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Thousands enlist in the support staff army

The number of non-teaching staff in English state schools has increased by 15 per cent in a year.

The total jumped from 160,700 to 184,800 (full-time equivalents) between January 2000 and January 2001. During the same period the teaching force increased by only 2 per cent.

Non-teaching staff numbers rose fastest in primaries, increasing by 17 per cent. The most dramatic growth was in the number of nursery assistants in primaries. During 2000, another 9,500 were recruited - a rise of 31 per cent. This means that numbers have leapt by 75 per cent since January 1997 as more three and four-year-olds have been offered school places.

Special needs support staff in primaries increased by just over 11 per cent during 2000 and other support staff by 15 per cent. This group includes librarians, technicians, medical staff and classroom assistants.

The increase in other types of non-teaching staff in primaries, such as administrative and clerical workers, was much smaller and the number of secretaries actually fell slightly. Just over 10 per cent of primaries now have a bursar.

Secondary schools recruited an additional 7,000 non-teaching staff during 2000. Some 5,500 of these were support staff with the remainder being employed in administrative and clerical positions. About three-quarters of all secondaries (2,600) now have a bursar - a proportion that has changed little since 1997.

Undoubtedly, support staff are playing an increasingly important role in schools. However, if the Education Secretary's vision for the future (outlined in her recent speech to the Social Market Foundation) is to be realised, there will need to be further large increases in their numbers over the next few years. But meeting higher recruitment targets is only part of the challenge. Improved training and continuing professional development must also be provided for support staff if they are to relieve teachers of more of their classroom duties.

John Howson John Howson is the managing director of Education Data Surveys and a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University. Email: john.howson@lineone.net

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