A North-East education consultancy is launching a training programme aimed at helping schools make better use of teaching assistants.

SENtral Consultants, based in Darlington, is working with researchers from the Institute of Education at the University of London to run the Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants (MITA) programme at the Daisy Chain project in Norton, Stockton.

The initiative, which is aimed at key decision makers in schools, has been developed in response to recent controversy about the role of teaching assistants which was sparked by a series of publications. The resulting media coverage, reporting widespread axing of teaching assistant posts and claims that they impaired pupil performance, led to a Commons debate on March 18, called by Alex Cunningham, MP for Stockton North.

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Mr Cunningham said: “Teaching assistants play a crucial role in our schools yet remain undervalued in many situations. I wanted the debate to question some media claims that they failed to add value to the education of our children, which is absolute nonsense. The very fact that head teachers choose to recruit more and more assistants demonstrates they have a positive role to play, and any initiative to help them develop and play a greater role is a good thing.”

With more than 50 combined years' experience of working in all aspects of the education system, SENtral directors Kath Alley and Andy Lister are well placed to deliver the MITA programme in the North-East. This will be the first time the programme has been made available outside London, where it has proved hugely popular.

Mrs Alley said: "Teaching assistants are an indispensible part of the school workforce, yet research has found that the support they provide has no effect on pupil attainment. The evidence shows the problem is not the teaching assistants themselves; instead, problems stem from schools not using them to their full potential.

"The MITA programme can support schools through a process of rethinking and reforming how they deploy and prepare their teaching assistants. Our aim is to help our schools get better value from teaching assistants and to ensure they make a meaningful contribution to teaching and learning."

The programme will run from July 2014 to April 2015 and includes a full day of training and action planning, led by Rob Webster from the Institute of Education and supported by SENtral Consultants, two half-day school visits by SENtral Consultants and a final half-day session for participants to share their findings and experiences.

Schools wishing to sign up or find out more about the programme should call 07773 287275 or visit www.sentralconsultants.co.uk Ends