New safeguard on helpers

16th April 1999 at 01:00
THE INTRODUCTION of 5,000 classroom assistants for primaries over the next three years will not undermine the position of teachers, the Government has pledged. Guidance issued last week makes clear that where an assistant is working mostly with one teacher, "it makes sense for that teacher to take on the allocation, direction and supervision of the assistant's work".

The scheme, announced last year by the former education minister, Brian Wilson, is intended to achieve a ratio of not more than 15 pupils to one adult by 2002. The new guidance, based on discussions in a working party including teacher and union representatives, claims that the assistants will "reaffirm" teachers' professionalism by relieving them of other tasks and by giving them managerial oversight of other adults in their classroom.

Local authorities will have discretion about where and how their share of the pound;66 million allocated for the programme is spent. But they are warned that it will not be "necessary or desirable to have one assistant in every primary class, and authorities and schools will need to guard against raising this expectation".

Assistants could be deployed where a school has a record of underachievement or a large number of children with social and emotional problems, or where it is facing particularly demanding targets for improvement.

Helen Liddell, the Education Minister, said that "proper training is essential" and local authorities were already taking that seriously. The Scottish Qualifications Authority has been commissioned to create by next year a Professional Development Award. In the long term there will be a fully fledged SVQ.

Pilot classroom assistant projects are under way and these will be evaluated with a view to producing examples of good practice that will add "colour and detail" to the official guidance.

Education authorities have expressed concern that special needs auxiliaries are counted towards the 15:1 ratio. Roy Jobson, Edinburgh's director, said that most auxiliaries were supporting individual pupils and their inclusion would be "a disincentive to integration". He was pleased, however, that the guidance recognised the concern, and discussions should continue.

Fred Forrester, depute general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said that the union had had considerable input to the working party, but "we shall have to see how things develop on the ground". For many teachers having another adult in the room would be a novelty and training was needed for teachers as well as the assistants.

WHAT THEY WILL DO

Assistants should contribute in four ways - use of resources, pupils' care and welfare, the quality of teaching and learning and the needs of pupils in accessing the curriculum.

Examples of involvement in teaching and learning are:

* Supporting children's play activities - by listening and talking with children, joining in play and supporting individuals where they need help.

* Playing games to practise skills, encourage sharing, turn-taking and co-operation.

* Encouraging oral language development through play, books, stories and personal interaction.

* Supporting literacy development by, for example, reading or telling stories and rhymes, guiding pupils to information books, labelling children's drawings and models and providing an audience for their reading.

* Supporting numeracy development by counting games and rhymes, practising number bonds and "tables", building with shapes and developing appropriate language, and supporting practical measurement activities.

* Supporting practical activities such as baking and gardening.

Supervising and supporting pupils while they undertake work set by the teacher.

* Supporting record-keeping by completing checklists of tasks with individual pupils.

Leader, page 16

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