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Pay is key to better support

The Price Waterhouse Coopers report commissioned by the NUT puts its finger on what is a biggest stumbling block in any attempt to enhance the status of classroom assistants. "Current levels of pay for classroom (and learning support) assistants are among the lowest of any staff group in local government," it says.

It quotes a range of typical pay rates, almost all of which are just under pound;5 an hour. The lack of any career structure - indeed of any realistic promotion prospects - is also a discincentive.

The reasons are partly historical. Like Aggie Houghton, many assistants started as volunteers and were flattered and grateful to be offered even a small amount of money doing an enjoyable job with convenient hours. This, says the report, just will not do any longer. What it calls "the substantial difference in reward between teachers and themselves" is increasingly inappropriate, given the move to inclusive policies.

Lynne Jackson agrees. "The pay issue grieves me. It doesn't stop me, because these children will pass this way only once. But there will be people who will not see the point of training and giving up time to qualify when there is no more money at the end."

The NUT report also looks, for example, at the need for information and communications technology technicians in primary schools, at increasing the range of ways that support staff are used in secondaries, and recommends that all primary and secondary classroom teachers should have clerical support. (Headteacher Adele Phillips at Oakway school, feels that the only reason this issue has not become a crisis, given the administrative workload on teachers, is because so many are now able to do their own word processing.) The NUT also wants to see an educational minimum for associate staff (its preferred general term for support staff in schools) as well as a career structure and national training paths.

This would cost much more than even this Government has been willing to spend - pound;81.5 million for an interim model and pound;322 million for the preferred model propsed by the NUT in primary schools alone. Whether this is possible remains to be seen. What is certainly true is that the Government's praiseworthy vision of a high-quality teaching profession supported by able and trained assistants will be seriously hindered so long as there is the disincentive of a disproportionate gap in salary between the two.

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