Classroom assistants teaching three Rs, says watchdog

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The Independent Online

Classroom assistants are taking on a major new role in helping teach primary schoolchildren the three R's, according to a report by inspectors to be published next week.

Classroom assistants are taking on a major new role in helping teach primary schoolchildren the three R's, according to a report by inspectors to be published next week.

Teachers' unions have said that plans to expand the role of assistants would lower classroom standards, but Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, will say their role has already been enhanced from simply preparing materials for teachers. A survey of 67 primary schools will also reveal that standards of teaching have improved in classes where the teacher and classroom assistant work in partnership, despite fears expressed at teachers' union conferences that their employment could lead to a "dumbing down" of the profession.

Their key new role, according to the report, is in helping deliver the daily maths lesson and literacy hour, compulsory in every primary school.

The study will say that teachers "value highly" the support the classroom assistants can provide – particularly the fact it gives them another adult in the room so they can spend more time with individual pupils. However, it will warn that some schools need to improve their deployment of classroom assistants, and points to the need for a clear career structure for them.

The report will conclude that where the employment of classroom assistants works well, standards benefit, but that some schools have not managed the transition to giving them an enhanced role in the classroom as well as others.

It calls for newly qualified teachers to be given specific training on how to work with classroom assistants.

It also suggests there should be more monitoring of the time classroom assistants spend with lower ability pupils or those who have special needs.

The report comes at a time of controversy over the role of classroom assistants. The three big teachers' unions all warned at their Easter conferences of the dangers of classroom assistants being used to "dumb down" the teaching profession. Delegates spoke of the prospect of them being used as a cheap alternative. However, they acknowledged they could play a big part in reducing their workload.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers warned that government plans to expand the work of teaching assistants was threatening to damage classroom standards with the employment of unqualified staff.

Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education, is keen to employ them as the pivotal part of the Government's strategy for modernising the teaching profession. The Government wants to employ an extra 20,000 during the life of this Parliament.

Ms Morris has suggested they could take lessons themselves on occasions when a teacher is either away on a course or ill if work has been set for the pupil.

* A senior government adviser has accused universities of sabotaging plans for reforming secondary education by ignoring new qualifications. Professor David Hargreaves, the main architect of the Green Paper on the reforms, claims they all but killed off new key skills qualifications, telling students they had never heard of them or that they were irrelevant.

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