Extra hands can only be a help;Opinion

16th April 1999 at 01:00
THE OFFICIAL guidance on primary classroom assistants (page five) makes clear who will be boss. Teachers have nothing to fear. Where an assistant is appointed to work mainly with one class, the teacher will direct the assistant's activities. Where the assistant has a wider remit, the manager would probably be the headteacher or deputy. Any teacher lucky enough to have an assistant to work alongside has the opportunity to be a better professional because some routine matters can be delegated. Any teacher who allows the assistant to dictate the territory is badly in need of professional development.

That is not to say that assistants should be left just to tie shoelaces and clean up the paints. The presence of a second adult in the room can encourage pupils, who otherwise find the teacher's time split in up to 30 short segments. Practice in reading, writing and numeracy can be overseen. Children gain without the teacher losing.

Extra burdens through major change to the curriculum and its assessment appear inescapable for teachers. But if the job is destined to change and become more challenging, opportunities for easing some of the strains have to be welcome. The profession, or at least its union voice, has a record of reacting to new demands by obdurate adherence to traditional ways. But why look a gift-horse in the mouth?

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