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Support staff by another name

Headteachers have come up with some clever, and controversial, solutions to free up teachers to plan, prepare and mark

A school has rebranded support staff as associate teachers to give them more credibility and help to recruit them to the profession.

Six teaching assistants have been given the job title at the Piggott school, in Berkshire. Most of the staff have degrees but no teacher training.

The associates step in to supervise work set by qualified staff if a teacher is absent. The aim is to ensure teachers do not cover for more than 38 hours a year. But they do not teach new material.

The scheme has been endorsed in Teachers, the magazine published by the Department for Education and Skills.

But critics fear it recalls the DfES's paper "Workforce reform: blue skies", revealed by The TES in 2003. The paper, later disowned by ministers, said that under the workforce agreement schools only needed one qualified teacher, who could be the head.

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said the job title could confuse parents. "There is no such thing as an associate teacher," he said. "The DfES needs to be clear about staff roles. Cover supervisers are explicitly appointed to supervise, not to teach."

But Steve Woodhull, assistant head at the Piggott and an NUT member, said the union's position was unrealistic. The school struggles to attract teachers because of the area's high living costs.

He said the new role had boosted the morale of staff, who dislike covering lessons, and that it offered a way into the profession.

"Our biggest headache is teacher recruitment, even though we are a good school in a good local authority with supportive parents," he said.

He denied the measure was a cost-cutting exercise: the six associate teachers cost the school pound;80,000 a year, while supply cover used to cost Pounds 45,000, he said.

Associate teachers are assigned to subject areas and many have specialist expertise which makes them more effective than a non-specialist teacher, he added.

Andy Freeman, who has been an associate teacher for two years, was a footballer at Crystal Palace and Reading football clubs until an injury halted his career. Now covering PE and humanities, he plans to train as a teacher.

He said: "After my injury, I thought, 'What am I going to do now?' It's very difficult to go back to college and do a PGCE, thinking it will be ages before you can get to work. This role gives people a chance to get experience."

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