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Specialist assistants for maths and science

a new breed of higher level teaching assistant, with specialist training in maths or science, will become an addition to school laboratories and classrooms next year. The Government hopes that around 1,000 will be training for the new secondary school roles by next March.

The Training and Development Agency for Schools has allocated pound;4.7 million to train and assess people wanting to take on the job.

The scheme addresses concerns about the quality of science and maths teaching in schools. The Government hopes it will also make teaching the subjects more enticing and increase the number of pupils studying maths and science at A level and university.

The new roles have been welcomed by subject associations, although there are already concerns that many new assistants will lack sufficient subject knowledge.

However, recruitment may be hampered because any extra pay for the greater responsibilities will be at the discretion of schools and local authorities.

Applicants will be required to hold only a GCSE equivalent in maths and English to qualify, but the agency said appropriate training will be given by local providers.

Around 300 people took part in a pilot project last year with five months' training. The specialists will offer support to classroom teachers in laboratories and classrooms, taking small groups or individuals. They will not be expected to take full classes and should be attached to departments.

John Lawrence, deputy chief executive of the Association for Science Education, said: "It is a good idea overall as it will provide a useful pair of hands in the classroom, but there does seem to be some confusion over exactly what the roles entail and how technicians will be affected."

The agency said schools and local authorities would be responsible for the new specialists and deciding how they will be deployed.

Bruni de la Motte, national officer for school staff at Unison, the public sector union, said: "When you take on extra responsibilities, you should be rewarded."

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