Do you feel lucky?

28th January 2000 at 00:00
Will you win the pound;130m classroom assistants lottery? George Low investigates.

Primary schools will have nearly pound;1 billion more in their budgets to spend next year. But some schools will be winners while others are not so lucky. National Association of Head Teachers president Chris Thatcher has described the way the money was being distributed as "the biggest national lottery in the country".

Of greatest significance toprimary teachers is the pound;130 million from the Department for Education and Employment's Standards Fund to speed up the recruitment and training of 15,000 classroom assistants. This will be in addition to the extra 2,000 who came into schools this year. "I am determined to expand this key group of people who really do make a difference where it matters and support schools facing major challenges," said the Education Secretary David Blunkett. "Many schools already recognise teaching assistants as a key resource and these spending plans will spread that good practice more widely and open up career opportunities for assistants."

The first priority is to develop a qualifications framework for classroom assistants. Only half of the 64,000 employed at present have any vocational qualifications at all - mostly National Nursery Education Board certificates (now called The Council for Awards in Children's Care and Education Diploma in Nursery Nursing). Officials are warning that there is a big task ahead.

Mike Walker of the Local Government Management Board said the prospect of training existing staff and increasing the numbers by 30 per cent over two years presented a real challenge. "This does not just affect the classroom assistants and special needs assistants, who will also be increasing in number. It will require additional training for heads, teachers and governors in how to use these people more effectively," he said.

The first stage, a national framework of training and qualifications, has already been put in hand by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. The next stage will be preparing and publishing introductory training materials for new recruits to the classroom in the summer. At the same time handbooks on how to deploy the rookies next Setember will be developed for heads and teachers.

The programme is focused on the literacy and numeracy strategies, since the aim is for many of the classroom assistants to help pupils who are struggling with their reading or maths at key stage 2.

The Standards Fund is being increased from pound;1bn to pound;1.6bn in April. Primary schools will be able to get their hands on more than half of this, because of the drive to improve standards of literacy and numeracy and to expand early years education. The rest will come from increased delegation of pound;1bn from LEAs to schools under the Fair Funding programme. This gives the schools more discretion to buy in services such as advisers and consultants. Among the other programmes being supported by Standards Fund grants are:

* a pound;50m retraining programme to help teachers to teach phonics, spelling and grammar more effectively;

* pound;50m to improve the teaching of numeracy;

* pound;42m for schools to run booster classes for pupils who need help before transferring to secondary school;

* pound;17m more for the summer school programme next year;

* pound;7m for family literacy and numeracy schemes to help parents help their pre-school children;

* pound;3m for the Playing for Success scheme to motivate boys to learn through links with Premier and Nationwide football clubs;

* pound;16.4m for promoting advanced skills teachers in primary and secondary schools and releasing them from school to spread good practice.

Under Standards Fund grants, the DfEE pays about 60 per cent of the money, while the local authority has to pay the rest.

John Fowler, an education official with the Local Government Association, said the extra funding was welcome but not every school could hope to benefit. For instance, in some local authorities, the distribution formula discriminates against schools with a low percentage of children on free school meals. "The rate of funding varies and in some programmes only successful bidders or education action zones will get the money. For example, there will be more classroom assistants and advanced skills teachers in the EAZs because the Government believes this is a way of combating disadvantage," he said.

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