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Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
Assistants fail to cut school workload
classroom assistant
Ministers are encouraging the use of assistants
Classroom assistants in primary schools are improving the quality of pupils' learning but not reducing the workload of teachers, inspectors say.

The study by the schools inspectorate Ofsted found classroom assistants in England now spend more time helping children with literacy and numeracy leaving them with less time for helping teachers with administrative chores.

In some cases teaching assistants were being used to cover for absent teachers.

The government made a manifesto pledge to recruit an extra 20,000 assistants before the next election.


When assistants are most successful they show many of the characteristics of good teachers

Ofsted report

It has become a vital plank in its campaign to tackle teacher workload.

With teachers' unions threatening industrial action on the workload issue, the Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, had hoped that the greater use of assistants would help.

Ofsted's report shows assistants improve the standard of education.

But it warned that heavy reliance on teachers' aides could actually lead to more work for teachers.

Benefits

Helping children with their learning takes the assistants away from their traditional tasks like photocopying worksheets and refilling paint pots.

"Schools will need to manage these competing priorities carefully to ensure that teachers' workloads do not increase at a time when strenuous efforts are being made nationally to reduce them," the report said.

Mike Tomlinson, Chief Inspector of Schools, said: "This report confirms some of the benefits that trained teaching assistants are bringing to the primary school classroom.

"But, as yet, the considerable public investment in expanding their numbers has not led to a reduction in teachers' workloads."

'No surprise to teachers'

The leader of the National Union of Teachers, Doug McAvoy, said teachers knew the additional burden that came with managing teaching assistants.

"It is crystal clear from the report that teaching assistants are not a magical solution for reducing teacher workload," he said.

"The report sends an emphatic message to the chancellor that the growing number of assistants in our schools has not led to a reduction in teachers' workload.

"He still has the task of funding a reduction in teacher workload in his comprehensive spending review."

'Ridiculous'

The Department for Education and Skills said teaching assistants, used in creative ways, could help to reduce teacher workload.

"That is why we are working with unions and other bodies to raise the profile of teaching assistants by increasing their numbers and improving their opportunities for training and career development," a spokesman said.

The Shadow Education Secretary, Damian Green, said the government must avoid trying to use assistants as substitute teachers "to disguise the crisis in teacher retention".

Professionalism

Ms Morris made her appeal for more assistants to be taken on in a speech last November, to prevent a potential shortage by 2006 of 40,000 teachers.

The number of assistants in England's schools jumped from just over 61,000 to almost 96,000 between 1997 and 2001.

The review found that teachers value assistants' support highly and appreciate the benefits of having another adult in the classroom.

"Although no-one should pretend that teaching assistants are teachers, when they are most successful they show many of the characteristics of good teachers," the report said.

"Making the most of such abilities should certainly not threaten the professionalism of teachers; rather it should be encouraged and developed to the full."

Rich-poor divide

Ofsted's report said most teaching assistants were women, especially those wanting to combine part-time working with raising a family.

In affluent areas, schools have no problem getting assistants.

Ofsted cites one case where a head teacher was able to appoint graduates in science and English, and a qualified physiotherapist, to three vacancies.

But in poorer areas, schools can struggle to recruit good enough staff.

"One headteacher reported that he was losing teaching assistants to local supermarkets that were offering better pay as well as family-friendly hours."

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The BBC's Mike Baker
"The government is strongly committed"
See also:

01 Apr 02 | UK Education
02 Apr 02 | UK Education
17 Nov 01 | Mike Baker
12 Nov 01 | UK Education
12 Nov 01 | UK Education
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