'There are no plans to cut teaching assistants' insists education minister Liz Truss

Irena Barker

Reporting by David Harrison

The government has “no plans or any powers” to cut thousands of teaching assistants’ jobs, education minister Liz Truss has claimed.

She said there was a "misconception" about the future of teaching assistants (TAs) following reports suggesting that jobs would be cut to save money and to allow more teachers to be hired.

Replying to a Westminster Hall debate today, Ms Truss said: "I can absolutely assure you and your colleagues that neither the Department for Education (DfE) nor the government has any plans or any powers to do this.”

Media reports last year said that the Treasury was looking to cut the DfE’s budget by axeing school support staff. In June, the right-leaning think tank Reform said that schools could improve value for money by reducing the number of TAs and increasing class sizes.

Unison, the union representing the majority of school support staff, was so concerned about the prospect of huge job losses that it launched a campaign to support TAs.

Ms Truss said that the government wanted to do more to help schools get the best from them. Guidance and case studies would be issued to schools this year.

More than 200,000 assistants were employed in 2012, up from 97,000 in 2005, MPs heard. Their work includes improving pupils’ literacy and numeracy skills, helping children with special and complex needs, and reducing teachers’ stress and improving morale, the minister said.

"All of us want to see a highly-trained, highly-skilled teacher and teaching assistant workforce – that is our aim,"  Ms Truss added.

She said that the best results were achieved by headteachers who were given the freedom to use their resources but were also inspected and subjected to "external accountability”.

Schools must ensure the skills, background and qualifications of a TA match their needs and are deployed according to their expertise, she said.

Kevin Brennan, shadow education minister, told the debate that it had been reported that the Treasury and the DfE were considering getting rid of classroom assistants to save around £4 billion a year.

Also during the debate, Ms Truss admitted that she had not eaten school dinners at her primary school as a child.

"There was a chip shop over the road and the school provided a special lollipop lady to take us to the chip shop at lunchtime instead,” she said.

"So I didn't avail myself with the services of the school dinner ladies at the time, but lollipop ladies were also a very important part of our school infrastructure."

The government has pledged to introduce free school meals for every five to seven-year-old in England in an attempt to improve pupils’ health and performance at school.

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Irena Barker

Irena Barker is a freelance journalist.

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