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Classroom staff suffer most

Session 2010-11 will be remembered for drastic cuts in education budgets which caused great distress and demoralisation in many schools throughout Scotland.

Whether or not redundancies and compulsory transfers have been handled correctly, these cuts have highlighted an irony which the McCormac review, and our Government, should consider.

As we know, classroom assistants and learning auxiliaries earn much less than a classroom teacher. As we progress up the hierarchy of school staff, salaries become much bigger. The fact that the largest salaries are awarded to those who spend least time with pupils is both ironic and disturbing. As the cuts continue, it has also emerged that those who spend most time with pupils, such as classroom assistants, are most likely to have their posts deleted.

Most of us who work in schools know that, especially nowadays, many children display a real hunger for interaction with adults - for dialogue, banter, discussion, even simply attention or recognition - which they often do not get from their parents. It is classroom assistants and teachers who usually fill that vital role.

One of the most telling aspects of this is the anxiety caused when any of these staff are absent through illness. They are vital and expensive to replace. When those who do not work in the classroom are absent, there is much less concern.

Yet interaction with children is very poorly valued indeed and those who do it most are least likely to be consulted about initiatives. It is managerialist values which are given priority and which, therefore, preserve the managers at the very top of the hierarchy when cuts have to be made, rather than those at the bottom.

So we need a new kind of audit in Scottish education: first to identify, reassure and support those who actually work with children; second, to examine, with some rigour, those who do not work with children and to require them to justify their positions - and their salaries.

If we can value what is most important, it is possible that a much healthier and less traumatic pruning of expenditure might begin.

Coinneach McKie, Name and address supplied.

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