Bring on support act for teachers

Heads and employers push for back-up staff to take on admin tasks. Warwick Mansell, Jon Slater and Karen Thornton report

LONG-RUNNING attempts to cut teachers' workloads received a major fillip this week as headteachers and employers threw their combined weight behind moves to transfer administrative tasks to support staff.

The Secondary Heads Association and the National Employers Organisation for School Teachers (NEOST) said that schools must take on more back-up staff to reduce the demands on qualified teachers.

In his latest monthly newsletter to members, John Dunford, general secretary of the SHA, counsels realism to heads considering taking on extra teachers, warning that there are simply not enough to go round.

He adds: "This is an ideal time to discuss with staff how the school's workforce might beneficially be reshaped. I strongly recommend that all heads do this without delay."

Talks on workload reduction, which began 18 months ago, reconvened yesterday, with school standards minister David Miliband meeting employers'

representatives and union leaders.

Graham Lane, chairman of NEOST, said employers were pushing for all administrative tasks to be taken off teachers' hands by the end of the term.

The moves are highly significant. A key plank of the Government's strategy to reduce the demands on teachers is that non-teaching tasks, from taking the register to exam invigilation, are carried out by "para-professionals".

But similar exhortations to schools in the past have foundered because heads and governors have complained of not having sufficient support workers.

Education Secretary Estelle Morris suggested over the summer that heads would not receive extra direct funding next year unless there was a national push to use the money to take on administrative staff.

The National Association of Head Teachers was more cautious, however. It plans to wait until after the publication of the official government proposals on workload reduction later this month before issuing advice.

A new study this week, however, threw further doubt on the value of teaching assistants in reducing workload, though Dr Dunford argued that other staff, from bursars to exams officers, were more significant in cutting demands on teachers.

A review of existing research by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that teaching assistants helped raise pupil performance, particularly in literacy and numeracy, but may have increased rather than reduced the burden on teachers.

Teachers now had to manage other adults as well as a class of children. Research by the Office for Standards in Education reached similar conclusions in April.

"Teaching assistants in schools: the current state of play" by Barbara Lee - for details go to www.nfer.org.uk

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