School standards minister David Miliband praised a pioneering scheme in Liverpool to create a career path to allow teaching assistants to become classroom teachers.
Replying to Jim Cunningham, Labour MP for Coventry South, who said he understood classroom assistants were paid the minimum wage, the minister said their pay was determined locally and varied throughout the country. He had not heard that assistants - of whom there were 80,000 more than five or six years ago - were on the minimum wage.
He asked: 'If he means classroom assistants teaching formally, does he not agree that that destroys the ideal of a full graduate profession, for which we fought for many years when I was a very young man just starting teaching?'
Mr Miliband said that high-level teaching assistants such as language specialists, laboratory technicians and music specialists who went into classrooms could make a genuine contribution to the learning of young people. It was important to point out that all classroom assistants worked under the direction of qualified teachers.
He added:'Teaching remains a graduate profession, but those graduates will be in charge of a wider range of support staff, from secretaries right up to high-level teaching assistants. That reinforces teacher professionalism, and is certainly not a threat to it'.
Hansard 28 Nov 2002: Column 443 - 445