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Happy to go home on time

Helen Ward finds out how assistants have transformed the way teachers work at a London school

Few surfaces in Newton Farm nursery, first and middle school are left bare.

Displays cover the walls of the north-west London school and dangle above the heads of pupils. In the hall, a tree made of paper stretches its branches across the ceiling.

The children's work is mounted, glued and stapled by teaching assistants - as it has been for more than a year.

Newton Farm was one of the 32 schools that pioneered the workforce reforms.

The school is part of the Government's Pathfinder project, which means it had pound;100,000 to spend on salaries, training, interactive whiteboards and a further pound;73,000 to build an annexe now used by the school's two teaching administrators, Sally Francis and Moira Cafferky.

Gill Bland, Year 6 teacher and PE and maths co-ordinator, said: "I have not done any photocopying for a year. The teaching assistants put up displays and if a child is late they ring the parents on my behalf. They also do low-level marking, which can save half an hour a day. I now find I just can't do without them."

Now the Pathfinder money has run out, but headteacher Rekha Bhakoo has found cash in the budget to keep on the extra staff and is determined to continue to chip away at the non-teaching tasks that teachers are expected to do.

One idea is to convert the ground floor of a disused caretaker's house into a parents' centre.

Mrs Bhakoo said: "The primary aim is to involve thecommunity in increasing children's attainment.

"Holding classes on how to help your child would also help teachers because children would be better informed. I think it would have a real impact on the school."

Mrs Bhakoo aims to appoint a co-ordinator to oversee the centre, which could also be used as an area where parents could meet teachers or other professionals.

But the biggest benefits MrsBhakoo has seen are the changes to staff roles:

"The Pathfinder project was probably the most dramatic change we've made in such a short period of time.

"Without the money, we would not have had the annexe, the investment in technology and we would have had one teaching administrator instead of two.Teachers used to feel guilty going home at 4.30pm. Now they don't."

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