Assistants ease load but make staff jumpy

The growing role of support assistants in the classroom has reduced teachers' workload but added significantly to their insecurity and dissatisfaction at work.

The classroom No 2s have changed "from assistants who wash the paint pots, wipe noses and get the teachers a cup of tea, to team members involved in a much more complex range of learning activities," according to academics from Liverpool John Moores and Birmingham universities. They surveyed almost 550 heads, teachers and teaching assistants about their attitude to the role.

Since the workforce agreement between the Government and teachers' unions in 2003, teaching assistants' jobs have become increasingly multi- faceted.

The researchers quote a primary teaching assistant who said: "I'm a teaching assistant, first aider and staff governor. We work together more as a team with the teaching staff, whereas perhaps before it may have been us and them."

One primary head said: "Two years ago, staff were taking carrier bags of work home. Then the carrier bags moved into little wheelie trolleys. Now staff are staying in school perhaps longer, but they're not taking things home."

For many teachers, anxieties about job security had replaced workload stress. Many felt that staff morale was a hidden casualty of the initiative. One secondary teacher said: "Nobody's job is safe, we have redundancy notices each year, and yet we have two cover supervisors given permanent contracts."

Others felt confused about where their role ended and the assistant's began. They worried that their professionalism was being undermined.

The researchers said: "Shifts in the roles played by staff in schools combine elements of what were formerly distinct roles, of teachers and teaching assistants.

"We argue that such changes could lead to development of complex distributions of power operating both at whole-school level and within staff sub-groups."

'Excavating Changing Relationships between Teaching and Support Roles in Schools'by Linda Hammersley-Fletcher and Michael Strain.

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