Why classroom assistants matter and why the SNP’s pressure on local government harms kids’ education and attainment

US Navy 061026-N-5271J-014 Jennifer Tonder (right), a teacher's aide for a 3rd-4th grade multi-age class, discusses the various books available from the Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) grant given to Sasebo Elementary School with
Scottish Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson Liam McArthur has been doing some research into classroom assistant numbers in Scotland and has found some very worrying results. Like many other council services, education has been put under massive pressure after nine years of Council Tax freeze which predominantly benefits those in larger properties – e.g. the richest. The SNP are not so progressive when you put their record under scrutiny.

While some local authorities have increased the numbers of classroom assistants, others have seen huge drops. Aberdeen has lost 92 out of 299 in 2007 when the SNP came to power. In my own council area, West Lothian, 10% of classroom assistants have been gone despite a massive reduction in special needs provision.

I asked a teacher why classroom assistants matter and what impacts such reductions in their numbers have on children’s education. This is what they said.

In the modern classroom, classroom assistants, learning assistant, pupil support assistants, are key to facilitating learning. From working individually with children who, in the past, would have perhaps been taught in a school for children with special needs to supporting small groups within the classroom or being there to allow the teacher to work with small groups/individuals. Active learning is a key part of Curriculum for Excellence. This often involves spreading out of the classroom and using other spaces such as library, sensory room, outdoor classroom etc. This is all the more possible with  classroom assistants rather than having to move 33 kids en masse all of the time.

Also, the free school lunches for P1-3 have put a great deal of stress on the hall (which is often also used for the 2.5 hours of PE each child is supposed to receive!), and without classroom assistants helping out during lunch, it would be a disaster. At the end of the day, schools are trying to keep up with the unending changes and demands which the government, in its wisdom, like to introduce but it must make schools, teachers, classroom assistants wonder why they bother when, as soon as they implement the changes, the government take a vital part of the system away.

Finally, there is not enough room in special needs schools for children with severe needs. I understand that teaching kids within mainstream has many benefits for all the kids but this should never have been done on the cheap gradually moving the education of children from a 1:6(?) ratio with trained professionals to incorporating kids in a class of often 33. I went into teaching to educate children and help kids grow and develop but, I must admit, it is demoralising when you have an 11 year old with nursery level abilities in a class and you can’t give him the focus and attention that his development requires.

Good on Liam for highlighting this. It also shows that there are perhaps better ways than the SNP’s knee-jerk imposition of national testing to increase attainment. There is no Pupil Premium in Scotland, either, which has been proven to have an impact in improving performance of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Let’s hope that these sorts of details actually get talked about in the months to come and that the SNP don’t get away with a lot of froth about the constitution to distract from its own poor record. The first 8 years of devolution saw free personal care, tuition fees abolished and free eye and dental checks all introduced by the Liberal Democrats. The SNP have been nowhere near as radical. They have spent the subsequent 9 years moaning about what they can’t do rather than getting on with what they can. They now have huge power over the tax system but John Swinney has been so conservative about using it to be more, shall we say, progressive.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Thomas Shakespeare 30th Dec '15 - 5:27pm

    Spot on Caron, especially with the last paragraph. I remember on Question Time an SNP MP moaned about NHS privatisation by the coalition. David Dimbleby, in his lovably friendly but ruthless way, said “Don’t you have privatisation in Scotland though?”!

    Instead of moaning about X, Y and Z not being devolved, the SNP need to do the best with the large resources they have available to them. Otherwise, how are voters to trust them when they say that Scots will be better off under the SNP in an Independent Scotland?

  • Paul Murray 30th Dec '15 - 7:19pm

    @John Marriott – I wince at many neologisms ( which are rife in corporate culture, of course) but to the best of my knowledge “kid” is not a new formation. As an informal alternative to “child” it dates back to the 1590’s and had been in common use since the early 19th century (source etymology online). Of course that source might be wrong.

  • ” in larger properties – e.g. the richest” many in the higher bands are not rich but pensioners.

    the council tax goes to pay teachers on 40 week years with with just over 30 hour per week contracts with an up to 50% final salary pension.

    After years in industry I went and took a full GTC registration. I found a totally off the planet bunch who wouldn’t recognise real work.

  • Another typically flimsy SNPbad story. How long will it take you to notice this strategy isn’t working for you?

    The council tax impacts hardest on the least well off. Properties in band H are worth at least 8 times as much as those in Band A and yet pay only 3 times the council tax. Liberal Democrats used to believe that the council tax was unfair and proposed a fairer local income tax in its place. Remember those days? They were back when people used to vote for you.

    Scottish Liberal Democrats have had repeated opportunities to support SNP proposals to introduce a local income tax and refused each time, preferring to oppose the SNP out of spite even when their own party’s policy is being proposed.

    The Scottish Government is now proposing a cross party commission to find a fairer replacement for the unfair council tax, perhaps based on income, perhaps based on land values. The replacement of council tax is long overdue and is something the Liberal Democrats failed to do in 8 years in government. Rather than shouting SNPbad at every opportunity, perhaps a better strategy for LDV would be to participate constructively by discussing possible proposals for a replacement for council tax that the party could put forward to the commission through Scottish Borders councillor Catriona Bhatia who I understand is their representative on it.

  • It’s embarrassing that you should try to get away with this. Classroom assistants are on an employment creation scheme. Let teachers teach. They don’t need half a dozen spare people hanging around in every class.

    You’ll be telling us PCSOs are for something next.

  • Chris

    not all classroom assistants are job creation. To declare an interest I lectured in teaching techniques for a number of years and now eat meals with a retired classroom assistant in special educational needs. it depends on how they are used. The incorporation of pupils with need of support ranging from dyslexia through to physical disability into mainstream learning means that some support is needed not to relieve the class teacher but to equalise learning to the individual. It has been found that integration where possible enhances the education experience of pupils with various forms of learning disadvantage without impacting on the overall class learning. There are also areas where team teaching of combined classes can be advantageous.

  • Dan Falchikov 31st Dec '15 - 10:38am

    So some local councils have increased the number while others have cut them. Yet it is that nasty SNP government responsible for cuts? Hmmmm.

  • Peter Watson 31st Dec '15 - 10:51pm

    “nine years of Council Tax freeze which predominantly benefits those in larger properties – e.g. the richest”
    If council tax is a larger cost relative to income for the less wealthy, then surely freezing council tax is more progressive than increasing it. Increasing higher band council tax would be more progressive, but I do not know if that is what Lib Dems are calling for in Scotland. South of the border, Lib Dems in Bristol and Sheffield have been demanding a council tax freeze.

  • Peter Watson 31st Dec '15 - 10:57pm

    On the subject of council tax freezes, I just came across this from February 2015:

    South Lakes MP Tim Farron has today congratulated Lib Dem run South Lakeland District Council for freezing council tax for a record fifth year in a row.
    Tim said “I’m proud that South Lakeland council have now frozen council tax for five successive years. This will be the first time that any district or county council has frozen council tax for the whole of a five year parliament.
    “It’s a recognition that we are in a period of financial challenge and the council has a responsibility to leave as much money as possible in the local economy and in our resident’s pockets.”

  • Peter Watson 31st Dec '15 - 10:58pm

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