By Claire West

UNISON, the UK’s leading public sector trade union, has accused the government of breathtaking short-term thinking that could damage children’s education, after learning that the teaching assistants’ training fund has been scrapped. A letter from the Training Development Agency for schools (TDA) revealed the budget for training higher level teaching assistants (HLTA’s) has been cancelled for the 2010/11 school year.

Earlier this month, a UNISON survey showed that, following new guidance on class cover, teaching assistants are increasingly being asked to step in and cover for absent teachers, without being given enough training or support.

The union is calling on schools to plan properly for absences, or risk damaging children's education. A vital part of proper planning is having enough teaching assistants trained to HLTA status, who have the right skills to cover classes for short periods, when teachers are not available.

Christina McAnea, UNISON Head of Education, said:

“The government is playing fast and loose with children's educational needs. What schools desperately need are more teaching assistants trained to HLTA level. Now they are being told there is no money available.

“There is a clear need for more teaching assistants to be trained to a higher level. Earlier this month, a UNISON survey revealed that all too often teaching assistants are being called on to cover for absent teachers without enough training. It is simply not fair on the staff or the children that only 27% had the HLTA training they need to cover for teachers on a short-term basis.

“By cutting 100% of the funds available for training teaching assistants the government will only make matters worse.”