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By the numbers teaching assistants

The biggest change to the teaching workforce over the past decade has been the rise in the number of teaching assistants (TAs).

The move by the Labour government to increase their role was first proposed by then education secretary Estelle Morris as a way to tackle increasing concerns about teachers' workload. With more assistants, teachers were supposed to be given guaranteed time for planning, preparation and administration.

The introduction of TAs was not without controversy, however. The NUT opposed the move, claiming it would introduce teaching on the cheap by unqualified staff.

As their numbers have grown, so has the debate about their impact. A study by London University's Institute of Education two years ago found that pupils supported by TAs did worse than similar pupils who did not have that support.

It found that TAs were extremely dedicated, but they were often deployed to work with the pupils most in need, meaning those pupils spent less time with the teacher.

On the other hand, many teachers find the extra eyes, ears and skills that TAs bring to their lessons invaluable.

The Government withdrew funding for training higher-level TAs in July 2010. Local authorities and schools now need to find that cash themselves. And with cuts looming, it is possible that their numbers will start to drop.

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