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Jim of all trades is a winner

One small step towards recognising the contribution of teaching assistants was made this month with a new honour at the Teaching Awards.

Jim Herbert, 50, from Little Ilford school in north-east London, was the inaugural winner of Teaching Assistant of the Year, although. as is often the case, his broad range of responsibilities means his official job title is deputy pastoral achievement leader. A jack of all trades, the one-time advertising man has helped rebrand the secondary school in Newham by enthusing students to help refresh the school's image. He enlisted pupils who had previously been responsible for graffiti round the school to repaint the staffroom windows.

"They don't have a particularly good life, money isn't always abundant, some of them struggle," he said. "It is great seeing them inspired."

Studies show teaching assistants struggling to gain respect and recognition from teachers, students and parents, but the only person playing down Mr Herbert's contribution was the man himself. Known for his modest attempts to hide behind the other side of the camera as unofficial school photographer, Mr Herbert insisted he had no idea why he had been singled out.

He certainly did not feel under-appreciated. He was nominated by a colleague, told of his award by the Sugababes pop group in front of the school, then presented it on stage in front of 1,500 members of the teaching profession.

And parents are well aware of his work, often because he visits them to talk about any problems with their struggling or angry children. He said:

"Parents are informed of our position in the school and we are here to help them. Parents do ring if they have a problem. It's not just working with students. It's working with their families as well."

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