A deal to exploit assistants

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
The workforce agreement came with a degree of respectability and clout not always matched by other initiatives. It was backed by heads and (most of) the unions, made sense and looked as if it might help reduce teachers'

workload. Whatever next?

So, it gives me no pleasure to feel increasingly cynical about the reality of the workload deal. I see schools that struggle with, or ignore, the requirements; smile bitterly at the creation of "change teams"; and, above all, see the buck, and workload, passed down the hierarchy to hard-pressed support staff.

I have yet to meet a head or teacher whose work-life is now balanced, but I am talking to loads of support staff who are now overstretched, under-valued and, above all, grossly underpaid.

Office staff are expected to add 24 admin tasks to their work load, and are roped in to run a football club or dance class to ensure teachers get their marking and preparation time in a "meaningful block".

Worst of all the poor teaching assistants are paid insulting wages but are now expected to cover classes (without treading on teachers' toes), understand about special need differentiation, behaviour management, the entire national curriculum, and know their place.

Presumably the paint pots also still need washing?

Watch out DfES: these committed professionals are going to leave our schools in droves, and then God help the workforce agreement.

The solutions from on high have been cobbled together hastily, and have created a climate of suspicion and disappointment. What is the higher-level teaching assistant going to be paid? Are cover supervisors just supply teachers with a grand name? And how are we going to check the criminal records of all the talented parents and volunteers who are going to solve all our problems for nothing?

And, of course, that's the core problem - money, or the lack of it.

Many schools are approaching the agreement positively, and creatively.

Pathfinder schools had all sorts of useful ideas, but were given generous funding to make them work. Now they are being followed by schools who are juggling the timetable, creating resources out of nothing. I can't help feeling that if it's a success at this stage, the Government will have even less reason to give schools any realistic funding.

My advice to all heads: keep a running total of what the deal costs, then tell the DfES. And keep a watchful eye on your support staff - you'll notice when they're gone.

The author is a governor who "works for free" in a primary school in Essex.

Want to Sound Off? Email Susan.young@tes.co.uk

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