[Mr George Howarth in the Chair] — Teaching Assistants

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 18th March 2014.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Elizabeth Truss.)

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North 9:30 am, 18th March 2014

Good morning, Mr Howarth, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time.

The main reason I sought to become a Member of this House was to see that children had opportunities available to them, enabling them to develop, so I am delighted to have secured today’s debate on the importance of teaching assistants to our children and the whole school system. They add tremendous value to classrooms throughout the country. I hope to be able to counter the attitude of some, which is that they are a high-cost, low-return intervention. I want this House to celebrate their achievements and recognise the positive role they play in developing our children’s future.

I hope to emphasise the huge potential and promise of teaching assistants in improving and enriching educational outcomes, because these valuable assets are currently undervalued, underpaid and their contributions are largely unrecognised. I hope that this debate sets the record straight on this matter, once and for all.

Like many hon. Members present, I have long argued that those teaching our young people and assisting their learning are of the greatest importance to all our lives. That is why I not only supported the call for our teachers to be properly trained and qualified, but tabled early-day motion 753 in November, to recognise the immense value teaching assistants bring to classrooms and schools throughout the United Kingdom.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

My hon. Friend is right; there is a difference between teachers and teachers’ assistants. There is no intention that teachers’ assistants should replace teachers—we always have to make that clear, because that is a common misapprehension—but, equally, we can value them by giving them better training as well.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

I agree with my hon. Friend and will, later in my speech, develop the point about the importance of teaching assistants assisting and teachers teaching.

I am in no doubt that we need great teachers at all levels of learning, each one equipped to deliver a modern education, based on an up-to-date understanding of developments in teaching practice, specific subject knowledge and the latest in educational tools and technology. However, a report from Reform in 2010 took this argument further—much too far, I would argue—when it suggested that Ministers should remove

“the various Government interventions into the cost and size of the teaching workforce” to increase accountability of schools to parents and to strengthen management and performance. The report went on to contend that a natural consequence of that would be

“a fall in the number of teaching assistants, since the value of the rapid growth in their numbers it claimed, is not supported by the research evidence”.

To give some background to today’s debate, a significant increase in teaching assistants resulted from the 2003 workload agreement in England and Wales—an effort by the previous Labour Government to raise standards in schools.

Photo of Lindsay Roy Lindsay Roy Labour, Glenrothes

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham on securing this important debate.

Teaching assistants are an invaluable asset to youngsters on the autistic spectrum. What would be the likely impact in classrooms of a diminution in the number of people who are involved in that role and of those involved in their training and development?

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

I have been amazed by somebody working with children with special needs; I will give that example later. Those people play a vital role and children with special needs in particular would suffer directly as a result of any reduction.

The aim of the workload agreement was simple: to allow teachers to teach. To do this, the agreement sought to lessen pressure on teachers by reducing the administrative bureaucracy and cutting teachers’ hours through the creation of new and expanded school support roles, including teaching assistants and higher level teaching assistants, and providing extra resource and high-level support for teachers.

Teaching assistants now make up more than a quarter of the total school work force in England, with more than 359,000 in classrooms across England alone. The vast majority—almost 250,000—work in primary schools; almost 20% are in secondary schools; and 9% are in special schools. With primary schools spending £2.8 billion on teaching assistants and support staff in 2010-11 and secondary schools spending £1.6 billion during the same period, such support accounts for a large proportion of the annual education budget. It is for precisely this reason that the role and worth of teaching assistants have been in the public spotlight, particularly since questions were raised several years ago about the value for money that they provide.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

My hon. Friend’s debate is critically important. Many of us have been concerned that the pressure on budgets will lead to the loss of teaching assistants. Does he note that one of our biggest concerns as a society at the moment is adult literacy and numeracy? Does he recognise the research from the Education Endowment Foundation, which highlighted the fact that teaching assistants, used effectively, can play a particularly important role in developing literacy and numeracy among children?

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

Yes, that is most certainly the case. Many years ago my wife was a volunteer assistant with adult literacy. I recognise so much the benefit of one-to-one opportunities for children with particular needs, including language and numeracy, who can benefit tremendously if they have that face-to-face contact with a teaching assistant.

The report by the Institute of Education, “Deployment and Impact of Support Staff in Schools”, was surprising, in that it found a negative relationship between the amount of teaching assistant support and academic progress in students. Similarly, Reform’s report also suggested that as much as £1.7 billion could be saved each year, through reducing the costs associated with teaching assistants, and repeatedly contended that teaching assistants

“have a negligible effect on educational outcomes”,

and even claiming that their interventions can

“harm a child’s education”.

However, these findings are very much the result of a Government who focus squarely on resource allocation and productivity per pound spent, rather than on actual educational outcomes and opportunities provided. To put it another way, this is ideologically driven attentiveness to cost at the expense of value. Indeed, several articles last summer reinforced this point. A piece in The Sunday Times, for instance, appearing in the run-up to the comprehensive spending review, argued that teaching assistants should be cut, as the evidence suggests that they do not have a positive impact on pupil attainment. In a similar fashion, an article in the Daily Mail also reported that officials from the Treasury and the Department for Education were considering mass reductions in the number of teaching assistants working in our classrooms, citing an effort to

“save some of the £4 billion a year spent on them”.

Again, the focus was primarily on finances, with the article suggesting that schools

“could improve value for money by cutting the number of teaching assistants and increasing class sizes”.

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Further to the point made earlier with regard to special needs, the special needs schools in my constituency have expressed to me that they could not survive without classroom assistants—teaching assistants—who are invaluable. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that more effort needs to be made to give them encouragement that there is a career for them and that they may, perhaps, move on to full-time teaching?

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

It is down to training and the quality of the teaching assistants. If we can help them develop their careers properly, with ongoing professional development—I will mention that later—it will add real value for special needs children and children across the piece.

Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Last week, I visited All Saints primary school in Upper Norwood. The head teacher showed me around and introduced me to a group of teaching assistants doing one-to-one remedial work with students who had fallen behind in mathematics. Surely, we should support efforts to improve the performance of our students in maths, given the importance of that subject to our global competitiveness and their future life chances.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

That is most certainly the case. It does not matter whether it is maths, English or anything else. If children with a particular need can get that extra attention with a teaching assistant, the results can be positive.

The claims made in both newspaper articles that I mentioned were based on assertions from Reform, which in turn were highly selective in the evidence used. For example, although it is true that the teaching and learning toolkit produced by a collaboration of the Education Endowment Foundation and the Sutton Trust suggests that teaching assistants have a low impact for a high cost, it is important to note that the toolkit also specifies that this judgment is

“based on limited evidence”.

The implication, of course, is that the sentiment should not necessarily be taken at face value, or at least not without some fairly substantial caveats.

Photo of Lindsay Roy Lindsay Roy Labour, Glenrothes

As a former head teacher and school inspector, I have direct evidence of the impact on positive discipline and effective learning. Is that not recognised anywhere in the report?

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

My hon. Friend has me at a disadvantage. I do not have such detailed knowledge, but discipline is critical. Teaching assistants have a role in that because they are able to contain a child and give them the attention that they need.

The Education Endowment Foundation makes it clear that a simplistic reading of its evidence is decidedly unhelpful. To be sure, the toolkit also specifies that teaching assistants can have a positive impact on academic achievement, but that assessment was not given equal weighting by Reform. The Institute of Education’s research openly criticises the idea of cutting teaching assistants as being

“only based on a partial reading of the evidence”.

The institute says that cutting teaching assistants would

“do more harm than good for students, teachers and schools.”

It is sad when institutions pick and choose what they want from research and distort it to give a particular impression. In fact, the Institute of Education’s original research found that support staff can have a positive effect:

“there is more pupil classroom engagement in the sense that pupils are more on-task and less off-task” when teaching assistants are in the classroom. If that were not enough, the research confirmed that the results

“were not attributable to pupil characteristics”.

The research also found that the results were not attributable to

“decisions made by TAs.”

Instead, they resulted from

“the way schools and teachers deploy and prepare TAs—factors that are out of TAs’ control”.

The report’s intention seems to have been to generate scaremongering headlines, rather than to address the real issues that affect teaching assistants, which I hope to do today.

Before I continue, it is important that we are clear that “teaching assistant” is something of a catch-all term. Teaching assistants carry out a huge range of responsibilities to support teachers, ranging from administration to face-to-face work with children, and I do not doubt that they form a central cog in the modern education system. Many teaching assistants, however, feel that their contribution to education is poorly understood and undervalued. With Reform’s scaremongering being picked up by the mainstream media, many now fear that Government cutbacks and the need to make savings in departmental budgets will inevitably lead to their role being earmarked for job losses.

Although I understand that the Department for Education does not currently have plans for nationwide reductions in teaching assistant numbers, I cannot imagine that my unofficial reassurances will provide comfort to those who see their role as being directly in the firing line. I am therefore sure that teaching assistants would welcome confirmation from the Minister that no plans exist to axe teaching assistants and other support staff through a centrally driven edict.

There is no doubt that the Government’s plans for the future role and contribution of teaching assistants are in need of clarification. Despite the crucial functions that they fulfil, clarity for vital support staff has been notable by its absence. For much of this Parliament, the Government have remained indifferent to teaching assistants and other support staff, rarely mentioning their roles in documents that detail future policy intentions.

The previous Labour Government legislated for a school support staff negotiating body at the end of the last Parliament, but the body, which was intended to look after the pay and conditions of support staff, was abolished within the first year of the coalition as quangos were indiscriminately eliminated as part of a cost-cutting drive. Similarly, the Government have axed national funding for higher level teaching assistant training and have archived all the national teaching assistant and higher level teaching assistant training resources and guidance, with high-quality training for teaching assistants becoming just another victim of the coalition Government’s austerity package.

On that point, it is worth noting that early-day motion 753 had broad multi-party support, although not a single Conservative Member cared to add their name to the motion recognising the difference that teaching assistants make to the education and support of children in our schools. It is little wonder that stories suggesting staffing cuts are causing anxiety within the education profession.

Last year saw two separate days to celebrate the contribution of teaching assistants in classrooms across the country, and I understand that greetings card manufacturers got in on the act, too, to recognise the value that teaching assistants can add to education. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? Although I am sure that, in many cases, teaching assistants ought to be used more effectively, most contribute very positively to education, which is clearly evident in the best cases.

Mark Fielding, for example, is a teaching assistant from Salford who worked one-to-one with a year-11 pupil who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Rather than working in a class-based environment, Mark helped to transform the pupil’s attainment from predictions of Es in maths and English in November to achieving Cs in June. Similarly, Mark has worked with a group with behavioural problems to raise their opportunities. Many were expected to leave school with no qualifications, yet, after Mark’s interventions, all achieved at least 2 GCSEs at C or above.

Guy Smith from Richmond worked with a year-11 student who was involved in offending behaviour and substance misuse and whose attendance at school was dropping. By attending youth offending team meetings with the pupil and providing support in lessons and with homework, as well as offering a contact to speak about any problems the pupil was having and attending meetings with the pupil’s child and adolescent mental health services staff and social workers, Guy helped the student to achieve 5 GCSEs at A to C. The student is now on a business administration apprenticeship with Richmond upon Thames borough council.

Put simply, there is more to be gained from sensible investment in teaching assistants than there is from running down teaching assistant numbers or from abolishing the role altogether. Our recognition of teaching assistants is long overdue, which is only exacerbated by the recent run of negative publicity that has sullied their good reputation. Although days of celebration and recognition are welcome, we must continue to push for more. We need serious action to confirm and codify the role of teaching assistants in our education system and the functions that they can rightly be expected to undertake, not to mention the remuneration that they can fairly expect, to ensure that their contributions are fully recognised.

I consulted a number of organisations as I prepared this speech, and I well understand why Unison and the GMB, which between them represent the vast bulk of teaching assistants, are anxious about the future for those they represent. With teaching assistants not having the reassurance of a national pay scale, pay varies not only according to geographical location but between and within different school types. That results in great uncertainty for teaching assistants, with terms and conditions that are not readily comparable with others who may be expected to fulfil the same role elsewhere, which can be bad for morale and can potentially leave teaching assistants under-rewarded for their contributions.

Fortunately, school leaders, rather than the Department for Education, are responsible for employing support staff. School leaders have sought to recruit more teaching assistants, despite the Government’s negative agenda, with a 5.7% increase between 2011 and 2012. Some 95% of school leaders say that teaching assistants add real value in schools. In case there is any doubt, Ofsted, which routinely reports on the positive impact of teaching assistants despite not having an official remit for inspecting support staff, looks upon the role of support staff very favourably. For instance, Ofsted’s report last year for Gorringe Park primary school in Surrey reads:

“Teaching assistants are sensitive to pupils’ needs and offer good support and guidance to those who need extra help. Consequently, disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs achieve as well as their classmates and sometimes better”.

That is repeated in schools across the country.

Although I will not go into greater detail, the role of teaching assistants has traditionally been closely connected to our schools’ work with pupils with the highest level of special educational needs in mainstream settings—colleagues alluded to that earlier—in terms of both teaching and inclusion, which must not be overlooked. Largely as a result of the failure specifically to address special educational needs in initial teacher training, teachers have historically not been sufficiently prepared to meet the needs of the pupils who struggle most with learning and engagement. Teaching assistants have taken responsibility by stepping up to the mark in such instances. With reforms that will change how schools address the needs of students with special educational needs due in September, clarification could hardly be better timed.

With schools set to receive additional funding to provide better support for disadvantaged students, it is time that the Government clarified their strategy on teaching assistants, not only on how they are to be funded but on how they are to be trained and qualified to ensure that their contributions have the maximum impact on the education of the young people they help. At the same time, school leaders also need to be clear about the role and purpose they see teaching assistants fulfilling in their schools by defining the contributions that teaching assistants will make to learning. That means initiating specific opportunities for teachers to liaise with teaching assistants in advance of lessons, not only so they know what will be taught but so that they are clear on what tasks will be undertaken, their specific responsibilities and the teacher’s expectation of pupils. That happens in many schools, but it needs to happen everywhere.

We must also ensure that teaching assistants are not deployed in inappropriate roles. They are not there to substitute for teachers on a temporary or permanent basis. They are not trained to take a class of 30 children or to prepare detailed lesson plans for a term, and they are not there to help the school stretch the budget by substituting for a teacher, even on the odd day. They are there to assist classroom teachers in helping to enhance the educational achievement of the pupils and to provide that vital one-to-one support that some children need to ensure they reach their full potential. We have to get the roles right, so that teachers teach and teaching assistants assist. We must foster an environment of openness and collaboration if we are to raise standards and rival the best education systems in the world.

Photo of Lindsay Roy Lindsay Roy Labour, Glenrothes

Is there not a role for Government to be a catalyst to share good practice?

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

There is always a role for Government to share good practice, and that is why I hope they will define training for teaching assistants across the country.

As with teachers, one key measure that raises standards is promoting continuous professional development throughout a teaching assistant’s career. That will ensure that their knowledge and skills remain at the fore. That level of training and development will allow teaching assistants properly to deliver specific, high-quality teaching interventions to the advantage of teachers and pupils alike, whether that is specialist support for pupils with special needs, administrative support to teachers to ease the pressure or targeted interventions in other areas of learning.

Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend is eloquently explaining the many ways that teaching assistants assist teachers in the classroom. One other way they do that is by helping to maintain discipline, which is one of the things that most concerns parents and can create a conducive atmosphere for learning. Does he therefore share my regret that instead of supporting teaching assistants in that important work, the Secretary of State chooses to undermine them?

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

I certainly do. I hope that when the Minister speaks, she will confirm her personal support for the role of teaching assistants across all their duties. The discipline element is important. Some parents tell me that their child is not getting the best opportunities in class because of other disruptive children. Teaching assistants can have a role in working with those children to maintain discipline and so enhance the learning opportunity.

I have said before that education is a dynamic field, but it cannot be greater than the sum of its parts unless teaching as a profession is ambitious and continually striving to improve and to provide the skills our young people need and that employers demand. To do that, we must enhance the standards of the teaching professions across the board, including those of teaching assistants. We know that well-trained teaching assistants can make a real difference. The latest research from the Education Endowment Foundation confirms the significant positive effects—as mentioned earlier—that teaching assistants can have on literacy and numeracy

“when they are deployed well”.

Crucially, teaching assistants, when properly instructed and deployed,

“can be effective at improving attainment.”

What we need, then, on top of greater clarity on surrounding roles, is enhanced sharing of best practice on how teaching assistants are trained and deployed to ensure that the myths on teaching assistants are dispelled and their contributions recognised. The very fact that they are valued and utilised in increasingly large numbers should be the starting point for the analysis of their worth.

As I conclude, I pose a number of questions for the Minister. What does she see as the future for teaching assistants? Do the Government plan wholesale reductions? Will the Government consider reintroducing a national pay body? Does she recognise and support the need for formal ongoing professional development for teaching assistants? Will funding for the training of higher level teaching assistants be reinstated to aid development? Properly utilised, teaching assistants are neither low-cost substitute teachers, nor high-cost babysitters. Rather, when deployed effectively, they add real value to our education system and improve the learning and support that our young people can access. It is only right that we recognise that.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour, Preston 9:54 am, 18th March 2014

I congratulate my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham on securing this very important debate on the value of teaching assistants. Teaching assistants make up something like a quarter of the schools work force and carry out a huge range of responsibilities, supporting teachers and forming a crucial part of the modern education system. Any Member of Parliament who visits schools in his or her constituency will see the excellent work that teaching assistants do and the tremendous support they give to teaching staff. I have seen many schools in my constituency where they are doing a fantastic job in backing up and supporting the work of teachers. Behavioural levels, for example, have improved significantly as a result. Teaching assistants, however, feel that their work is poorly understood and undervalued. They are among the lowest paid in public services, and they are overwhelmingly women and part-time workers. They work hard for little reward, often dealing with the most challenging and difficult children in school. They are very much valued in their communities, as I have seen from my visits to schools.

According to the latest official figures for publicly funded schools in England, there are some 360,000 teaching assistants, representing 27.4% of the schools work force and 25.8% of the full-time education work force. Some 93% of teaching assistants are women, which is an indication of the skew. Some 87%—that is, 312,000 teaching assistants—work part time. The growth in the number of teaching assistants was due to the previous Labour Government’s initiative to raise standards in schools and tackle teacher work load. The teaching professions had a little unease on the introduction of teaching assistants, a little like how the police force felt about the introduction of police community support officers. There was a worry that teaching assistants would try to take on duties meant for teachers, in the same way that police officers worried that PCSOs would take positions. That has not been the case, however. Teaching assistants, as with PCSOs, have provided excellent back-up and support.

On pay and conditions, teaching assistants are some of the lowest paid in the country in the public services, as I have mentioned. Their rates, as the Minister knows, vary across the country and in different schools. They are often paid at the lower levels of local authority pay scales and are under a massively diverse range of contracts and conditions, which vary by authority and school. For example, in local authority schools, teaching assistants are employed by the authority or the school, usually on local authority terms and conditions, and are then deployed by schools. That arrangement frequently causes confusion between local authorities and schools on contracts of employment and employment conditions. That in itself would be bad enough, but the academies have control over staff pay and are not bound by the collective agreements of the National Joint Council for Local Government Services. Larger academy chains conduct their own pay negotiations, while the majority of stand-alone academies follow the national negotiations.

I am deeply concerned that the lack of a national framework for pay and job evaluation means that academies are frequently hiring teaching assistants on lower grades than are appropriate, depressing pay and assigning duties to teaching assistants that are outside their job descriptions. I will give some examples. A teaching assistant in north-east Lincolnshire said:

“I have been regraded from Teaching Assistant level 4 to level 2. I now have two contracts, one at level 2 and one at level 4 for two afternoons per week when I provide…cover.”

A teaching assistant from Plymouth said:

“I have to work one extra week a year with no extra remuneration.”

That cannot be right. For someone to work a week with no remuneration in the 21st century is appalling.

The previous Labour Government rightly recognised that something needed to be done on the shambolic nature of terms and conditions of employment for teaching assistants. Labour agreed to establish a new body: the School Support Staff Negotiating Body, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North referred. It comprised of unions and employers and was created to set pay and employment conditions for the school support staff work force. It was put into statute in 2009, but was cancelled in 2010 by the current Secretary of State, who said that it did

“not fit well with the Government’s priorities for greater deregulation”—[Hansard, 28 October 2010; Vol. 721, c. 116WS.]

As a result, school support staff are still employed badly on low pay.

As my hon. Friend said earlier, there is now a severe threat to teaching assistants’ jobs. Teaching assistants feel that their contribution to education is poorly understood and undervalued. Government sources are suggesting that teaching assistant jobs will be put at further risk. A May 2013 report by the right-wing think-tank Reform, which has been closely linked with the Secretary of State and Conservative party policies, cited past research to argue that savings in schools spending should be found by dramatically reducing the number of teaching assistants and increasing class sizes. Reform claimed that teaching assistants had a

“negligible impact on pupil progress though some impact on teacher productivity”.

It recommended:

“Ministers should support schools that reduce numbers of teaching assistants and allow class sizes to rise.”

In June 2013, as referred to by my hon. Friend, the Daily Mail reported that the Treasury and the Department for Education

“are considering getting rid of the classroom assistants in attempt to save some of the £4 billion a year spent on them”,

and that the director of Reform had said that

“the money spent on teaching assistants would be far better spent on improving the quality of teachers.”

As someone who sat, along with the Front-Bench spokesman, my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan, on the Bill Committee of the Education Act 2011, I saw that the Government intend to introduce teachers with no academic qualifications. We have a right-wing think-tank saying that

“the money spent on teaching assistants would be far better spent on improving the quality of teachers”,

but the Government are quite happy to employ unqualified teachers, which flies in the face of everything they have been saying.

The Institute of Education ran a project between 2003 and 2009 entitled “Deployment and impact of support staff”. One of its researchers said in The Guardian in early 2014:

“TAs can only be as effective as teachers enable them to be and they shouldn’t have to mind-read. Think carefully about TAs’ contribution to learning and communicate your intentions to them. Inform them of the skills or knowledge the students they support should be developing, and what learning you want them to achieve by the end of the lesson…TAs can have a potentially transformative impact on learning by making small adjustments to their practice. A growing number of schools are reaping the benefits of changing the nature of TAs’ interactions with students”.

The original Institute of Education research found that support staff

“can have a positive effect on teaching and teacher workloads and job satisfaction. We can also say from the systematic observation results that support staff presence leads to pupils being better behaved in the sense that there is less dealing with negative behaviour, and there is more pupil classroom engagement in the sense that pupils are more on-task and less off-task.”

Reform’s ideological targeting of teaching assistants is not supported by academic evidence and does not fit with the reality of the modern school system. Even Reform acknowledged that cutting teaching assistants would mean larger class sizes, which cannot be good. Our pupils deserve better than that. I urge the Government and the Minister to rethink how they view and value teaching assistants. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North said, Ofsted has stated that teaching assistants:

“are sensitive to pupils’ needs and offer good support and guidance to those who need extra help. Consequently, disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs achieve as well as their classmates and sometimes better”.

That can only be good for children. Teaching assistants are an essential part of their development.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central 10:04 am, 18th March 2014

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I congratulate my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham on securing a debate that is of great importance to this country’s children.

Children benefit immensely from the hundreds of thousands of fantastic support staff in our schools, who do amazing work every single day of the academic year to support qualified teachers and the children in their care. We should value and support all public sector professionals, something which has been overlooked, particularly over the past four yours, because we have some superb teachers and teaching assistants. By any measure, we have the best generation of teachers that we have ever had, which the Government have admitted, and it is about time that the culture of criticism and attack on the professional work force in our schools and across the public sector came to an end. As MPs, who are responsible for public services in this country, it is about time that those who deliver public services, who are expected to deliver such services and to ensure that our children get the best possible education, get the support and encouragement that they deserve and need in order to do a good job.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

I am interested in my hon. Friend’s reference to the Government recognising that we probably have best generation of teachers, which is tremendous. Many of them trained over the past 10 to 15 years. Does he agree that Members of Parliament have a responsibility to lead our communities in appreciating the teachers’ expertise and valuing them highly? Communities do not necessarily value teachers in the way that we might expect and hope for.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is all about culture. If the people at the top show leadership by saying that teachers should be supported and encouraged, and by making it clear what we think of the people running our public services and those responsible for our children’s education, the rest of the country is likely to follow suit.

This debate, however, is about teaching assistants and the support that they provide to qualified teachers, whom I mention because, as my hon. Friend Mark Hendrick stated, we now have a Government who say that teachers do not have to be qualified. It is worrying that that is now the situation in more than half of secondary schools. The role of teaching assistants is directly linked to that point and I will return to that later in my remarks.

The support that teaching assistants are able to offer, where we see good practice, provides support for teachers, whether helping in small groups or one-to-one situations, working with teachers to plan activities, or doing administrative tasks, or a combination of those, and many other activities.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell DUP, East Londonderry

The hon. Gentleman is outlining the benefits offered by teaching assistants. Does he agree that if the Government are contemplating significant changes, they should think about what damage would be done were they to reduce the number of teaching assistants? They not only help out with maintaining good order in classrooms and dealing with difficult-to-manage children, but offer a much-needed guidance role to special needs children in many schools.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who makes an excellent remark. I hope the Minister responds to that point and other comments of a similar nature.

Teaching assistants also allow teachers the time to plan lessons, to mark work and to carry out their own duties and responsibilities, but such things can happen only if teaching assistants are supported in the right way. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North made a point about support and continuing professional development for teaching assistants. The same applies to teachers.

Under the previous Labour Government, an agreement was reached for teachers to have some time each week for planning, preparation and marking, which is an important part of learning. If teachers have that time, they are in a stronger position during lessons, and support from teaching assistants contributes to that. Without good planning time and good preparation, learning can only suffer. Allowing good planning time and preparation is one of the values of having good teaching assistants.

The Reform report referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston drew on evidence to show where practice has not always been very good. It is worth reflecting on where things have gone wrong in the past; that is part of learning for the future. Is it any surprise that teaching assistants struggle when they are forced to take classes without proper training and expertise; that children may not learn as effectively when teaching assistants are required to do a significant amount of teaching, without the support, training or preparation to enable them to support children; or that when teaching assistants are given responsibility for the children who need the most support, and are then left to their own devices, learning outcomes are not that good? Of course it is not a surprise; but cherry-picking the evidence and saying that it demonstrates that teaching assistants do not perform a valuable role misses the point. The evidence makes the case for giving them the support and training that they need to do a good job; it is not an argument for not having teaching assistants in the first place.

There is a big difference between leaving unqualified teachers in charge—whether they are teachers in academies or free schools, or teaching assistants—and providing teaching assistants with support and training from qualified, experienced teachers, so that they can provide structured, individual support, one to one or in small groups, and receive continuing back-up and review from the teacher. Those are very different situations. It is clear that where there is proper structure, support and review, learning improves. It is a shame that some people cherry-pick information and evidence to support their conclusions.

I looked at the report, “Deployment and Impact of Support Staff in Schools”, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Preston referred, which made the point:

“Given that lower attaining pupils are more likely to be given extra support it is vital that this is well organised and effective.”

To me, that statement summed up what is needed. At the time of the report and its analysis of the effectiveness of teaching and learning support assistants, the big expansion in numbers had only just started. There was scope for a great deal of learning about the most effective way of deploying them. The authors of the report analysed what was going wrong and what constituted good practice, and made recommendations:

“More needs to be done to prepare newly-qualified and in-service teachers with the necessary skills and preparation to help them manage the growing number of support staff with whom they work.

More needs to be done to prepare, particularly classroom based, support staff for their role in schools, especially for the now common, pedagogical, instructional role with pupils.

More time should be available for joint planning and feedback, and recommendations should also be made concerning ways in which TAs can be deployed effectively.”

Commenting on the deployment of support staff, the Institute of Education said:

“Schools should examine the deployment of classroom or pupil based support staff to ensure that they do not routinely support lower attaining pupils and pupils with SEN”,

which makes the point that children with the greatest needs need the greatest support from the classroom teacher. Some evidence shows that there have been times when the opposite has happened. It was published in 2009, so it has been available a long time. The report stated:

“We suggest that pupils in most need should get more not less of a teacher’s time”—

I hope that the Minister will respond to the point about special needs children—and added:

“Teachers should take responsibility for the lesson-by-lesson curriculum and pedagogical planning for all pupils in the class, including those pupils being supported by support staff.”

The evidence in the 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Education about best practice in the use of teaching assistants to support teachers is entirely consistent with the evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation and the remarks of other hon. Members in the debate. It shows that teaching assistants who are supported, encouraged and trained, who plan jointly with teachers, and who receive the right preparation and constant review, feedback and support are an invaluable addition to the educational landscape. They support children and improve young people’s life chances. We should support and encourage them and celebrate their work, as happened in November. The Opposition are clear about the important role of teaching assistants in schools. The Minister should do all that she can to support them and ensure that good practice is shared, and should dismiss the suggestion that teaching assistant numbers should be cut.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Order. The two Front-Bench spokesmen have until 11 o’clock to make their speeches. If the debate concludes before then, I have the power to suspend the sitting until 11 o’clock.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education) 10:18 am, 18th March 2014

I am sure that the Minister will have plenty to say, and that you will not need to exercise your power to suspend the sitting, Mr Howarth.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham on securing a debate—which has, so far, been very interesting—on this important subject, my hon. Friend Mark Hendrick on his thoughtful remarks, and, as ever, my hon. Friend Bill Esterson on his thoughtful and erudite contribution. I also congratulate my hon. Friend Lindsay Roy on his interventions. David Simpson and Mr Campbell, although they are not now in their place, are also assiduous in attending such debates.

Schools have always had support staff. My mother was a dinner lady, and dinner ladies and others working in schools, such as caretakers, cleaners and so on, are all part of the support structure in a school. In other words, schools are made up of more than only teachers, head teachers and pupils. It is extremely important, from the outset, that we should take the opportunity to pay tribute to the work of support staff in our schools—not only teaching assistants, but dinner ladies, caretakers, and lunchtime supervisors—because they are part of the fabric of school life and part of the process of caring for, safeguarding and educating our children. Such roles are perhaps not emphasised enough in our debates on education.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

My granny was also a dinner lady, and I valued her. I used to nip in to see her at lunchtime, and she would give me two old pennies for me to spend in the sweet shop, but only if I ate my school dinner. That was how she encouraged me. Dinner ladies are a tremendous encouragement to children generally, and they help with discipline. My hon. Friend will recognise why I wanted to mention that.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

I do indeed recognise that. In fact, I am also ancient enough to remember the pre-decimalisation era. There are certain disadvantages, however, for people whose mother is a dinner lady, particularly if they go to the same primary school: despite my picky eating ways, I was forced by embarrassment into eating my school dinner every day, whether I liked it or not. I want to make that tribute from the start, because it is important to remember that. Later, I will talk a little about support staff pay, which has been mentioned by other hon. Members.

Schools have changed immensely in the past couple of decades, particularly in relation to the provision of teaching assistants. When I taught in a comprehensive school between 1985 and the end of 1994, teaching history and economics and eventually being a head of department, there were no teaching assistants at all. Occasionally a special educational needs assistant might appear with a pupil with particular special needs, but teaching assistants were not otherwise present in schools. They would have been a great benefit, which is why there was a big expansion in the number of teaching assistants under the previous Government. They recognised that it was helpful to have support from teaching assistants available, as that would help pupils and enable teachers to get on with the job of teaching, they being the professionals in pedagogy.

Under Labour, the number of teaching assistants trebled. The number of regular, full-time-equivalent teaching assistants overall increased from 61,000 in 1997 to 194,000 in 2010, with the greatest increase in the primary sector, but there was also a 36% increase in the secondary sector, including academies. There was a large expansion, as well as a degree of debate about the effectiveness of teaching assistants and about what jobs they carried out, because they have a wide range of duties when helping out in schools.

The Government have been sending out mixed messages about teaching assistants, and that has been reflected in the debate. I hope that the Minister will, in her response, set out with more clarity the Government’s vision for the future of teaching assistants in our schools. We have already seen the Secretary of State’s failed attempt to dismantle completely the 2003 workforce agreement. That attempt was rejected by the teachers’ pay body, which did not believe that we should return to the days of teachers being expected to undertake many tasks that were not directly related to their teaching. That was the first mixed message given out by the Secretary of State.

As hon. Friends have pointed out, there have also been leaks to the press about other messages, presumably from the Secretary of State, or perhaps from some of his special advisers on the lunatic fringe—we never know the sources of such press stories for sure. One story, which appeared last year in the Daily Mail in response to the Reform report, has already been referred to:

“The Treasury and Department for Education are considering getting rid of the classroom assistants in an attempt to save some of the £4 billion a year spent on them...Think-tank Reform found that schools could improve value for money by cutting the number of teaching assistants and increasing class sizes.

Thomas Cawston, the think-tank’s research director, said: ‘We cited a swathe of evidence that questioned the value for money of teaching assistants and demonstrated that their impact on educational outcomes for pupils was negligible.’”

I apologise for quoting at length, but I will quote a little more from what was reported:

“We found that while they were supposed to help teachers, they were actually being allowed to take classes themselves. Not being prepared or qualified to do those classes, they were not doing a very good job.

The money spent on teaching assistants would be far better spent on improving the quality of teachers.”

Understandably, that story led to speculation, and to concern and uncertainty in the world of education about the Government’s position on teaching assistants. The Government seem to support the idea that assistants are a waste of money. I do not know whether that message is driven from the Treasury, to put pressure on the Department, or if that is what the Secretary of State for Education and his Ministers believe. I hope that the Minister present will today clear up the matter and give us all—the country, everyone interested in this, and the people working in our schools, including teaching assistants, teachers and head teachers—a clear view, rather than strange mixed messages.

My next example is not of a mixed message, in fairness to Ministers, but of a straightforward two fingers up to teaching assistants and support staff, including dinner ladies and others working in our schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, who served as a Whip on the Bill concerned, has mentioned this. Within months of coming to power, the Government abolished the School Support Staff Negotiating Body.

Let me explain. That body was not a national pay review body in the way that the teachers’ one is, or other public sector workers’ bodies are. It was not charged with recommending and setting pay and conditions for staff; it was simply there to provide for the whole country a framework or guide, including descriptions of the type of work undertaken in schools by support staff, such as teaching assistants. It acted as a valuable reference point for school leaders, managers, governors, local authorities, academy chains and so on, so that they knew what the rate for the job roughly was, and what the job undertaken by support staff was—what the job descriptions were, and so on. Through the School Support Staff Negotiating Body, a huge amount of work by everyone involved went into putting together those job descriptions and providing the framework that enabled everyone to have a clear sight of the kind of work undertaken by support staff.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

The National Education Trust suggests that we should go a step further and introduce professional standards for teaching assistants. Does my hon. Friend have a view on that?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

So much damage has been done by the Government that we need to attend to that first and reconstruct something from the vandalism undertaken by Ministers immediately following the election. I said it at the time, and I will repeat it now: that was one of the most short-sighted, mean-spirited decisions undertaken by the Government when they came to power. So committed are they to a market ideology that they could not see the value or usefulness to school leaders, governors, leaders of academy chains and others of having a reference point for job descriptions and the work being undertaken, so as to enable a judgment to be made about a job’s value. The ludicrous but sadly real example read out by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston of a teaching assistant being employed on different terms from someone else while undertaking the same job is a good demonstration of the problem.

Let us combine that decision with the Government’s deregulation of teaching, whereby they are saying that people now need no qualifications whatever to become a teacher in a state school. There are all sorts of jobs out there for which people require qualifications, including working for McDonald’s, but under the Government’s right-wing deregulation of the teaching profession, people do not need any qualifications whatever to teach in our schools.

In answer to criticism of that policy, the Government cite individual examples of people without teaching qualifications who teach in private schools. There are a few things to be said about that. One is that it is not the individual example that counts, but the impact over time of deregulating the system and allowing unqualified teachers into the classroom on the quality of teaching and on the teaching profession. Over time, as we have seen in Sweden, the results of that kind of deregulatory, right-wing approach are disastrous, with schools failing and being closed down. As for private schools, the Minister never mentions that of the 50% of private schools inspected by Ofsted because they are non-association schools, 13% were found to be inadequate in the previous Ofsted inspection report, published in December. Those are the sorts of schools she seems to be suggesting we should follow.

Taken together, those mixed messages are causing a real sense of uncertainty within our schools. We therefore want clarity from the Minister today. What is the Government’s vision for the future of teaching assistants and support staff in our schools? Are there plans to axe them, as hinted by sources in the Department for Education in that Daily Mail article last year? Will she clear up the position once and for all today, and give us a clear message on the future for teaching assistants?

Hon. Friends have talked about the debate and controversy since the publication of the Reform report last year. That report has been used by some—including, it would seem, people briefing on behalf of Ministers and the Treasury—to say that we should reduce the number of teaching assistants in our schools.

Recently we have also had a helpful report from the Education Endowment Foundation, an organisation that has received an endowment from the Government—a positive policy that we fully support. Its recent report concluded that teaching assistants can improve literacy and numeracy skills when they are deployed well. Those conclusions came from a series of controlled tests; I will not go into the details, but the foundation used a group of reports based on trials in 238 schools, giving us a major new source of independent evidence to help schools use teaching assistants to narrow the gap—the professed aim of the Government and the Opposition.

It is important to pay attention to the evidence, positive or negative, rather than simply cherry-picking it. When we look at that evidence, the conclusions are interesting. The Times Educational Supplement has recently looked at what the Education Endowment Foundation has produced, and said:

“Children struggling with reading and maths make significant progress when given as little as 30 minutes’ individual attention a week by a teaching assistant, research has revealed.

Primary school students who received two 15-minute maths sessions a week made three months more progress over the course of a year than their classmates, according to a study published today by England’s Education Endowment Foundation”.

The foundation has made a useful contribution to the debate by publishing its research.

The Education Media Centre recently made an interesting assessment of research around this issue, which shows that there are concerns about how teaching assistants are deployed in our schools. That is the key issue: we need to get away from the question of whether we should have that kind of support within our schools and on to the issue of how teaching assistants are best deployed for maximum impact. The way that Reform—it has an agenda, to be honest—used the research last year, and was backed up by sources purporting to speak on behalf of Ministers, was pretty disgraceful. It was used simply as a way of saying that we need to get rid of the support that is available through having teaching assistants in our schools, rather than looking at what works when we deploy them.

In the Education Media Centre’s recent article, which can be found on its website, the following point was made:

“Therefore, schools must make interventions, delivered by properly trained TAs, part of a coherent, integrated package of learning for those falling behind…On the basis of the available evidence, it can be argued schools must fundamentally rethink how they use TAs and ensure they add value to teachers, not replace them.

We need to make sure TAs are not given primary responsibility for pupils in most need and are used in ways to allow teachers to spend more time with these pupils.

Allied to this is the need to develop what we might call an improved teaching method for TAs: a way of interacting with pupils using effective styles of questioning to promote and support independent learning.

Finally, we need to guarantee time for teachers and TAs to liaise and seriously invest in TAs’ professional development.”

The conclusion that I and most hon. Members here have drawn from the evidence is that we should get away from a debate about cutting away swathes of teaching assistants, which is what we were hearing last year, and get on to a debate about what works, as shown by the evidence. The evidence clearly shows that teaching assistants have a discrete role that needs to be supported by professional development. It would be a great benefit if the Government could indicate their support for teaching assistants by putting in place once more a proper negotiating body for support staff, so that they feel that they are valued and there is a future for them. That would also be of great assistance to schools.

The evidence shows that teaching assistants work best when they are allowed to perform their discrete role and are given the support to do so, rather than being used simply as a way of covering lessons or filling in holes. We would welcome the Minister giving us a clear message today on these questions. What do the Government think the future role is for teaching assistants? What will they do to enhance that role and give assurance to people working in those roles that they have a future? What are the Government doing to promote the best evidence on how teaching assistants are best deployed for the purpose for which they are there—in other words, to help the education of pupils?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 10:39 am, 18th March 2014

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I congratulate Alex Cunningham on securing this important debate. I know he is a passionate supporter of the work of teaching assistants and the valuable and important contribution that they and others make. I also know that there are many across the House of Commons who support teaching assistants. Yesterday I bumped into John Woodcock, who is training to be a teaching assistant himself. I note that he is sorry that he could not be here to speak in this debate.

There were some aspects of Opposition Members’ speeches with which I was not quite up to date. I was in school after decimalisation came in, so I cannot relate to that experience. In fact, I did not actually eat school dinners at my primary school. There was a chip shop over the road, and the school provided a special lollipop lady to take us to the chip shop at lunchtime instead. So I did not avail myself of the services of the school dinner ladies at the time, but lollipop ladies were also an important part of our school infrastructure.

The Government value the important contribution made by teaching assistants, often in challenging circumstances, to the teaching, effective management and organisation of schools. We also value hugely the role of teachers and we recognise that teaching is the No. 1 factor in high-quality education systems.

Photo of Lindsay Roy Lindsay Roy Labour, Glenrothes

Given the Minister’s recognition of the valuable role of teachers and teaching assistants and what she said about the importance of this debate, can she explain why the seats opposite are empty?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I am sure that it is because Government Members have every confidence that the Government are taking action on the issue.

We know that teaching assistants are dedicated to improving the learning and life chances of children and young people in our schools. I note that the number of teaching assistants has increased under this Government: the number of teaching assistants employed in maintained schools and academies was 97,000 in 2005 and more than 200,000 in 2012. It is not just the Government who value teaching assistants; we know that schools value the roles that TAs perform.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

I am absolutely delighted to hear the Minister speak so glowingly about teaching assistants and recognise that numbers have increased under the current Government. Can she therefore tell us that central Government will take no action that will discourage the recruitment of teaching assistants in the future?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I can confirm that. I was going to come to it later in my comments.

Over the time in which teaching assistants have become part of our school life, their role has developed from providing general administrative and logistical support to teachers to supporting the attainment of groups of pupils in schools. As many Members have said, teaching assistants are not employed simply to support the classroom teacher; they play an active role to improve children’s literacy and numeracy skills and behaviour, and often work tirelessly to help children with special educational needs and complex emotional, medical and physical needs achieve academic success. As many hon. Members have mentioned, evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation and others has shown that to be the case. Teaching assistants also have a positive effect on teacher morale and reduce stress, which is another important factor. It is absolutely right to consider teaching assistants as part of a school team made up not just of teachers—the pedagogical experts—but of all kinds of support staff, including teaching assistants, those who work with school meals and school librarians. We should see them as part of a whole.

In my comments, I want to address a misconception about the future of teaching assistants and the claims that many will lose their jobs. I absolutely assure the hon. Member for Stockton North and his colleagues that neither the Department for Education nor the Government have any plans or powers to make that happen. I welcome the opportunity laid out by the shadow Minister, Kevin Brennan, for us to have a debate about the best use and deployment of teaching assistants and how it works with other aspects of school organisation, such as continuing professional development and training. All of us want a highly trained, highly skilled work force of teachers and teaching assistants. That is our aim.

The evidence is clear that teaching assistants’ impact on pupil attainment is varied. The best teaching assistants are well-trained, informed, skilled and well-managed, but that is not true universally. We can do more to help school leaders understand how to get the best from their teaching assistants for the benefit of their pupils.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

I put a question to my hon. Friend the shadow Minister about the ambition of the National Education Trust to have professional standards for teaching assistants, which is supported by Unison and other trade unions. Would the Minister push it that far and go for professional standards in the development of teaching assistants?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I will come to that later in my comments. We do have some plans with reference to teaching assistants.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

Before the Minister moves on—this may come later in her remarks as well—I welcome what she said about ensuring that good practice is everywhere when it comes to teaching assistants. Does she have an assessment of how much good practice there is and how much practice she would like to change?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

No, I do not have that assessment at this stage.

In 2013, the Department published a review of efficiency in the school system showing that the differences in the impact of TAs on attainment can be explained largely by how individual schools choose to deploy them. That is supported by the recent report from the Education Endowment Foundation, which showed that TAs can improve literacy and numeracy skills when deployed well and suggested that when used to support specific pupils in small groups or through structured interventions, TAs can be effective at improving attainment.

My main point of contention with the speeches made by Opposition Members is about how to improve attainment. The Government do not believe that there is a one-size-fits-all solution. We believe in a school-led system. As the hon. Members who are on the Education Committee will be well aware from Andreas Schleicher’s evidence to the Committee recently, international statistics suggest that a combination of autonomy and accountability achieves the best results for schools. When head teachers are given the power to make decisions about how to deploy staff in their schools, create an effective team, develop that team and manage talent, but are held to account through rigorous systems of inspection and external accountability, that leads to the best results, which is why we are reluctant to dictate to schools how to deploy teaching assistants or impose rigid boundaries about what teaching assistants can and cannot do. We know that there are different types of schools with different students, and there might be different factors in different areas of the country, so we are reluctant to create a one-size-fits-all policy.

That is my main point of difference from Opposition Members. I certainly do not disagree about the value of teaching assistants—the evidence shows that they are an important part of our education system—but we may disagree about the best way to ensure that schools deploy teaching assistants to students’ benefit.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour, Preston

The Minister is giving a positive picture of the role of teaching assistants and is making the point that the Government do not think it a good idea to be too prescriptive about how teaching assistants are used; those considerations are best made locally. However, can she say a little about how she feels about low pay? As I said in my contribution, low pay is a problem for teaching assistants. We obviously value the work that they do, but in doing so, should we not see that they are properly remunerated and not just treated as cheap labour?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The evidence from the EEF suggests that teaching assistants who are properly remunerated and have a clear training structure achieve more, and that is something the head teacher ought to be taking into account.

In view of the evidence, we know that more can be done to help schools ensure that their TAs have a rewarding career and make an even greater contribution and impact in schools. We have been gathering evidence from teaching schools, academy chains and other key stakeholders on what good deployment and support for TAs looks like in our best schools.

We know that successful senior leaders deploy TAs based on their school’s particular needs and that different deployment models can work in the right circumstances. However, underpinning those models is a number of principles that good schools apply universally in deploying TAs. Those include employing suitably qualified TAs. We know that the TA’s level of general qualifications and skills—for example, their literacy and numeracy skills—can vary, and it is important that schools ensure that the qualifications, skills and backgrounds of their TAs are sufficiently robust and match the specific needs of the school.

We know that it is important that TAs are deployed according to their skills and expertise. TAs are employed in a variety of roles in schools, from providing administrative support for teachers to assisting with classroom and SEN teaching, and we have seen that good schools have a very clear structure and description of those roles. It is also important that schools are continually reviewing the deployment of TAs to ensure that they are achieving the stated objectives and are reviewing matters when those objectives have been achieved.

It is important to provide joint preparation and planning time for TAs and teachers to establish clear lesson outcomes and goals, which is a point that the hon. Member for Sefton Central made. Planning and preparation time are of course vital for teachers and teaching assistants to get the best out of their lessons. One thing that we are working on in the new maths hubs that the Government are establishing across the country is looking at best practice from overseas on organising the planning and preparation for lessons. However, in a school-led system, that ultimately has to be led by schools, rather than by the Government saying, “This is what we want you to do on a national basis.” I think that Opposition Members and I agree on the outcomes that we want to see; the question mark is over exactly how to achieve them. It is really essential for teaching assistants to understand the targets for pupils and to be trained in assessing pupil progress.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

Does the Minister accept that it is a good idea for good practice evidence to be given to schools, so that they can make those judgements locally?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I do, and I am about to say more about that in a minute; I think the hon. Gentleman has anticipated the rest of my speech.

It is also important to implement strong performance management procedures to improve the quality of support and teaching in the classroom and to provide TAs with quality training and support, along with mentoring programmes and career development opportunities. We have also seen some schools putting in place innovative staffing structures and creating support staff roles that are very different from the traditional TA. Some schools prefer to deploy specialist support staff with degrees to work with high-performing pupils on achieving excellence or to lead classes, allowing teachers to spend more time with underperforming pupils.

Opposition Members have asked what the Government will do about this issue. The answer is that we want to make those principles a reality. That is why our intention is to make the evidence of good practice, supported by case studies, available to schools this year. We will be issuing guidance to schools about the best use and deployment of TAs based on the best available practice. I would very much welcome any practical suggestions on what more we could do to support TAs when the report is published. This is an important development that the Government are undertaking. We recognise the value of teaching assistants and we want to make the debate about how teaching assistants are best deployed and to help schools learn from other schools, because a school-led system provides the opportunity to innovate and develop best practice examples that other schools can then learn from.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

The Minister talks about the autonomy of schools and about schools being able to innovate and introduce best practice. However, one academy chain is talking about a huge contract for support staff across the entire country, possibly screwing down wages and everything else. Does the Minister really think that that will leave the school with the autonomy that they need and the highly motivated teaching assistants that they want to develop in the school situation?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Ultimately, schools are judged on their results. They are inspected by Ofsted and judged through the accountability system. That will be even better under the new progress 8 measure, in which the achievement of each individual getting a bit better will count. The only way for schools to achieve that is to motivate their staff and to have staff who are well trained, who understand what pupil progress looks like and who feel that they are part of a team. That is about good management. If a school is not doing that, it will find that staff do not have sufficient motivation and that they will not do an effective job. Part of the point of the Government putting together the best practice study is to show schools what good practice looks like for those who are not doing it already.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

I intervene a final time and I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. She talks about training, autonomy and all manner of things, but the issue is also about remuneration and reward for teaching staff. We face a situation in which the wages being paid to them are being screwed down, rather than the contribution that they make being recognising properly through their pay. Does she not think that it would be better if they were better paid?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

When I speak to head teachers, they tell me that staff are motivated by a variety of things—partly the remuneration package, but also such things as the career structure, training opportunities and the atmosphere in a school. All those things contribute to a good package and it is up to school leaders who want to retain and recruit the best people to offer an attractive package to encourage people to join or stay part of their school.

We also want to see more effective use of TAs to support pupils with SEN to progress. It is not enough simply to allocate hours of support; we also have to look at outcomes. TAs can play a very positive role in helping teachers to meet children’s special educational needs, and there are many good TAs doing that. However, the support that they provide should be part of a well-thought-out package of support for the individual child, rather than as a substitute for teacher involvement with that child.

We have built on reports from Ofsted and Brian Lamb when developing our SEN and disability reforms, first in the Green Paper, “Support and aspiration”, and now through the Children and Families Act 2014. Reforms will ensure that there is a greater focus on outcomes rather than on the hours of provision in agreeing the teaching and support to be provided for pupils with SEN, giving families and young people a greater say. We have also established a national scholarship fund for support staff, helping them to develop expertise and higher level skills. In the most recent round, 113 support staff were funded to undertake postgraduate qualifications and training in supporting children with SEN and disabilities.

We have encouraged schools, when deciding how to invest the pupil premium funding, to engage actively with high-quality evidence from robust research studies. That includes the research summarised in the EEF teaching and learning toolkit.

In summary, the Government value the role of teaching assistants. We believe that it is down to schools to make sure that those teaching assistants are deployed in the best possible way to support the learning of students and the best possible pupil progress. However, this year, we will be publishing best practice evidence to help show schools how they can deploy teaching assistants to the benefit both of teaching assistants and the students in a school. I thank hon. Members for what has been a very interesting and helpful debate, and I would welcome their contributions to the work we are doing on teaching assistants.