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Huge effort to train assistants

20,000 staff to be groomed each year to take classes and bring 'quiet revolution' to schools. Jon Slater reports.

The new breed of classroom assistants who will take charge of classes will receive 50 days' of training.

In his first public indication of plans to recruit and train the new higher-level support staff, Ralph Tabberer, chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency, said that the aim is to train 20,000 assistants per year.

This means, by 2005, there could be two per school.

Higher-level assistants are expected to take lessons while teachers get half a day a week off for preparation and marking.

As The TES revealed two weeks ago, academics believe that there are currently just 10,000 assistants with the qualifications and experience to take on a higher-level role.

If the 20,000 per year target is met that will mean that there could be 50,000 higher-level teaching assistants by 2005.

Mr Tabberer said that all higher-level assistants will have to meet national standards. "It is going to be a quiet revolution. We have got to move from working harder to working smarter," he said.

He suggested much of the training would take place in schools rather than on residential courses.

"There needs to be a huge amount of local input. These people are not going to go away and train."

Teachers and parents will have to be convinced that the training is good in order to allay their fears that assistants will just be a cheap, low-quality substitute for teachers.

The agreement on workload signed earlier this month makes clear that a higher-level teaching assistant qualification should provide a "sound basis" for progress into teaching and be linked to teacher-training modules.

Mr Tabberer said he envisaged a 50-day training programme with a mix of courses delivered partly in schools and partly via the internet.

But John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers said that a mere 50 days' training would not qualify assistants to take whole classes.

"If they are being trained for individual subjects such as literacy or numeracy 50 days' training may be sufficient. If they are being trained as a copy of a qualified teacher then it is nowhere near enough," he said.

Despite opposing the workload deal, the NUT will be involved in its local implementation. The Employers' Organisation has written to local authorities advising them to involve local heads', classroom and support staff unions to ensure that the workload reforms work on the ground.

Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the pro-deal National Association of Schoolmasters and Women Teachers, said he supported the NUT's inclusion "so long as the NUT do not use this to frustrate the agreement".

* The Department for Education and Skills is set to establish a post of national "director of remodelling" to help implement last week's workload agreement.

Speaking at a conference about performance management in Bournemouth, Heath Monk, of the department's workforce unit, said the new director would "provide the vision, collect case studies, and offer advice to schools".

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