Clare Dean's report (TES, March 16) on the use of classroom assistants to plug the gaps left by teacher shortages raises a cluster of issues which we are addressing in our research project on the employment and deployment of assistants in primary schools.
The use of assistants as teachers clearly poses questions about how they stand legally when in charge of classes of children.
Assistants are much more likely to be left in charge following the launch of the literacy and numeracy initiatives. Our research found that 20 per cent of teachers said their assistant was sometimes given responsibility for the whole class - mainly for storytelling, circle time or in an emergency.
We are finding that many assistants have important previous work and life experiences, not least as parents,and that these informal skills and understandings are particularly needed in primary classrooms. In the hurried climate of "all hands on deck" to raise standards, much is happening to draw this valuable group of workers into teachers' professional lives.
But, if assistants are to become more like teachers, surely they need a salary which is more like a teacher's?
Despite their increased responsibilities, our research suggests that most assistants continue to be paid around pound;5-6 an hour. And a fair number find themselves on an hourly rate which is only a little above the proposed national minimum wage of pound;4.10.
Roger Hancock, Will Swann, Carrie Cable and Janet Turner
Faculty of Education and Language Studies
The Open University
Walton Hall, Milton Keynes