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Teaching assistants: support in action (Wales)
Teaching assistants: support in action (Wales)

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1.8 Teaching assistants in Europe

Teaching assistants and other related learning support staff are also to be found in the schools for children of British armed forces posted oversees, in the schools of other European countries and in countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia. A survey conducted by the National Union of Teachers (NUT, 1998) highlighted some interesting support roles found in European schools, and it is worthwhile to consider these in the light of the developing role of teaching assistants in the UK. As the sociologist Amitai Etzioni (1969, p. vi) believed, comparison serves to increase our ‘scope of awareness’. The NUT identified the following examples of support roles in the Netherlands, France and Belgium.

In the Netherlands, as in the UK, there have long been teaching assistants in primary schools, often working in the background and in a supportive way with young children and their teachers. Their current role is comparable with that of specialist teacher assistants in England in that they are focused on directly supporting children’s learning, particularly reading and basic skills.

In France, there are ‘surveillants’ (normally aged 18–26 years) who often intend to become teachers. Traditionally, they have contributed to the supervision of pupils when they are on the school premises and outside the classroom. They also liaise with parents in this supervisory role. More recently their role has been extended to provide support for children’s learning in classrooms. They have assumed responsibilities in the area of information and communication technology (ICT) in terms of both maintaining equipment and support for learning. There are also ‘aide-éducateurs’ (assistant teachers) who mainly take on a teaching role in direct support for learning and who facilitate extra-curricular activities.

In Belgium, there are ‘agents contractuels subventionnés’ (subsidised contract workers). They are recruited under schemes to reduce unemployment and they may become involved in childcare in pre-school settings or assist children to learn a foreign language.