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A vision of success

Anyone wanting a look at Estelle Morris's vision of the classroom of the future might want to visit Brindishe primary in Lewisham, south London.

Inspectors described the school as "outstanding". Results are well above the national average and, according to the head, support staff are key to the school's success.

Thirteen years ago the staff consisted of teachers, a secretary, a premises officer and two helpers known rather quaintly as "pink ladies".

Today the school employs a range of support staff - two different grades of classroom assistant, a housekeeper, bursar, administration officer, learning mentor, literacy support officer, the list goes on.

On a quick trip round the open-plan building it is difficult to distinguish between teachers and teaching assistants. Both take classes obviously command pupils' respect.

Kathryn Briggs, an assistant, said that the school was a welcome contrast to the last she worked at. "There I didn't feel part of the team. Here I can put forward my ideas."

Headteacher Vicki Patterson says: "I think support staff are the key to some of the questions about teachers' well-being. It is now an almost impossible task for one teacher in one room to teach a class of 30 pupils. Having a classroom assistant there allows a teacher to spend time with individuals or groups and to use time more effectively.

"The thinking behind the learning is done by teachers but other people can do the organising," Certainly, staff appear less stressed than at many other schools. On average, teachers take just one-and-a-quarter days off each year. It is a virtuous circle - money saved on supply cover can be used to employ more support staff.

The school has also made a conscious decision to direct money towards additional staff rather than buying equipment.

"We realised that for the price of another computer we could buy time from a technician instead. What is more important, another computer or the ones we have actually working?" asked Vicki Patterson.

However, she is sceptical about how far classroom assistants should be used to replace teachers. "Assistants do take classes for short periods of time but we haven't yet got to the stage where we'll employ two learning assistants to replace a teacher and I am not sure we ever will," she said.

Jon Slater

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