TEACHING assistants are likely to be given a key role in the next stage of the Government's strategy to raise literacy standards in primary schools in England.
Around 500 schools are to test an intensive programme which requires teaching assistants to do 20 minutes a day of extra work with six and seven-year-olds with early reading problems.
The strategy is designed to prepare the way for the Government to set a higher literacy target than its current promise that by 2002 80 per cent of 11-year-olds will be reading and writing.
Teachers are being trained to identify the 20 per cent of children that could be given intensive support to prevent them falling behind. Teaching assistants will then take the group for a 12-week programme on specially prepared material.
Kevan Collins, regional director of the national literacy strategy, said: "We think that intervention at this stage will reduce the number of children who need longer term support."
Ministers have already ann-ounced plans to recruit 20,000 teaching assistants by 2001, the year the pilot is expected to become a national progamme. The proportion of 11-year-olds achieving the expected standard in literacy has increased dramatically since the strategy was introduced. Last year 70 per cent eached Level Four, an improvement of 5 per cent. However, standards among seven-year-olds have remained fairly static.
Classroom assistants are playing a greater role than ever in school life, according to the latest survey of trends in primary education. Two-thirds of primary head-teachers told the National Foundation for Education Research that use of classroom and welfare assistants was on the rise.
Almost half reported an increased use of administrative staff - "a significant reallocation of school budgets".
Three-quarters said they would hire more non-teaching staff, rather than teachers, if they had the money. Governors are also taking an increased interest in the hiring of non-teaching staff.
Budgets continue to be primary heads' biggest concern, the NFER's sixth annual survey found, but the proportion fell to 61 per cent from a high of 75 per cent in 1996.
Curriculum change continues to concern 46 per cent of heads (down from 58 per cent last year). Inspection concerns one head in three, and there are growing worries about the state of buildings - at 30 per cent now almost double that of 1997.
Annual survey of trends in education, Digest no. 8, spring 2000, available from the communications unit, NFER, on 10753 574123.