Minister challenged over classroom pay

A DEPUTY headteacher from Essex has confronted the Government's schools minister over the fact his teaching assistant wife earns less than a supermarket checkout girl.

A DEPUTY headteacher from Essex has confronted the Government's schools minister over the fact his teaching assistant wife earns less than a supermarket checkout girl.

Robin Bevan, deputy headteacher at King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford, tackled Stephen Twiggover classroom wages at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) conference in Bournemouth yesterday.

Mr Bevan tackled Mr Twigg after he sang the praises of school support staff at the ATL conference.

At a press conference afterwards Mr Bevan came in to tell the minister that his wife Marion "gets less than a Tesco check-out assistant."

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He had already tabled a question about support staff pay to the minister on the issue, which Mr Twigg answered in the main conference hall after his speech.

Mr Bevan demanded: "Do something about it - no, seriously, do something about it.

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"At the moment, we've got classroom assistants being paid incredibly low rates of pay, on term-time contracts only.

"They are the last people on the budget to find out if they have their work, yet often they are taking on the most difficult cases."

Mr Twigg replied: "What we've said is, clearly, these decisions are made at local level.

"There are good reasons for that. What we want to do is learn from the best local practice so teaching assistants do get the rates of pay and recognition they deserve."

Oxford-educated Mr Twigg earns £84,483 as a junior minister.

Mr Bevan said his wife, who has a degree in social science and a postgraduate certificate in child development, earned in the region of £5 an hour but was only paid for the time she worked during terms.

Once the minister had gone, Mr Bevan explained how his wife had discovered she earned less than a supermarket check-out assistant.

He said: "It was the usual casual conversation as we were buying the weekly groceries. The clock on the wall was two hours wrong, we happened to notice.

"The assistant said she was glad she wasn't facing that way because she would have had another two hours but, then again, things weren't that bad, she was being paid £6 an hour.

"As we were walking away she (Mr Bevan's wife) turned around to me and said 'Do you realise I'm paid less than £6 an hour?'."

Mrs Bevan works at Chalkwell Hall Infant School in Southend.

It later emerged that Mr Bevan's wife was a former schoolmate of Mr Twigg's at Southgate Comprehensive School in north London and beat him in a mock general election in 1983.

Mr Twigg disclosed that he came fourth in the 1983 classroom poll, standing as a Labour candidate, while Mr Bevan said his wife would be "embarrassed" for it to emerge that she came second as a Conservative.

The mock-election was won by another classmate standing as an independent.

Mr Bevan, 37, and his 35-year-old wife live in Westcliff, with their son Sam, 12, and daughters Helena and Katie, 10 and five.

ATL has 5,500 assistants among its membership and the union's general secretary Mary Bousted said: "Classroom assistants will be taking an increasing role in the school workforce. They need national rates of pay, according to the level at which they are working."

The Government has repeatedly fended off calls for a national pay scale for classroom assistants in recent years, saying it was better to leave it up to local education authorities to set their rates.

A national scale would be expensive and would add huge amounts to schools' staffing costs, and would require a steep rise in Government spending.

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