Unions slam leaked plans to cut teaching assistants

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Unions have condemned plans revealed in a leaked Government paper that reportedly state that schools employ too many teaching assistants.


Teaching assistants could be cut under plans revealed in a leaked Government briefing paper

The Guardian report includes details of education policy plans said to be under discussion  by the Department for Education and Number 10, from a confidential briefing paper seen by the newspaper.

The document, which is dated 22 August and marked 'Official-Sensitive’, includes proposals for billions of pounds of new funding, a crackdown on pupils’ behaviour, and a new wave of free schools to be announced by the Government within days.

While any extra funding would likely be welcomed by school leaders, unions responding to the claims doubted whether the figure would be enough given the scale of funding cuts schools have already experienced.

On teaching assistants, the document reveals that Downing Street and the Treasury are concerned there may be too many TAs rather than too few.

Analysis by the School Cuts coalition earlier this year showed how the school funding crisis has led to fewer support staff in schools.

According to The Guardian the paper states, ‘No 10 and HMT [the Treasury] have been keen to publicly express concerns about the rising number of TAs and set out government’s commitment to more effective deployment of TAs being integral to more efficient use of school spend.’

The document advises against going public with this line, warning ‘it would undermine the “hearts and minds” aspect of the announcement with the numerous audiences we know value TAs – parents, teachers, heads and [the] SEND lobby. This needs to be handled very sensitively if we are to protect the positivity of the announcement.’

Rehana Azam, GMB national secretary for public services, responding to the leaked paper, said, ’Teaching assistants make an invaluable contribution to the lives of often vulnerable children and it is completely out of touch to state otherwise. These reported comments betray a shocking ignorance of the value that teaching assistants bring to schools and the communities they serve.
‘GMB will fight tooth and nail against any attack on the employment of our teaching assistant members and other school support staff workers.’

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said, ‘Suggestions of cutting teaching assistants are further proof of how out of touch the Government is. TAs play an essential role in the classroom and school. Schools have already been forced to reduce staffing because of real-terms cuts, and it is a clear demonstration of how far the cuts bite that 59 per cent of our support staff members report having to do work that should properly be undertaken by teachers. They are seen as the cheap option, and without serious investment they will continue to be exploited.’

In his leadership campaign, Boris Johnson promised to reverse cuts to school budgets.

The funding figures from the leaked paper include £2.8bn for primary and secondary schools up to the age of 16, including £800m for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The details for an extra £800m for sixth form and further education colleges are still under discussion with the Treasury.

Union leaders said they would need to see the details and pointed out that the plans were being leaked ahead of a possible general election. The NEU with teaching unions the ASCL and the NAHT and the f40 education fair funding campaign group have calculated that schools and colleges will need £12.6bn by 2022/23 to end the funding crisis.

Commenting on the leaked plans to increase spending on schools, Ms Bousted said, ’We need to see what actually is announced in next week’s Comprehensive Spending Review. Obviously any extra money for schools will be welcome because schools are desperate for funding. The problem is this just isn’t enough. It will not make enough of a difference to counteract the scale of funding cuts that schools have already experienced.

'Efforts to portray this severe short-changing as an electoral winner will continue to be challenged robustly by the National Education Union.

‘Boris Johnson and his party still do not understand the full scale of the crisis facing schools. The Government must invest in all schools and colleges across the country and give councils the powers they need to open schools where there is genuine need for new places. Instead, it seems they intend to throw more public money at their failed and discredited free school programme. They need to restore the real terms value of teachers’ pay and remove the excessive workload and accountability burdens that are driving teachers out of the profession.’

The briefing paper also reveals:

  • Increasing pay for teachers, with starting salaries rising to £30,000 by 2022.
  • Encouraging school leaders to confiscate or ban mobile phones.
  • Backing headteachers to exclude pupils, with new guidance on behaviour.
  • Offering academy trusts £24,000 incentives to take over struggling schools.
  • Opening a new wave of free schools, including alternative provision schools for excluded children.
  • Removing exemptions from regular inspection for schools rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted.
  • A fresh push to convert local authority maintained schools to academy status.

On the proposed plans for new guidance on behaviour, Ms Bousted added, ‘We do absolutely need good discipline in schools, and there are effective strategies to achieve that. Teachers and school staff are already able to use "reasonable restraint”, but the leaked proposals of “reasonable force” implies additional kinds of physical contact. This seems dangerously open to interpretation – what one person considers to be ‘reasonable’ another person may not. We don’t want teachers exercising reasonable force, we want well-disciplined schools which are well funded.

‘Exclusion is a sometimes necessary, unfortunate option that a school and a school leader must be able to take. The danger with giving such a broad green light to exclusion, is that children who already need education the most are most likely to be denied it.’

A Department for Education spokesperson said, ‘We do not comment on leaks. We will announce further information on our domestic priorities in due course.

‘We do not recognise these figures. The Prime Minister made clear on his first day in Downing Street that we will increase minimum levels of per pupil funding in primary and secondary schools to level up education funding for children across the country. Any such relevant announcements will be made in due course.’

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