Support staff go in to keep discipline
Peter Peacock said that teachers needed to be able to teach and pupils needed to be able to learn free from disruption. The employment of additional support staff would free teacher time and allow schools to deal properly with challenging pupils.
The funding is expected to pay for around 1,000 extra staff, depending on how local authorities choose to allocate it. Mr Peacock said they would "free teachers to teach the new curriculum, help all pupils to learn undisturbed and deal intensively with those pupils who need it most.
"Step by step, over the last five years, we have been putting in place the methods and resources to allow parents to send their children to schools where the conditions for learning are improving. Today's announcement is another significant step forward."
Councils are expected to use the funding in various ways:
* In pupil support bases, where they can help teachers deal with the most disruptive pupils taken out of normal classes.
* As learning support assistants for classroom teachers, possibly also providing support for individual pupils.
* As classroom assistants who provide general help for teachers.
* As home-school link workers to liaise with parents in areas such as attendance and behaviour.
Mr Peacock said: "I have spent a lot of time in recent months with headteachers, teachers and teacher unions evaluating our approaches to improving behaviour in schools. We have seen and heard of some very impressive practice and I have seen many examples where the support staff we already fund make a real difference. By increasing the funding, more teachers and pupils will be able to reap the rewards."
The pound;34.9 million package is part of the education budget allocated under the comprehensive spending review in September and will be distributed via the national priorities action fund. Councils will receive pound;7.5 million for 2004-05, pound;10.8 million for 2005-06 and pound;16.6 million in 2006-07.
This particular tranche of funding is in addition to the pound;10 million already distributed to councils to implement the discipline task group's report, Better Behaviour Better Learning.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive said it would not be prescriptive in its discussions with authorities over how they chose to prioritise their share of the funding. But money would have to be spent on support staff.
Classroom assistants earn, on average, pound;11,000-pound;12,000 a year, while home-school link workers have an average salary of pound;28,000.
Ewan Aitken, education spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, welcomed the announcement. "It offers us new and flexible ways in which we can support children and staff in education and help meet the individual needs of children while letting staff concentrate on their role as educators," Mr Aitken said.
A spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland commented: "We welcome the significant allocation of funding to get additional support staff into schools and also welcome the Executive's commitment to engage fully with teachers on this and other initiatives aimed at improving discipline in the classroom."