[Mr George Howarth in the Chair] — Teaching Assistants

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 18th March 2014.

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

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”.