Leading article: Debating the wrong issue

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The Independent Online

That does not differ in any way from the original workload agreement, which said that - in some circumstances - classes could be doubled up. That would mean one teacher, with one or two classroom assistants, in charge of 60 children. Indeed, that was the issue most newspapers seized upon on the day the agreement was signed, two years ago. But what has changed is that the day when this part of the agreement comes into force is now dawning.

So there is really no substantive debate - just a lot of political noise. Smith was justified in saying what she said. She was simply restating Government policy and the press was reporting that.

There are, however, legitimate grounds for debate on whether classes should be taken by classroom assistants. It is because of many teachers' antipathy to this idea that the issue of doubling up classes arises. We have always believed there is nothing inherently wrong with classroom assistants taking classes, provided that they are adequately trained and supported. We accept there are those, like the National Union of Teachers, who disagree. The problem is, as we showed in a survey last month, that many schools do not have enough money to ensure adequate training for such classroom assistants.

Three out of four primary schools said they would have to make cuts in September to give all teachers 10 per cent of time away from the classroom for preparation and marking. This is the issue that everyone should be addressing - not whether, at some point in the day, 60 pupils will be grouped together in one place with possibly three adults, a teacher and a couple of teaching assistants, to look after them.

After all, that is an adult:pupil ratio of 20 to one - far better than the one that existed in many schools before the Government came to power in 1997.