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1,000 bursars to help ease staff workload

Bursar training and likely pay rises for classroom assistants may lighten the load, Karen Thornton and Nic Barnard report.

New training courses for school bursars and a review of teaching assistants' pay are among emerging developments that could help to reduce teachers' workloads.

The Department for Education and Employment is to fund 1,000 places for bursar training at the National College for School Leadership.

And local government leaders later this month will launch a review of the pay and career structure of school support staff - still one of the lowest-paid groups in local government. Questionnaires are due to be sent out this week to around 1,400 schools, asking them whether, and how, administrative support has led to improvements in education standards.

The National Foundation for Educational Research will report its findings in January, coinciding with a workload survey backed by the DFEE.

Estelle Morris said she wanted more schools to create bursar posts - around half now have them or equivalent positions. She also wants small schools to employ "shared" bursars using some of the pound;80 million a year allocated for joint initiatives to make economy-of-scale savings on administrative duties.

But there were no promises from the Government of additional ring-fenced funding to allow schools to pay for bursars. Bursar and teacher organisation believe schools generally would rather fund more teachers than administrative staff.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said 1,000 seemed "woefully short of what we need - although it's a start".

Peter Rickard, secretary of the 800-strong National Bursars' Association, welcomed the training proposal. But he added: "A difficulty in the past has been that some schools have saved on bursars' salaries to invest in teachers instead."

The Local Government Association will be meeting later this month with employer and employee representatives to discuss the role and regrading of school support staff, including classroom assistants. All manual and white-collar local government staff (teachers excluded) are being regraded under a single contract.

Part of the process will involve ensuring equal pay for work of equal value. This is likely to lead to improvements for school support staff, since most of them are women.

Local government union UNISON wants to look at all issues affecting school support staff, including term-time contracts. Employers and unions in Northern Ireland recently agreed to put school staff on a 52-week contract.

A UNISON spokeswoman said classroom assistants were now earning only 38 per cent of average teachers' salaries - compared to 45 per cent in 1995, despite increased workload.

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