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Support staff fall into a black hole

More than a quarter of the cash initially earmarked to put support staff into schools under the national teachers' agreement has gone "missing", it has been alleged.

An investigation commissioned by the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers discovered that pound;14 million of the first tranche of pound;50 million is unaccounted for. A significant 39 per cent of headteachers told researchers that no additional support staff had been appointed to their schools.

The SNCT, the tripartite negotating body for teachers made up of the unions, the education authorities and the Scottish Executive, is now to visit those councils that appear to have been slower than others in implementing this key part of the deal, which was intended to relieve the administrative workload on teachers and free more time for them to teach.

The Executive cautions, however, that the study, carried out by the Scottish Council for Research in Education centre at Glasgow University and slipped unnoticed on to the SNCT website, was a snapshot of the situation in 2003-04 and that things have moved on.

For example, the pound;50 million expenditure on support staff cited in the research will have doubled to pound;100 million by 2007, a spokesperson said.

And the total of 3,358 support staff mentioned in the report had grown to 21,000 in the most recent teacher census figures, according to the Executive. They include classroom assistants, bursars, clerical back-up for teachers, ICT reinforcements and learning support assistants.

None the less, there will be fears that hard-pressed authorities will continue to come under pressure to divert cash into other areas. Councils may also be reluctant to hire additional staff as they brace themselves for the outcome of an inquiry by the Equal Opportunities Commission into the jobs being done by classroom assistants in primary schools, which could have major pay implications.

The Executive spokesperson said: "We provided extra resources to employ additional support staff and we want to see this making a difference in schools. We expect councils who have not moved forward quickly enough on this to do so and ensure schools get the support we intend."

The research report noted the confusion surrounding the way money for a plethora of initiatives reached schools, a concern that headteachers'

leaders have highlighted. The devolution of budgets to schools made it even more difficult to keep a tally on support staff spending, the report stated.

In its commentary on the research, the SNCT working group which has been investigating the matter acknowledged that the part of the agreement related to support staff (known as annex E) may have to be reviewed "to consider whether annex E tasks can all be removed from teachers".

These tasks "should not routinely be carried out by teachers", the 2001 agreement stated. They include supervising pupils outside the classroom, administrative chores, administering drugs, inputting assessment data, arranging supply cover and repairing ICT resources.

The move to revisit the issue was prompted by comments from headteachers in the report "that expectations have been raised, perhaps unrealistically, about the duties teachers should or should not regularly undertake". Others suggested to the researchers that some teachers had not yet learnt to delegate tasks to support staff, while some said they were not aware of the terms of annex E.

There were teachers, however, who appreciated help with photocopying, learning resources and departmental purchases. But only primary teachers expected support staff to work regularly with them in the classroom.

The research, based on returns from 267 schools in all 32 authorities, also uncovered divergent views among authorities and headteachers about the impact on schools of additional support staff. While 72 per cent of authorities were very or somewhat satisfied, only 48 per cent of heads were.

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