UNIVERSITY students are to be drafted in to help in the classroom in a new pound;1 million Government initiative announced this week.
Undergraduates and postgraduates will be offered placements as teacher "associates" as part of a wider drive to raise standards and encourage more young people into teaching.
The programme will be piloted for two years in 10 education action zones including Leicester, Liverpool and Greenwich. It will be evaluated to monitor the impact on teacher recruitment and school performance.
Most associates will be studying, but some may be unemployed graduates interested in becoming teachers.
They will come into schools when they are free from their studies and help out with classes in their degree subject. The decision over whether to pay them will be left to the individual action zones.
School standards minister Estelle Morris said: "Student teacher associates will help links between schools and universities. The students will bring with them the latest developments in their subject, and support teachers.
"The students will get a unique taste of teaching when they swap the lecture theatre for the classroom, and this will, I hope, encourage some to consider teaching as a carer."
Ms Morris also announced a further pound;350 million to be made available to schools to support the recruitment of an additional 20,000 teaching assistants by 2002.
Launching a new guide to advise schools on the most effective ways to make use of them, she stressed the importance of assistants, pointing to their role in the literacy and numeracy strategies.
The proposal for more assistants was welcomed by teacher unions, but they stressed that drafting in university students would not alter the fact that more qualified teachers were urgently needed.
Eamonn O'Kane, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "Giving students a taste of life in the classroom is all very well. But the Government has got to be careful that this isn't another cheap-skate scheme to overcome the shortage of teachers."
A spokesperson for the NUT said: "Part of this sounds as if the Government is desperately trying to cover up the vacancy problem by recruiting into schools young people who are not properly trained to plug the gaps."
"Supporting the Teaching Assistant - A Good Practice Guide" can be viewed at www.dfee.gov.uk