A Trojan horse full of mothers

lassroom assistants should find some encouragement in the latest reports for the Equal Opportunity Commission for Scotland's investigation into their role and status (page one). The reports' authors find that they are underpaid compared to nursery nurses, clerical staff and manual workers. In less than a decade, their duties have evolved to the extent that a small but significant minority are now effectively parateachers.

Overwhelmingly female, classroom assistants tend to be the mothers of primary-age children. The hours suit them, and they like working with children. But that should not mean that they are denied the career progression open to most other sectors.

The danger, however, is that in allowing the role of classroom assistant to evolve unnoticed and unchecked, teachers may unwittingly be "doing themselves out of a job". The investigation into assistants' pay and status may throw up another challenge. For teachers, uniquely among council employees, retain national pay structures, and many believe that it is only a matter of time before someone uses the equal pay for equal value regulations to compare their pay and skills to a teacher's. That would fairly set the cat among the pigeons.

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