`Use dogs to round up pupils'

COSY CLASSROOM posts usually reserved for Hammy and Fluffy could be usurped by Fido and Rover after a teaching union called for dogs to be trained as teachers' assistants.

The Professional Association of Teachers asked for canine help after delegates at its annual conference in Southport forced a card vote. The motion, pleading that "surely the time has now come for trained dogs to help", was passed.

Wendy Dyble, an infant-school teacher on the Shetland Islands, claimed that dogs could round up children or impose discipline by barking at badly behaved pupils. "If you have a crocodile of five-year-olds walking from A to B, the teacher cannot be at the front and the back at the same time," she said.

"The dog will also be useful in sniffing out smells that children do not own up to. It would be nice for the teacher not to have to go around sniffing each child to find the culprit."

She said many children had no pet at home and dogs would help them to relate to animals. "It's hard to establish a meaningful relationship with a classroom gerbil," she said.

The 35,000-strong association is the smallest , most moderate, and most eccentric of the teaching unions. Nigel de Gruchy, leader of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "Teaching is really going to the dogs when they spend time talking about things like this."

But the Canine Defence League said it was an excellent idea. "We already take trained dogs into schools to educate children on how to behave around them," a spokesman said. "It will teach kids about caring for other living things and how to be safe around dogs, but most of all it would be fun."

Lucy, the guide dog of David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, was not available for comment.