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Assistants get cautious welcome

Classroom assistants are making a positive contribution to teachers'

teaching and pupils' learning - but the jury still seems to be out on precisely what it is.

The Scottish Executive's spin on it is that there is "a general belief" that classroom assistants have helped improve pupils' attainment.

Their cautious confidence is exemplified in the subtle change in the title of the report, More Than An Extra Pair of Hands, compared with the interim findings published in September last year which took the more tentative form of An Extra Pair of Hands?

Nicol Stephen, the Deputy Education Minister, cited the encouraging belief among a majority of headteachers and teachers "that classroom assistants have had an indirect impact on pupils' attainment".

He added: "They allow teachers to spend more time on teaching and planning which will ultimately improve the quality of lessons our children receive."

The Executive clearly does not need much convincing since it has ploughed in another pound;72 million this year and next to continue the classroom assistants initiative. This is on top of the pound;65m initially committed to the programme, which aimed to create 5,000 posts; by the end of March there were 4,227.

But the final report, prepared by the Scottish Council for Research in Education, says it is impossible to define precisely what contribution assistants are making to raise attainment. The fact that there are other policies aimed at doing the same thing complicates the picture, it states. The interim report found that teachers ranked early intervention above the presence of assistants as a factor, followed by cuts in class sizes.

Nonetheless, two out of five teachers said having classroom assistants had allowed them to spend more time assessing pupils' attainment and a few said they were doing more whole-class teaching.

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