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Assistant numbers up despite pupil decrease

12-02-2008

12/02/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

The last five years have seen a four per cent drop in pupil numbers - about 15,000 children - but there has been a 32 per cent rise in the

number of helpers. There are now more than 6,300 teaching assistants compared to about 4,800 five years ago.

It appears that schools are not facing any problems recruiting staff despite a high profile and long-running dispute, which forced special schools to close last year.

Applicants are attracted to such posts because the role has developed beyond that of providing classroom support. It now involves participating actively in lessons and supporting learning.

Responding to an assembly question by SDLP assembly member Patsy McGlone, education minister Caitriona Ruane revealed there were 6,347 assistants in schools in 2007, compared to 4,805 in 2003.

The actual total is thought to be even higher because figures for Irish-medium, integrated and voluntary grammar schools are unavailable.

A spokesman for the North Eastern Education and Library Board - which employs about 1,300 of the 6,347 - said the increase in recent years was due mainly to a rise in the number of children with special educational needs statements.

There has also been a Department of Education initiative - Making a Good Start Two (MAGS 2), which aims to put a classroom assistant into all P2 classes in mainstream primary schools.

This initiative was introduced in September 2002, following on from MAGS 1 in 1995 which focussed on P1 classes. Some schools have also used their own spare funds to employ non-teaching staff to work with pupils in older age groups, the spokesman added.

 

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