Teaching Assistants, we all have them these days and jolly useful they are too. In my experience they are incredibly skilled and highly trained. Many are left in front of classes in the absence of a teacher, others are charged with leading intervention strategies and some have highly specialised roles that many teachers can’t carry out. I am in awe of the vast army of TAs in my school alone and I marvel at some of the tasks they do without batting an eye lid. These people are, by and large, hugely talented.
In my role as SLE for SEND I deliver some twilight training for TAs around the subject of how they can further their own career. I think it is wrong to assume that all TAs are wannabe teachers, many aren’t. They like the unpaid holidays and the relatively stress free weekends and teaching is not what they want to do. It is a mistake for us as teachers to be arrogant enough to assume they want to be like us. The thrust of the training I deliver centres around how the TAs can use their performance management or appraisal to further their careers without entering teacher training.
During the last twilight I delivered I asked the TAs to write down all the jobs they performed and to say if they had been trained to carry out this work. If I said I was astounded by the results that would be an understatement. Here’s a small flavour of the things they do.
Specialist SEND roles: EHCP submissions- no training, SEND data analysis- no training, Graduated support- no training, Lead on all Educational Psychologist training- no training, Updating SEND and safeguarding policies- no training, Speech and language interventions- no training, Attending SENDCo meetings- no training.
Behaviour Support roles: Manage children’s behaviour- no training, Train other TAs to manage children’s behaviour- no training, ringing parents to collect children who need to go home re behaviour- no training, devise behaviour management strategies for individual children- no training.
In class support: Supporting EAL students- no training, Provide 1:1 support during lessons- no training, Plan additional support for LAC- no training, playground duty, first aid, maintain classroom, displays, annotate children’s work, Colourful Semantics, Talk Boost, RWI, Asdan Cope- very little training. Prepare student for GCSEs- very little training, general support in lessons, support group work- very little training, marking books- very little training, run after school clubs- no training.
Cover supervisor, cover individual lessons, provide PPA cover, help to fill in college applications- no training.
I find this list to be quite frightening due to the vast array of roles undertaken for which our TAs have received very little or no training at all. It is to their great credit that they manage to keep up with a forever evolving role and stay one step ahead. On closer examination of the list, which is not exhaustive I wonder if some of the things they are being asked to do are even lawful. The 2014 SEND Code of Practice states that every teacher is a teacher of every child and yet we can see from this list that the overwhelming majority of roles performed by our TAs centre around supporting children with SEND in one way or another.
The TAs I spoke to were not actually complaining about any of this at all. They take it all in their stride and enjoy their jobs. They told me they would like some specialist training in order to feel better equipped to help the children. The only thing they really wanted was a valued career and pay structure that reflects the amount of work they cover. I don’t think that is too much to ask for.
In June 2016 the Professional Standards for Teaching Assistants originally commissioned by the DfE were published. This was a joint effort by Unison, NAHT, NET and Maximising TAs Lead Rob Webster. The standards are non mandatory and non statutory and have been adopted by many schools around the country. They are a step in the right direction for our TAs and help to raise their status and assist them to be seen as a profession in their own right.
Keep in mind that not all TAs want to be teachers. Looking at the varied roles they fulfill, I think as teachers and leaders we could show our TAs how much they are valued by encouraging all schools to adopt the TA standards. If all schools used them, a solid career structure might follow and our TAs would be rewarded for their hard work. My Head Teacher adopted them as soon as they were published, did yours? This is just a thought for how we can help our fellow classroom practitioners to feel a valued part of the education system.