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'Dogsbodies' who take the load off teachers

Jean Rudiger is the longest-serving teaching assistant at her inner city school in London. The 62-year-old is due to celebrate her 25th anniversary of working at Mowlem primary school, Bethnal Green, in Tower Hamlets next April.

"The job has changed a lot over time and it is much more of a teaching role now. When I first started I used to do reading and dismantle displays, but now there is a lot more involvement in the class - I help out with all classes and take groups of pupils.

"There are also teaching assistants in every class, which never used to be the case."

She said that when she first started at the school in April 1977, she was paid pound;29 a week, and is now paid around pound;10,000 a year for a full-time job. "I love the job but I don't get rewarded enough."

Assistant headteacher Julia Burns at the 221-pupil school said Jean was one of nine teaching assistants, with two learning mentors as part of the Government's Excellence in Cities programme.

Donna Valentine, 35, has taken up the job of being a teaching assistant after returning to work for the first time in 14 years.

The mother-of-three said she started work around a year ago at Comber Grove primary school, in Camberwell, south-east London.

She works in two reception classes from 9.30am to 3pm Monday to Friday, helping to make pictures and books for the pupils.

"I love the job and especially the art side of things. It is also good as I have two of my sons in the school - and it is the first time back at work since I had my son 14 years ago."

Donna said she was not asked for any qualifications when she took up the post at the 350-pupil schoo and gets paid around pound;10,000 a year.

"I think we do give the teachers quite a lot of help and allow them to get on with other things."

Head Mike Kent said that the school currently employed 10 teaching assistants, including some who worked with special needs children.

"They all have their individual strengths and Donna is particularly talented, with a lovely, calm personality. To a certain extent teaching assistants are dogsbodies in the nicest possible way because one minute they are sharpening the pencils and the next making arts and crafts."

Wendy Wheatley, 39, has worked as a classroom assistant at Towers Junior School in Hornchurch, Essex since last September. She works four days a week, four hours a day on a pro rata salary of pound;12,000. She began working voluntarily at her children's school before beginning her current post.

"We didn't receive any training initially because the head wanted to assess our needs, but this February I went on a numeracy course which gave me tips on how to encourage pupils and showed me the latest teaching methods," she said. "It also helped me see things the way a child might."

Wendy would like to find out more about a NVQ level 3 course that she heard about through a friend. The school has also arranged for her to attend a four-week course on key skills next year.

"I enjoy the job a lot. You never feel that you can't ask something, and the teachers make you feel welcome and included. The most satisfying part is the variety. It's great when you feel you have made something stick in the child's head. I can't think of anything negative to say about it at the moment."

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