Nazish happily rises to challenge

The 15,000th higher level assistant qualifies, but others claim not to be receiving fair pay

nazish mohammed is the envy of her colleagues. She has a degree, speaks three languages and is married with two young children.

In March, she became the 15,000th person to qualify as a higher level teaching assistant. She is loving the job and her higher status after five years as a teaching assistant. She is now taking on new responsibilities at Heald Place school in Manchester.

Because Nazish is fluent in Punjabi and Urdu, she works one-to-one with children who do not have English as a first language, focusing on literacy and numeracy.

"I'm very happy with my new role," she said. "It has given me confidence. I feel the school has really recognised me."

Her headteacher Ranju Martin is also positive, describing Nazish as "an invaluable asset" for her language skills. But controversy still bubbles away nationally behind the role of higher level assistants.

Unions have criticised schools for under-deploying their new staff and paying them at higher rates only when they do higher level work. An ATL survey of 660 support staff released this week found that more than a third are paid a higher rate only for the hours they work unsupervised with a class. The TES revealed last year that some received only an extra 15p an hour. Members also reported that nearly 60 per cent did not have a clear system of supervision to support them.

Nazish was reluctant to talk about how much she was paid, but said she was happy with her salary.

Lesley Ward, an executive member of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, likened the situation to a head being paid the same as the secretary every time he or she carried out any admin work. A third of higher level assistants said they did cover supervision without extra pay and only 60 per cent had a job description, she said.

Higher level assistants usually have at least two years' experience and extra training. Unlike ordinary teaching assistants, they can take whole classes, so long as the teacher has prepared the lesson.

Many, like Nazish, work in specialist support roles such as information technology or special needs, and can help plan lessons.

Ms Ward said: "Schools are still ignoring advice and paying them at higher rates only when they take whole classes. If they bring their top-level skills to group work, some are not getting the higher rate. It shows a lack of respect for very competent support staff."

Bruni de la Motte, support staff officer at public services union Unison, said 15,000 higher level assistants was great news, "But we must recognise the full range of work they do, from occasionally taking classes to managing primary to secondary transition or creating support materials."

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