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New breed of assistants

More than 7,000 training places are to be offered to would-be higher-level teaching assistants, it was announced this week.

The 36 universities, colleges, schools, education authorities and private firms that are to provide the courses from this month have been chosen by the Teacher Training Agency. Eventually there will be 20,000 places per year.

Higher-level teaching assistants will work alongside teachers, giving them more time to help pupils achieve their potential.

The announcement came as a member of the committee overseeing the school workforce agreement called for merit pay for school support staff.

Stephen Szemerenyi, who is also the Secondary Heads Association's pay and conditions consultant, said performance pay should be introduced as part of a national pay framework for support staff, to bring them into line with teachers. "If we are looking at the school of the future, all parts of the team should be subject to the same conditions of service and same opportunities," he said.

But the proposal was dismissed by employers and Unison, the union representing support staff.

Pay for the new assistants will be determined locally. Local education authorities are understood to be considering paying between pound;18,000-pound;21,000.

They can choose between two training programmes. An assessment-only programme to allow staff who are already, or close to, achieving the standards required to complete the qualification quickly. There will also be a 50-day full training scheme for those who still need to meet standards.

The higher-level assistants will be among more than 225,000 people supporting England's 430,000 teachers.

Jill Staley, the TTA's co-director of teacher training strategy, said: "The selection of these first approved training providers is a key development in the Government's initiative to reform the school workforce.

"They will be vital in helping teachers to have time to offer personalised learning for each pupil.

"The training providers have been chosen for their experience in high-quality training and assessment, and headteachers, teachers and parents can be confident that they will set high standards in awarding HLTA status."

The providers will retain their status until the end of December 2005, though the period may be extended for a further two years subject to satisfactory performance. They will receive funding based on the route each trainee follows - pound;2,150 for full training, and pound;550 for assessment only.

Providers will also receive a pound;5,000 set-up grant from the TTA. The pricing system will be reviewed in December 2005.

The providers include: Birmingham and Midlands HLTA Consortium, Canterbury Christ Church university college, centre for literacy in primary education, Luton university, Manchester Metropolitan university, Merseyside and Cheshire HLTA Partnership, Newham education authority and Weymouth college.

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