TEACHING assistants face a postcode lottery with some councils paying staff less than half the salary they would receive elsewhere, a survey commissioned by The TES and public service union Unison reveals.
It shows that salary levels, promotion prospects and holiday pay vary dramatically between different local authorities. Fewer than half of all teaching assistants are on permanent year-round contracts, and salaries vary between pound;7,125 in South Tyneside and nearly pound;18,000 in Gloucestershire.
There are also big difference between neighbouring authorities. In Gateshead, just up the river from South Tyneside, assistants can earn up to pound;10,898. In both authorities staff are only paid during term-time while their counterparts in at least three other North-east authorities are on full-year contracts.
Pay in London appears to be slightly higher, with one outer London authority reporting salaries to be around pound;12,000.
Four out of 10 schools said that their teaching assistants were not paid during all holidays. The practice, known as term-time working, can cost staff up to nine weeks' pay per year.
The findings will increase the pressure on the Government and local authorities to create a proper national pay structure for assistants. Unison is discussing the issue with employers and the Government.
In England, talks have been dogged by the controversial issue of whether assistants should be allowed to take control of classes - a move supported by fewer than one in six schools. Fifteen per cent of schools said that assistants had covered for absent teachers, but only 2 per cent said that this had occurred on a regular basis.
Graham Lane, chair of the Employers Organisation which represents education authorities and schools, admitted pay differentials were unacceptable. "Some classroom assistants are being paid a very low wage indeed," he said. "We have to create a new pay structure which will recognise their skills, training and experience."
But he said that any new pay structure would have to allow for local flexibility and not be binding on local authorities.
As The TES revealed in March, ministers have put forward a draft career structure setting out three grades of teaching assistants, the most senior of whom would routinely take classes.
The survey shows that fewer than one in six schools would support such a move, a finding which will strengthen the National Union of Teachers'
More than 900 schools and 37 local education authorities in England and Wales responded to the survey, carried out by the independent Labour Research Department.
The survey suggests that the Government has already succeeded in increasing the number of support staff in primary schools. There was a 12 per cent increase in numbers last year, and on average there are now two teaching assistants for every teacher at primary level.
"This survey clearly demonstrates the need for proper rates of pay for teaching assistants nationwide. Many assistants are earning as little as pound;8,000. That is an appalling rate of pay," said Christina McAnea, head of education at Unison.
She added that initial returns from a Unison poll of local government workers showed that assistants, nursery nurses and school administration staff were the groups most unhappy about their pay.