Delegates rally to back teaching assistants

UNISON's local government conference declared its support for teaching assistants and school support staff this morning, as delegates backed an emergency motion that came in the wake of reports that the government is planning to get rid of all teaching assistants.

Angela Egan from Bolton sketched out the different strands of education secretary Michael Gove's plans for the education system, noting that it was "firmly under attack".

Responding to claims that teaching assistants (TAs) made no difference to children's education, she cited an example of one assistant who had been expected to cover for a sick teacher for nine weeks - with no back-up for her own role.

Corinne Coward from Derby County stressed that it is "TAs who provide, in many cases, the main emotional stability that some children get," adding that "it takes the whole of society to raise a child" and "every child matters".

And Richard Gower from Tower Hamlets stressed the particular impact that the removal of TAs would have on children from families where English is not the first language, together with disabled children.

In a raft of education debates, conference also called on the executive to support regions to challenge the setting up of free and studio schools, and work with all relevant national negotiation bodies for schools-based staff to ensure that terms and conditions, pay and contracts of employment are not eroded.

It was noted that "free schools are mostly in wealthy areas," with only 9.4% of free school pupils receiving free school meals, as opposed to the national average of 16.7%.

Conference also instructed the service group executive to mount a campaign to "defend and promote the role and contribution of teaching assistants in providing our children with quality education."

It was also agreed to "continue to lobby government and the Teaching Agency's successor body on the importance of support staff training, and the need for resourced national training initiatives."

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