Union boss apologises for insulting school aides

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The Independent Online

The head of one of the biggest teaching unions yesterday apologised over reports that he had dismissed classroom assistants as "pig ignorant peasants".

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the NASUWT, infuriated fellow trade unionists and classroom assistants, who are to be given a new role in schools. Last week The Independent on Sunday disclosed that Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education, would allow classroom assistants to stand in for fully trained teachers in some cases, prompting furious criticism from teachers' leaders.

Mr de Gruchy directed his comments to Ms Morris as she outlined her plans in a speech to the Social Market Foundation. Yesterday Mr de Gruchy, who is well known for his pithy comments, said he had been quoted out of context.

"I said ...we did need good, well-educated people and well-trained people to carry out that extended role. Then I used the phrase which has obviously got me into a bit of trouble, because we can't have pig-ignorant people being left in sole charge of classes," he told Radio 4's Today programme.

"Obviously I'm very sorry about that because not for one moment did I wish to harm anyone or cause any offence whatsoever. Obviously I'm very sorry about that and I'm more than happy to offer my apologies to any classroom assistant."

Unison has produced figures showing that 6 per cent of its classroom assistant members had degrees and 35 per cent had some form of professional qualification. The Government has hired 44,000 classroom assistants since 1997 and plans to take on another 20,000.

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