Assistant Roles and Changing Job Boundaries in the Public Services, 2004-2005


Abstract copyright UK Data Service and data collection copyright owner.

This research project examined three assistant roles in different parts of the public services: the teaching assistant in education; the social work assistant in social care and the healthcare assistant in health care. While central to the process of workforce restructuring in the context of public service 'modernisation', it was suggested that the assistant role had, nonetheless, been subject to relative neglect by policymakers and researchers. Such neglect prompted an exploration of the nature and consequences of these roles. In particular, whether they assumed a similar form across the public services, suggesting a common core, or differed within and between sub-sectors, implying some sensitivity to context. The research aimed to address two sets of questions. The first revolved around the nature of the assistant role, including entry, performance and management: what kind of people became assistants and how did they enter the role? What tasks did assistants undertake and to what extent did the role challenge traditional job boundaries? How were assistants treated in terms of reward, involvement, training and development? The second set related to the consequences of the role for different stakeholders (assistants, professionals and service users): was this a 'high quality' job for assistants, with stimulating work and career opportunities or a 'poor quality' role picking up routine work, with few prospects? Was the assistant role a chance to unload 'unnecessary' burdens so allowing professionals to concentrate on 'core' activities or did it represent an additional responsibility and a threat to professional identity? For service users, was the assistant seen as a more accessible and less intimidating service provider, or, since not a professional, viewed as a 'second best' option? Survey and interview data were collected from two local education authorities (covering five primary schools in each) and six local authority social service departments embracing children and adult services. This mixed methods data collection includes quantitative questionnaire data from the survey, and transcripts from three interviews with teaching assistants. Further information, including reports, may be found on the Templeton College Assistant Roles and Changing Job Boundaries in the Public Services web page.

Main Topics:

Teaching assistants: the questionnaire covered lesson planning and teaching, marking, liaison with parents, pupil management and assessment, group and individual work, administrative tasks. Social service assistants: the questionnaire covered client contact and help, assessment of client needs, compilation of care packages, liaison with professionals, administrative tasks, child supervision and work, visits, case reviews. Both groups were asked about the relative importance of their tasks and level of work, quality of support, working arrangements, decision-making, interaction with pupils/clients, and demographic details.

No sampling (total universe)

Postal survey


Metadata Access
Creator Kessler, I., University of Oxford, Templeton College
Publisher UK Data Service
Publication Year 2006
Funding Reference Economic and Social Research Council
Rights Copyright I. Kessler; <p>The Data Collection is available to UK Data Service registered users subject to the <a href="" target="_blank">End User Licence Agreement</a>.</p><p>Commercial use of the data requires approval from the data owner or their nominee. The UK Data Service will contact you.</p>
OpenAccess true
Language English
Resource Type Numeric
Discipline Social Sciences
Spatial Coverage England