HC Deb 28 November 2002 vol 395 cc443-5
3. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South)

How many classroom assistants are employed in (a) the west midlands and (b) England. [81969]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband)

The full-time equivalent number of support staff in maintained schools in the west midlands in January 2002 was 23,082. That includes more than 11,000 teaching assistants, more than 5,000 administrative staff, 1,775 technicians and nearly 5,000 other staff.

Mr. Cunningham

What proposals does my hon. Friend have for career development for classroom assistants? Is he happy with their salary levels, which I believe are minimum wage?

Mr. Miliband

My hon. Friend raises an important point. There are 80,000 more classroom assistants than there were five or six years ago. I had the pleasure of seeing, in Liverpool, a pioneering scheme to create a career path to allow teaching assistants to become classroom teachers. Classroom assistants' pay is a matter for local authorities and is determined locally. I know from my area that pay varies throughout the country, but I have not heard that assistants are on the minimum wage.

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the continued heavy investment in education which the Chancellor confirmed in his pre-Budget report yesterday is leading to good results in the numbers of classroom assistants and teachers? Is he aware that in my constituency, for example, Limbrick Wood primary school, which only three years ago was in special measures, has now made a remarkable turnaround and is achieving results above national average at key stage 2? Will he find an early opportunity to visit the school, where he will be most welcome, as in Coventry generally?

Mr. Miliband

That is a very tempting offer. I was in Coventry two weeks ago, and am sorry to have missed that opportunity. I am happy to congratulate Limbrick Wood primary school on its outstanding achievement. My hon. Friend will know that in 1997, about 560 schools were in special measures, but that number has now about halved. I look forward to taking in Limbrick Wood primary school on a future visit to the region.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

As an ex-head teacher, I greatly valued the classroom assistants who worked for me for a number of years. What does the Minister mean by high-level teaching assistants? If he means classroom assistants teaching formally, does he not agree that that destroys the ideal of a full graduate profession, for which we fought for many years when I was a very young man just starting teaching?

Mr. Miliband

I am sure that the young man on the Back Benches agrees that high-level teaching assistants such as language specialists, laboratory technicians and music specialists who come into classes can make a genuine contribution to the learning of young people. It is important to point out that all classroom assistants work under the direction of qualified teachers. Teaching remains a graduate profession, but those graduates will be in charge of a wider range of support staff, from secretaries right up to high-level teaching assistants. That reinforces teacher professionalism, and is certainly not a threat to it.