As a Specialist Leader of Education (SLE) I am allied to the Fylde Coast Teaching School Alliance. Being an SLE is a status I thoroughly enjoy as it gives me an opportunity to help train other teachers and senior leaders and sometimes TAs. It also means I have to do my utmost to keep myself up to date with new developments in education in order to be able to share the latest ideas. This week I have been fortunate enough to be working with a group of very knowledgable Teaching Assistants. My remit is to update their skills to Level 3 standard and to ensure that they are the best TA that they can be.

The group visited our school yesterday to begin the first of 3 sessions. We began, as you might expect with introductions and one simple rule. Anything that is said inside that room stays inside that room. It is very difficult to train teaching assistants if they feel they are being watched or spied upon. I wanted them to be confident that everything they said would remain condfidential and not be reported back to their respective schools. Working alongside me and presenting the course with me was one of our own Level 4 TAs. An exceptionally talented teaching assistant who can turn her hand to most school based duties whether it be for a teacher or a TA.

The course was progressing well and the delegates had discussed many aspects of their role. we had compiled a huge list of duties that they carry out for the pupils, the teacher and for the school as a whole. We had a flip chart that was completely covered with aspects of the job that they fulfil. The point of this exercise was to remind them just how valuable they are to their class teacher and to the wider school. I must admit I was surprised by the enormous variation in their jobs considering they were all level 2 TAs.

Towards the end of this first session of the three part course we began to look at lesson planning. I have delivered this course several times before and yet I am never prepared for the fact that many TAs are not asked to contribute to lesson plans. I am not referring to written plans using the school’s set proforma and linking to objectives from the National Curriculum, I simply mean contributing their ideas to termly topic plans. Considering that some TAs are covering lessons in the absence of the teacher, and others are attending Annual Reviews to talk about a child with SEND I am amazed that they are not asked for contributions to planning. I can’t understand this. From previous discussions I have had with TAs I have discovered that they are completing very important tasks some of the time including meeting with parents to discuss progress, meeting social workers to discuss children who may be at risk and similar high status tasks. Yet contributing to planning is not on the list.

In the past when I was a full time class teacher I made it a priority at the start of the term to sit down with my TAs and discuss the topic plan for the term. I very quickly discovered that TAs are generally very creative and can fly through this task. They think of things that I couldn’t come up with. My mind was always focussed on delivering the NC, TAs are not so driven by the NC and they have ideas that make the whole topic hang together. Yesterday’s cohort of delegates were no different. They had also not been asked to contribute to plans and were sceptical about their ability to do so. I assured them that they could. To test my theory I produced a large piece of paper and gave them the topic ‘Harry Potter’ to cover. We gave ourselves 5 minutes to come up with ideas for this topic. After the 5 minutes were up we had lesson ideas for every single one of the primary curriculum subjects. The TAs, without any help from me had quickly produced the basics of a fantastic Key Stage 2 topic on Harry Potter. All I had to do was link it to the NC and expand upon their ideas. If only I was teaching in KS2 any time soon!

I spend a great deal of my time championing the ability of TAs. In our school they are supremely talented people and as I have said many times previously we cannot open the doors to our children if our TAs are not there for any reason. TAs are our most valuable resource and are sometimes a source of untapped knowledge.

If you are a teacher and you don’t currently plan with your TA, give it a try. You will be very pleased with the results I’m sure.

Thank you for reading.