Teachers scupper Mum's Army plan: Ministers accept non-graduates would be ill-equipped to teach primary pupils

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The Independent Online
MINISTERS yesterday gave in to teachers and abandoned plans to recruit a 'Mum's Army' of non-graduates to teach pupils aged seven and under in primary schools.

Instead, there will be new certificated courses for classroom assistants so that they are better equipped to help with reading, writing and arithmetic.

Lady Blatch, Minister of State for Education, said the Government had been convinced by the arguments of teachers that mature people qualified for higher education, who had received only a one-year training course - the original proposal - might not be sufficiently versatile to teach different age groups of children. Nor would they have the variety of experience that was required.

She said: 'We have not moved away from our notion of using this reservoir of talent but we have modified our views in the light of our consultation exercise.'

Lady Blatch also announced that, by September 1996, all primary teacher training courses must put more emphasis on English, mathematics and science, and especially on reading and arithmetic. Students training to teach in the primary sector will spend more time in schools.

Ministers hope that many of the tens of thousands of classroom assistants, some of whom are unpaid, will come forward for courses which will allow them to become 'Specialist Teacher Assistants' (STAs). Their courses would count towards entry to teacher training if they wished to take a teacher training course later.

John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, said: 'The development of the new certificate will ensure that those mature people who are already making a valuable contribution as classroom assistants, can extend their role by receiving specialist training and gain qualifications to build on in the future.'

Lady Blatch said that classroom assistants did a wide variety of tasks, glueing and sticking, helping small groups and listening to children read. The Government wanted them to be able to help pupils acquire basic skills.

Teacher unions welcomed the changes. Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: 'I congratulate the Government for having the sense to drop its proposal for a mum's army of under-trained and under-educated recruits. The introduction of properly trained classroom assistants will help free teachers from many routine activites and allow them to concentrate on the real task of teaching.'

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: 'We have no objection to exploring appropriate routes by which non-teaching staff could become teachers, providing there is no question of diluting academic and professional standards.'

Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, was glad the Government had accepted the classroom assistant idea - 'the educational equivalent of para-medics' - that his association had proposed.

The minimum time to be spent in schools on primary teacher training courses will increase from 20 to 32 weeks on a four-year course, 15 to 24 weeks on a three-year course, and from 15 to 18 weeks in one-year Post Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) courses.

There will be new six-subject, three-year training courses to ensure that primary teachers can teach the whole curriculum well.

Leading article, page 17

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