Thousands more state school children will be taught by unqualified staff as a result of a government decision to axe training opportunities for teaching assistants, it was claimed last night. The move emerged on the day Education Secretary Michael Gove signalled the axeing of the previous government's £55bn school building programme – which aimed to refurbish or rebuild every secondary school in the country. In addition, Mr Gove announced an overhaul of capital investment in England's schools – including a review of 123 flagship academy projects agreed under Labour.
However, it was the shock decision to axe training for teaching assistants that union leaders felt would have the most impact on children's education.
Union leaders have been told the grant for their training – which would allow them to stand and supervise classes for teachers – will disappear next year. Under an agreement reached with the Labour government, teaching assistants have been able to study to become a Higher Level Teaching Assistant – allowing them to supervise lessons.
Union leaders, representing both classroom assistants and teachers, have already expressed concern that too many unqualified classroom assistants are being used as stand-in teachers. Schools are turning to them to avoid paying the higher cost of employing a supply teacher.
With cuts totalling 20 per cent in the education budget in the offing, they expect more schools will turn to unqualified staff for cover in the next few months – especially as an agreement has been reached with teachers that they should only "rarely" have to cover themselves for absent staff.
A worst-case scenario predicts a massive cull of teaching assistants as the cuts begin to bite – and a return to the days when teachers had to do all their admin work and mount classroom displays themselves.
"It is the first step towards the elimination of the job (of teaching assistant) itself," said John Bangs, assistant secretary of the National Union of Teachers. "I feel sorry for teaching assistants who will be very confused about their role. Just axeing the grant is the wrong thing to do. Michael Gove (the Education Secretary) is missing a trick here. Becoming an HLTA is a first step towards becoming a qualified teacher and has opened up a new recruitment route for the profession."
Christine McAnea, head of education at Unison – the union with the highest number of teaching assistants, added: "The Government is playing fast and loose with children's educational needs. What schools desperately need are more teaching assistants trained to HLTA level. Now they are being told there is no more money."
A spokeswoman for the Training and Development Agency for Schools said: "People will still be able to gain HLTA status but the funding for training and preparation will need to be provided by the local authority from other sources. Schools or individuals can continue to fund the training and preparation themselves."
However, Ms McAnea responded: "The TDA is pushing the burden of responsibility on to some of the lowest paid people in schools. There is no way teaching assistants, many of whom earn a term-time only wage of £7 per hour can fund their own training."
In his announcement on the building programme, Mr Gove revealed that 715 secondary schools would no longer be rebuilt or refurbished.
He said the scheme had been beset by "massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy".
Labour's schools spokesman Ed Balls called the axeing of the scheme "a tragedy" for pupils, teachers and parents who would have benefited.
"Today is a black day for our country's schools," he told the Commons.
Some 706 secondary schools will still get their repairs. Entrepreneur and former Bullingdon Club member Sebastian James will carry out the capital spending review.