CLASSROOM assistants are definitely not a cheap alternative to teachers and should not be made responsible for planning, teaching or assessing pupils, the General Teaching Council for Scotland has insisted.
Alarmed at what it sees as a potential threat to teacher professionalism, the council maintains there should be no confusion between the tasks of assistant and teacher. Its position paper follows a Scottish Executive announcement last week of two new vocational qualifications for assistants, designed to increase their knowledge and skills.
Euan Robson, Deputy Education Minister, said: "Classroom assistants themselves have voiced concern at the lack of training opportunities and we gave a commitment in the partnership agreement to increase further education opportunities for them."
The GTC is anxiously monitoring developments south of the border where assistants are set to take a more prominent classroom role, covering for teachers and maintaining pupil records. North of the border, as more assistants are employed in secondaries, the council fears there may be a creeping erosion of standards.
Dorothy Finlay, GTC education convener, said that assistants do not work independently of teachers. "They work with and under the direction of the teachers but classroom assistants should have full professional development of their role," she told last week's council meeting.
She added: "Some classroom assistants want to go into teaching but not all; many wish to stay as assistants. Those who do must have appropriate entry qualifications."
The council is behind more flexible entry routes into teaching if standards are maintained. One in four assistants would like to become a teacher, according to research.
May Ferries, a Glasgow primary depute head, said one of the problems with assistants and auxiliaries was their shorter hours. "There is absolutely no liaison time built in in many parts of Scotland and that does lead to the undermining of the whole process," she said.
In its position paper the council recommends that in the longer term assistants and other adults who support teachers may have to be reclassified. Assistants should not be used to teach individuals, introduce new topics to groups of pupils or take on activities and tasks that are clearly the duty of registered teachers.
The Executive launched its classroom assistant initiative in 1998 and provided funding for up to 5,000 staff in primaries to aim for a ratio of one adult for every 15 pupils.
The GTC acknowledges a study by the Scottish Council for Research in Education which showed that assistants had "a very positive" impact on the classroom because of their flexibility.