A challenge to teacher professionalism : the training and deployment of Specialist Teacher Assistants in the North West of England
Assistants have been working in schools for many years. There are numerous types of
assistants at the moment, such as: school caretakers, cleaners, cooks, dinner ladies,
classroom assistants (including nursery nurses) and school secretaries. They relieve
teaching staff from non-professional or time-consuming tasks, which could be carried out
by a responsible adult, rather than a qualified teacher. The ST A initiative introduced a
different set of tasks for classroom assistants. These placed a direct emphasis on
assistants "contributing to teaching and learning of basic skills" (DfE 1993: par. 33).
STAs were trained to work in the classroom supporting children with mathematics and
English activities as opposed to carrying out non-teaching tasks such as: photocopying,
making booklets or preparing resources for lessons, previously expected of assistants.
The ST A scheme was the first initiative to acknowledge explicitly that assistants could
contribute to teaching; a professional duty expected of a teacher. The National Union of
Teachers (NUT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) construed this as
a challenge to teachers' professionalism; but the STA initiative has not created a new
challenge. The vision that assistants can contribute to teaching has been known for some
time. The Plowden Report (CACE 1967) first discussed the prospect of introducing
teacher aides almost thirty years ago, but at that time it was not realised. Since then to
the present day, assistants have seen their deployment change through the plethora of
educational policy and the demands they have placed on teachers in their classrooms.
This has led teachers to use the support they receive of assistants in different ways to
maintain and raise standards in education. Assistants' roles, in recent years, have
changed and they are likely to continue to change, as announcements from the
government indicate (DfEE 1998). However, a concern regarding the STA scheme is
that a minority of STAs' roles went much further than what might be expected. They
were used as surrogate teachers with qualified teacher responsibilities.