Mr Gove and his DfE are considering phasing out Teaching Assistants in a bid to save £4 Billion a year. Here’s my response to his idea.
Dear Mr Gove,
I concede that I don’t know as much about education as you do as I’m merely a teacher but this is my plea to you. Please don’t take my teaching assistants away. They are the most valuable resource I have. They are unbelievably wonderful and I can’t do my job without them. Here’s a flavour of what they do.
My school is SEN and in my class there are 10 children with an ability split from P4 to NC2. That’s quite a large ability range Mr Gove, in case you don’t know. Much differentiation is needed. Each term we plan a new topic. I have 4 TAs plus myself. At the start of each new term we brain storm our new topic together. We plan all our activities together so that everyone has ownership of the plans and can see the bigger picture and what we are trying to achieve. That’s the best type of planning Mr Gove. My TAs are very creative and provide far better ideas than I can think of to keep my behaviour challenged children on task.
In my class there are 3 boys with challenging behaviours, 2 PMLD children working with sensory resources, 2 on the National Curriculum and 3 who are working around P7 level and need special access technology. My one and only girl in the class has very high needs and is tube fed. 8 of these children need therapy in the form of standing frames. Therapy, standing frames and tube feeding all continue during my lessons. Have you guessed who carries out all these specialised tasks Mr Gove? It’s my TAs!
Each TA has been specially trained for a certain role according to their talents and interests. The TA who does the special access technology has won national awards and spoken at educational conferences due to her high capabilities. She will attach a switch to any part of the body that the child can move independently and attach it to a high tech device in order to give a non communicating child a voice. She programs dynavox, eye gaze, Big Mac and any other AAC device you can think of. She is hugely talented and very highly trained and qualified. Another TA has been trained in therapy and is so highly qualified that she now trains other schools to do their own therapy. Several TAs in my school are trained to give tube feeds or administer oxygen to very poorly children. This is really a nursing job but our TAs willingly accept this huge responsibility since the removal of school nurses.
One of my TAs is a Level 4 and is in charge of the sensory curriculum for the whole school. Teachers seek her advice for their classes, so great is her knowledge. She can make my lessons accessible for my P4 children like no one I’ve ever seen. This lady is amazing. As I’m a senior leader I’m often taken out of class for various reasons. Guess who steps in as teacher during my absence Mr Gove? Yes, it’s my TA. Remember, she has helped me plan, knows the learning outcomes and will willingly stand in for me if required.
That’s a small flavour of the TAs in my class Mr Gove. I’ll move on now to the whole school, just to show you the impact the TAs have across school.
We have around 20 TAs who deal with children’s bathroom requirements. They are all trained, qualified to NVQ level 3 and carry out this job in a sensitive manner for our very special children. No child is ever made to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. These TAs are fantastic as this is not a role to be envied.
Other TAs are specially trained in ‘Teacch’. In case you don’t know Mr Gove, this helps children on the Autistic Spectrum deal with their everyday lives and make sense of the world. On occasions these TAs have been physically assaulted and they are regularly verbally abused by children who are upset at a change in their routine. Do these TAs worry about that Mr Gove? Not a chance! They carry on regardless because they care about these children and want to help them.
We have TAs who are trained mini bus drivers. Who would drive the children on much needed outdoor experiences without them? We have TAs who are trained swimming coaches. Who would get in the water with these very special children if not a TA Mr Gove? It’s not the best use of a teacher’s time surely.
All our TAs are specially trained to work with the children on their computers. Most of our children can’t write. The TAs have specialist knowledge of clicker, board maker, pecs and countless other educational programs. Who would support the children as not one in my class can work independently.
Our Health and Safety rep is a TA. My assessment assistant is a TA and without her this aspect of my job would consume my working day. This is really a teacher’s job, but hey ho, we haven’t any money for that. Another TA has won awards for leading Enterprise and is instrumental in helping our children succeed with this subject.
One very talented TA is a gymnastics and swimming teacher in her own right. She adapts PE to enable our children to access games they would never otherwise have chance to join. She was instrumental in helping one of our students to become a Paralympian last year. Hats off to her and her talent!
The last TA I will mention Mr Gove is our Network Manager. What a girl! She keeps the entire network running. That’s no small feat considering every child in my school has their own PC or tablet. I can’t list the things the Network Manager does, her days are too full. I only know that she keeps everything tech wise running smoothly. This is vital for our very special children. This girl has won educational awards in her own right. Not bad as she’s merely part of ‘Mum’s army’! (DfE June ’13).
I could carry on all day with this praise for our TAs and the roles they fulfil Mr Gove, but I think you get the picture. You should do, you’ve visited my school. I have pictures of you working with the children. That said, how can you possibly think of removing the TAs? You’ve seen them in action and should therefore know how vital they are to schools. The days are gone when TAs mixed paints and listened to readers in the corridors. They are now hugely talented, highly qualified and specialised people. This is not just in SEN schools but right across the board. Mainstream schools have these wonderful people too.
Lastly Mr Gove, I think you may have been misinformed. Most TAs are actually paid very little money. Many earn around £7 an hour for all their work and their qualifications. Fair enough some earn the princely sum of £9 an hour but its hardly a vast fortune. I don’t know any in my area who earn £17,000 a year as reported in the Daily Mail this month. Therefore they do not do their job for the money. In my school they do it for the special children because they want to improve their lives for them.
So there you have it Mr Gove. I urge you to think again before you embark on this mass removal of TAs. My school cannot run without them and I for one am hugely indebted to them.
Readers please sign the petition http://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/say-no-to-removal-of-teaching-assistants