Ministers' latest move is to propose a new career structure for teaching assistants that will give them the chance of promotion while allowing them to take over many tasks that were traditionally the preserve of teachers. There are two positives to this. First, any real, rather than cosmetic, moves to reduce teacher workload represent a welcome break with the past. Second, it looks as if the huge contribution made by many assistants may finally be reflected in improved pay and conditions.
But as a sizeable study by the National Foundation for Educational Research shows, this solution could create its own problems. The NFER found that teachers are exacerbating their workload problem by refusing to delegate mundane or administrative tasks to junior members of staff.
There is little doubt that large numbers of teachers, particularly those fresh from training college, struggle to make the best use of support staff. Any lack of confidence will only be increased if, as employers'
leaders suggest, the best assistants end up earning more than many fully-qualified teachers.
Nevertheless, if assistants are to make a real impact on teachers' workload the Government needs to put real money behind its policy. Proper pay for assistants to attract high-calibre entrants will be crucial as will training for both assistants and those whose job it is to manage them.
But the policy will not work if it does not win the goodwill of teachers. If ministers follow past form and press ahead with change regardless of the feelings of the professionals then the current industrial unrest will only escalate. The Government must persuade the profession that its enthusiasm for support staff is about more than replacing teachers on the cheap. Increased non-contact time andor a realistic limit on the working week as assistants take the strain would go a long way to achieving that goal.