From dole to school helper

Raymond Ross

A WEST of Scotland project that trains the long-term unemployed to become classroom assistants is set to expand with the potential to revolutionise the kind of adults pupils will encounter in the classroom.

Run by the Wise Group in partnership with Glasgow, Renfrewshire and East Ayrshire, the project aims to help achieve the Scottish Executive's target of reducing staff-pupil ratios in primary schools to 15:1.

The Executive plans to do this largely by recruiting 5,000 classroom assistants by next year in a pound;65 million programme. The teachers' settlement also provides for assistants to be introduced into secondary schools, beginning with the first two years, as part of the drive to deploy 3,500 additional support staff over the next three years.

So authorities will have to look beyond normal sources of recruitment. The Wise Group, having built its reputation through projects with disadvantaged groups, began a pilot in January 1999 with five trainee assistants from Glasgow. By August that year, 40 trainees were involved and next session there will be some 40 trainees from Glasgow, 13 from Renfrewshire and six from East Ayrshire.

Anastasia McBride, the Wise Group's skills' training manager in Glasgow, says: "We have had a success rate of over 70 per cent in placing trainees in jobs and we would like to work with other local authorities. The key to success is partnership.

"This is not just a training programme. The trainees are paid and it is very much a hands-on programme with them learning in the school environment. The project spans 46 weeks with 27.5 hours per week spent in schools."

The shortage of classroom assistants in Glasgow is such that the Wise Group will be running three shorter programmes in the city of 13 weeks each next session to deliver basic skills more quickly. The project leads towards an SVQ in child care and training includes first aid, computer skills and practical and theory lessons.

Paula Berry, a Lanarkshire housewife who has recently completed her training, begins a permanent contract with East Dunbartonshire in August. "The course allows you to gain actual experience of the working environment rather than just getting college theory. You start off two days a week in school and you end in a placement most of the time.

"You write about classroom situations where you can see the child development taking place, the growing self-esteem, and this makes the study very interesting and practical.

"This time last year I was a housewife looking for suitable work as a mother of three. Now I'm delighted. It suits me and the children."

Janice Shaw, education personnel manager with East Ayrshire, says that the scheme has drawn younger recruits to posts usually filled by women who have already raised families. "It's a different way into the market and it has attracted younger women. It's good to get a mixture."

So far 44 of the Wise Group's trainees have found full-time jobs as classroom assistants.

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Raymond Ross

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