In charity says that most learning support assistants are skilled in their jobs, and play a key part in integrating children with special needs in mainstream schools. But they still need training if their pupils are to get the education they deserve.
Researchers from Birmingham University studied assistants working with pupils with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties in 24 schools. They found:
Some assistants were effectively teachers as pupils had little access to a qualified member of staff in mainstream classrooms.
Few assistants have had any teacher or special needs training.
Few are involved in planning lessons with teachers.
Parents, teachers and assistants all considered the social gains of inclusion to be more important than educational ones, and parents saw the quality of learning support as crucial. But the researchers suggest parents cannot be confident that their child's needs are being fully met until assistants have a career structure, with appropriate pay and training.
The report mirrors the findings of recent Manchester University research which revealed that assistants were taking on teaching responsibilities. It called for better training and pay.
Ministers are considering the Manchester findings which coincide with their commitment to put an extra 20,000 assistants into classrooms by 2002.
Lesley Campbell, Mencap's children's officer, said: "The contribution that learning support assistants make to the education of children with learning difficulties is seen as pivotal to the Government's moves towards inclusive education.
"Yet unless the Government takes on board the need for more resources, proper training and a career structure for these assistants, their goals cannot be achieved.
"If children with learning difficulties are to get the education they deserve, this cannot be carried out on a 'wing and a prayer'."
Copies of "On a Wing and a Prayer" are available free from Mencap, telephone 0171 696 55935503.