Assistants deserve a better deal

25th June 2004 at 01:00
Government policy has had a curious effect on the way we divide up education funding. Most teachers believe that teenagers take too many exams yet, as our page 1 story reveals, last year we spent pound;250 million a year on examining 16, 17 and 18-year-olds, an increase of 13 per cent on the previous year.

Ministers have placed a deal to cut teachers' workload and raise standards by employing more classroom assistants at the centre of their plans to modernise schools. But as TES Cymru pointed out last week (June 18), the assistants on whom this policy depends still languish at the bottom of the pay heap and are threatening to wreck the agreement.

Their indignation about their poor reward for growing responsibility will be bolstered by figures released this week which show that teachers have enjoyed big pay rises because of the Government's determination to make education a priority. The average teacher's salary rose by pound;7,000 to pound;29,000 between 1997 and 2002.

Teachers' salary increases are well-deserved, an overdue recompense for enduring an avalanche of initiatives and rising demands. But ministers should pause to consider the consequences of soaring exam costs and disgruntled classroom assistants.

The pound;250m at present spent on exams would fund an annual pay rise of pound;1,500 for each classroom assistant. Exam costs, which have risen sharply for the past three years, must be reduced. So must the number of external exams taken by secondary pupils. Mike Tomlinson's review of qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds is investigating the assessment burden. But the changes it recommends will not happen for nearly a decade.

We urgently need a system which downgrades the roles of the GCSE and AS-level exams and places more responsibility for assessing pupils with teachers.

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