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Hark, the parateachers will soon be here

Professionals usually manage to forge a working relationship with less well-qualified associated staff - we have adopted from the United States the term "paramedic" and no doubt soon all our lawyers will speak of "paralegals".

One difficulty to be resolved, though, is that of the pay differential. If it is too wide, not only are support staff undervalued, the prospect of employing, say, three assistants instead of one teacher might begin to look too attractive. Thus, to understand teacher union fears that classroom assistants with training might become cheap substitute teachers, you only have to look at their low rates of pay. There is some debate over whether trained classroom assistants should have more money - whether, in fact, there should be a two-tier structure of "paint-pot washers" and "trained assistants". At present, though, a classroom assistant earns around Pounds 5 an hour, which adds up to less than Pounds 5,000 a year for someone working whenever school is open.

Any increase has to be funded from a school's formula-funded budget. The difficulty of this is illustrated at Richmond Hill School, Bedfordshire. Headteacher Martin Love persuaded the authority before the advent of local management for schools significantly to upgrade the salaries of three general assistants. Now, he has to bear this cost on the school budget. He intends to keep faith with the arrangement, although he says: "I could actually employ five for the same money on a lower grade."

Consequently, however cordial and efficient are the arrangements in individual schools and classrooms, the profession as a whole will always worry that a renewed emphasis on paraprofessional training is coinciding with squeezed local authority budgets.

While it seems unlikely that any school would put a CA in charge of a class (or that OFSTED would approve), the real question is whether a school might be tempted or encouraged to divide a year group of 80 into two classes instead of three, and use two teachers and two trained CAs rather than three teachers. Whether this is happening, no one yet knows - any evidence would be welcome.

Just to confuse things, though, there is plenty of anecdotal indication of an opposite trend - that when budget pressure grows, the first people to go are the ancillary staff. "I bet you won't find a big KS2 class with a classroom assistant," is how one head put it to me. "Because the assistants will have been sacked as the budget got tighter. Parents want teachers, and we'll do without everything and everyone else before we sack teachers."

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