General Teaching Council Northern Ireland

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Teaching assistant controls urged


19/06/2008 :: UK :: BBC News

The use of teaching assistants in schools should be subject to much tighter controls, a union has said.

Unison says assistants are being used for cheap teaching across the UK.

Christine McAnea, of Unison, said the practice was "endemic" as it cost less to use support staff to cover teacher absence than to buy supply teachers.

England schools Minister Jim Knight said teaching assistants eased the burden on teachers, but should not lead classes "for more than a short period".

It costs about £150 a day to employ a supply teacher, but about £50 to pay support staff.

Rosemary Plummer, a Unison representative, said in the last few months more than 40 teaching assistants from a small area of London had told her they felt they were being asked to do more than they were qualified for.

"They're delivering maths, they're delivering literacy and marking work - that's a teacher's job... they're being used as cut-price teachers," she said.

On covering teacher absences, she added: "It's very easy to use teaching assistants on lower rates of pay - it would cost an awful lot to bring in a supply teacher."

Ms McAnea, Unison's head of education, said schools were often "putting people in front of children who may not have the right qualifications or experience to do this".

The practice had to be much more tightly regulated, she said.

'Not interchangeable'

In the last decade the number of teachers in England has risen by around 10% - from 399,000 in 1998 to 440,000 now.

The number of teaching assistants, however, has risen by almost 200% over the same period, from 61,000 to 177,000.

Unions are working closely with schools and the government to update the job descriptions of support staff in an effort to prevent the exploitation of assistants.

The government and teaching unions agree that teaching assistants are crucial to the smooth running of schools.

Their role was initially outlined as being to help and support the classroom teacher, and they were expected to be adept at working one-on-one with pupils or small groups.

But the guidelines on the exact role of teaching assistants are vague, and much of the role they do is at the discretion of their headteacher.

However, the government is clear that support staff should not be teaching classrooms of children unsupervised.

Mr Knight said teaching assistants are doing an incredibly good job, but should not be seen as "interchangeable with qualified teachers".



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