School support staff in England could get their own pay structure - ending years of ad hoc arrangements.
Teaching assistants are taking on more responsibilities
The government has begun moves towards drawing up a framework for pay and conditions for the 300,000 teaching assistants and other support staff.
The development follows pressure from unions representing non-teaching staff and head teachers.
Teaching assistants' roles and training have increased in recent years as they have taken over more classroom duties.
Their numbers are increasing in schools. Last year there was a further 6.2% rise to 305,500 in support staff, who also include administrative and nursery staff.
Qualified teaching staff in England and Wales are governed by a single comprehensive pay and conditions document.
But the pay and conditions of support staff vary from school to school and between local authorities.
They are paid an average of £7.50 an hour. In some cases they are paid for term-time work only, in others they get at least a retainer over the holidays.
The unions have complained the staff are subject to the "whims of head teachers".
Christina McAnea from Unison said: "Many school workers' pay does not in any way reflect the job they do and is determined almost at the whim of the head teacher.
"Surveys show that they do more unpaid overtime than any other group in local government.
"This is a major step forward in Unison's campaign for a fair and consistent pay structure for school staff that recognises and rewards their vital role in education."
The government says any new structure would operate outside the national joint council framework which governs pay and conditions for local government employees.
Education Secretary Alan Johnson said: "I am extremely grateful to the support staff working group for their report and I look forward to hearing back from them on the possibility of setting up a new negotiating body to look at how we can better align pay and conditions of employment for support staff throughout the country."
Head teachers also welcomed the move. John Dunford from the Association of School and College Leaders said: "A national pay structure that recognises the key role of support staff in schools is long overdue.
"In more and more schools, senior support staff are taking on central roles in leadership and management, freeing other leaders to focus on teaching and learning."