reading
The government wants greater use of assistants
The Education Secretary Estelle Morris is pressing ahead with a campaign to increase the role of classroom assistants in schools.

She told a seminar organised by Unison - the union which represents 50,000 assistants - that classroom assistants were vital to schools and she wanted them to play as full a role as possible.

"Schools, like all organisations, must value their staff and develop their full potential," she told the meeting.

"They cannot replace teachers and there is no wish for them to do so.

classroom assistant
Classroom assistants are vital, says Estelle Morris
"But teaching assistants have a vital role to play in our classrooms and should be encouraged to contribute as fully as they can.

The government is keen to enhance the role of classroom assistants to help counter the problems of teacher recruitment.

A few months ago, Estelle Morris said she wanted teachers to play a more strategic role, directing classroom assistants to supervise work set up teachers.

But teaching unions have complained that an increasing role for classroom assistants will mean "more babysitting, less teaching".

Recognition

But at the seminar, Estelle Morris said everyone would benefit from an enhanced role for classroom assistants: "Developing the role of support staff is good for everyone in education.

"It will provide teachers with better support, allowing them to concentrate on teaching, and will give teaching assistants the recognition they deserve."

There have been calls for the role of classroom assistant to be more clearly defined and for national training standards for the job.

At the moment, there is no national pay scale and no national qualification or training requirements for the job.

Career structure

The Professional Association of Teachers (PAT), which has a section representing classroom assistants and other support staff, says classroom assistants need a career ladder and salary structure.

Alison Johnston from the union said: "We welcome the secretary of state's emphasis on training, although we await the details with interest.

"It is vital that classroom assistants receive appropriate training, as we know from our own research that many are frustrated by the lack of training on offer.

"We would like to see the creation of chartered teaching assistants to give these fellow professionals proper recognition, using a three-stage system based on qualifications, experience and ongoing professional training."

The shadow education secretary Damian Green said the government was confusing people with mixed messages.

"Classroom assistants deserve a properly defined job, so that they can develop their valuable role in helping teachers.

"Any confusion about that role was caused by Estelle Morris' last speech on the subject, when she suggested that classroom assistants would take the place of teachers in front of the children.

"It would make more sense for the government to sort its policy out first, rather than sending out different messages depending on the audience for each speech."

See also:

17 Nov 01 | Mike Baker
Spin on classroom assistants
12 Nov 01 | Education
What are classroom assistants?
12 Nov 01 | Education
Teachers promised support staff
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