Monday, May 24, 1999 Published at 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
Row over school reading assistants
Primary school pupils are the main focus of the scheme
The government's plans to recruit thousands of extra classroom assistants have come under fire after it emerged that they are to receive just 15 hours of training.
The first 2,000 assistants, who will start work in September, are being employed to help primary school pupils who are struggling with their reading.
A key task will be to improve the achievements of children who have done badly in National Curriculum tests at age seven.
These pupils will receive four 20-minute lessons a week, which will rely heavily on the use of phonics - the teaching method which uses the sounds of letters to help children construct and read words.
Mr Coe has been briefed about the programme by officials from the National Centre for Literacy and Numeracy.
"It was made clear that this was a teaching approach designed for newly appointed assistants, unqualified people with just 15 hours of training," he said.
"We were told that unqualified assistants would take charge of struggling readers for three of the lessons. Only for the fourth lesson, which would take the form of guided reading, would a teacher be involved.
"Assuming that they're inexperienced teaching assistants, I would say that 100 hours training is the minimum for such a direct teaching role."
Teachers' unions said they would oppose anything which impinged on the professional role of their members.
The General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Doug McAvoy, said the union had no objection to classroom assistants working under the direction of teachers.
"But if they were to be given a separate teaching module to carry out, whether they were in a class with teachers or outside it on their own, we would be very anxious about that because that would not be under the professional control of a teacher."