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Pioneer brings some relief to 'grey, dispirited' workers

classroom assistants regularly take lessons alone at Chelmsford county high school for girls.

Monica Curtis, head of the Essex grammar, decided to take unilateral action over teacher workload two years ago. She said: "The staff were looking grey and dispirited. I wanted them to go into the classroom with a spring in their step."

Last summer, six extra support staff were employed. Their everyday duties include making telephone calls and typing up worksheets. But when a teacher is absent they can also provide lesson cover. A senior manager is on call, but the assistant takes the class alone.

They only give out the work and then monitor pupils while they complete it.

The school already uses assistants for some exam invigilation duties and expects to be able to achieve the full transfer by 2005 without problems.

"I am lucky because this is a selective school with very well-behaved students," she said. "But I am not sure you could do the same with the discipline problems in an inner-London school."

By contrast Andy Knowles, head of Hampstead School, north London, has warned it will be impossible for him to implement the agreement in full because of the difficulties in recruiting any school staff in the capital.

He supports the agreement and has already begun to transfer the 24 routine tasks listed away from teachers. But, he said, he is running out of time.

"There is no problem if we have the resources and the timetable that suits our school," he said. "But to sign an agreement around such a tight deadline actually creates more work."

The workload agreement need not just be about shorter hours - one head hopes it will make her school a more colourful place.

Dilys Cranstone, headteacher of Cantrell primary in Bulwell, Nottingham, is employing a former art student, Rachel Watchorn, to be responsible for all the 500-pupil school's wall displays.

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