Children worse off with classroom assistants, report says

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Children do worse in tests and exams the more time they spend with classroom assistants, according to a major study published today.

The report, due to be unveiled at the British Education Research Association conference in Manchester this morning, says the classroom assistants have significantly reduced teachers' stress levels - but had a negative effect on pupils' progress.

The findings are an embarrassment to Labour which has made great play of its achievement in increasing the number of support staff in schools since it came to power.

Since Labour came to power in 1997, their numbers have risen from 133,500 to 322, 500 last year.Researchers at the Institute of Education, London University, discount the idea this is because of the low attaining profile of the children teaching assistants work with. They say their survey of 8,000 pupils compared youngsters of similar ability, social class and gender who were with or without classroom assistants.

Professor Peter Blatchford, who headed the research, said one of the key reasons was that less than a quarter of the teachers surveyed had been trained to manage teaching assistants.

In addition, only a quarter of the teachers surveyed - and only one in 20 in secondary schools - had allocated any time for feedback on pupils with their teaching assistants.The report also found that - the more time a pupil spent with a classroom assistant - the less contact they had with the teacher.

"While TAs are extremely dedicated - many work extra hours without pay - their routine development to pupils most in need seems to be at the heart of the problem," said Professor Blatchford.

"Pupils with the most need can be separated from the teacher and the curriculum."The report describes the negative results on academic progress as "troubling", adding: "We found a negative relationship between the amount of additional support provided by support staff and the academic progress in pupils in years one (five and six-year-olds), three (seven and eight-year-olds) and seven (11 and 12-year-olds) in English and mathematics and ten (14 and 15-year-olds) in English."

In national curriculum tests, results showed seven-year-olds given support for between one and 50 per cent of their time at school scored one point less in English (which could be the equivalent of achieving level two - the standard for a pupil of that age - and failing). the difference between those with the most and least support was three points.

It was a similar story with maths and in national curriculum tests for 11 and 14-year-olds.

"A consistent view of teachers, when they considered the benefits of support staff for their own teaching and pupils' learning and behaviour, is that the TA's presence allows more teacher attention to the rest of the class and therefore better progress for the rest of the class," the report added.

It went on: "Some support staff are less well qualified than teachers and this might be expected to be related to the educational progress of pupils that are supported..."TAs' subject knowledge did not match that of teachers."

It concludes: "It would seem appropriate to argue that all pupils should get at least the same amount of a teacher's time, and, indeed, that those in most need are most likely to benefit from more, not less."