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.