'Army' of assistants to help push on targets

A 20,000-strong army of classroom assistants and a 5,000 elite corps of superteachers are to become part of the package in the Government's Green Paper to modernise the profession.

Tony Blair said Pounds 20 million will be provided to recruit 2,000 classroom assistants from next April. By 2002, 20,000 will be working in classrooms, largely helping teachers to meet literacy and numeracy targets. The assistants will be trained and will focus upon learning with small groups or individual pupils. The training may count towards later qualifying as a teacher.

There are already 57,000 classroom assistants in schools, and the extra numbers will be used to drive down pupil-teacher ratios. The Green Paper will set out the development of a national training framework for teaching assistants, based on national vocational qualifications.

The classroom assistants will then be on track to progress to becoming fully-qualified teachers. Guidance will be given to teachers on the best ways to use the extra help in the classroom.

Education Secretary David Blunkett also announced that another 5,000 advanced skills teachers will be appointed - paid for from the standards fund. At present specialist schools are able to bid for money to fund the ASTs, who are externally assessed.

Now all schools will be eligible. Teaching unions gave the proposals a lukewarm reception.

They said the extra help would be welcome - but only if the assistants were properly trained and were not an excuse for increasing class sizes in junior and secondary schools.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the NUT, said his union's bureaucracy survey had shown the help most teachers wanted was outside the classroom, not in it - with assistants to handle photocopying and other mundane tasks. "The investment is good, but let's not have a top-down insertion of assistants by the Government. Let's talk to the teacher first."

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