A recent government-funded survey has revealed that pupils who receive classroom help from teaching assistants actually make less progress than those that don't. The report explained that support staff tend to spend more time with the children than the teachers do, thus reducing their ability to learn.
However, the blame wasn't aimed directly at teaching assistants, as lead researcher Professor Peter Blatchford explained: "This is not something that we should blame on teaching assistants - we are not saying they are a bad influence. It seems to be about the way in which they are deployed and the way in which they are managed. The main explanation seems to be that support staff tend to look after the children in most need. They can then become rather separate from the main curriculum. The more time pupils had with support staff, the less time they had with the teacher."
The problem also lies with the educational standards of support staff, as many (roughly two-thirds) haven't ever been educated beyond GCSE level. Unison's Christina McAnea told us: "Unison has been calling for better pay, training and more paid time for teaching assistants to do their jobs, for many years. Teaching assistants are not substitutes for teachers, but what they can do, given the right training and support, is help children with special needs to get the most out of school."