Friday, December 11, 1998 Published at 11:11 GMT
Pay row in the classroom
Assistants help teachers prepare and run lessons
Government proposals to make teaching a more attractive career could have negative consequences for other school staff.
The public sector union Unison says that before implementing plans to recruit 20,000 classroom assistants to relieve teachers' workloads, the government should reconsider assistants' current low rates of pay.
The union was responding to a survey by the National Foundation for Educational Research which shows that more than three-quarters of classroom assistants earn less than £7,000.
Instead the union wants assistants to be better paid and better trained, so that they can offer a higher level of support and play a fuller role in the classroom.
The survey of staff in 500 schools found that classroom assistants were already helping with more than just simple tasks - with a quarter holding qualifications in 'learning support'.
The proposal to expand the number of classroom assistants is part of a package of measures to improve teachers' pay and conditions put forward in a government consultation paper earlier this month.
Unison's head of local government, Keith Sonnet, said that the "enthusiasm and dedication of classroom assistants shines through this survey, despite the shockingly low levels of pay, inadequate training and insecure contracts that characterise their work".
Mr Sonnet said that assistants should be "valued and nurtured, not taken for granted and abused".