There is a link going around social media sites at present to get people to sign to say that Teaching assistants should not be got rid of from schools as they are a valuable resource(http://bit.ly/1InLjyO). The majority of teachers that I know would be happy to sign this. There is research around that says differently. I also know of one school local to me where one of the senior leadership team would be happy to lose all of their teaching assistants tomorrow.
What does a teaching assistant do? It is almost as it says in the job title – they assist a teacher. Several years ago there were a list of just over 20 jobs that teachers shouldn’t do, it included putting up displays, bulk photocopying, collecting money for school trips and stapling reports together. The teaching assistants could do these tasks.
Children come in all sorts of abilities and another adult in the room can work with one group whilst a teacher can work with another of differing ability whilst the others worked independently. No one should expect that the teaching assistant plans, resources and teaches the lesson off their own back, the teacher does the planning but the teaching assistant can deliver it – adapting it slightly if necessary.
Sometimes children don’t concentrate fully and a well placed teaching assistant can gently encourage those children to pay attention without the teacher having to interrupt their flow whilst delivering an input. This enables the child whose attention was drifting and others around them to have an environment more conducive to learning.
A small minority of children need 1-1 support in school for a wide variety of reasons – before becoming a teacher I was a teaching assistant with a 1-1 role in a special school – the child I was working with had an intestinal problem – I spent quite a lot of time “providing intimate care” as I showered them, changed them and made sure that they were comfortable and ready to return to a classroom. Within mainstream schools children do still sometimes become ill and not make it out of the room – it is invariably the teaching assistant who sorts the child and gets the “magic powder”.
Teaching assistants also become very attuned to when a cup of tea would be appreciated before school and are able to ensure a smooth start to the day as you get yourself into the right frame of mind for teaching!
So why is there even a debate?
The Sutton Trust produced a document called the Pupil Premium Toolkit (http://bit.ly/1zNoUb6) which showed that teaching assistants added zero to the attainment of children. It was a massive statement to make but they did lots of research. Across the country teaching assistants work for (relatively) not much money but there are a lot of them so it costs the country a large amount. If they don’t have any positive effect and teachers giving good feedback in children’s books does then surely we are better off buying lots of pens instead.
In some classrooms children who have an EHCP also have a 1-1 teaching assistant, if everyone is not careful that child, a child with severe, long term, complex needs, ends up being taught by a teaching assistant who may (or may not) have minimal formal qualifications rather than a qualified teacher. This can’t be right.
Some teaching assistants are only assisting teachers by performing the more menial jobs that are needed e.g. washing paint pots, it does assist, it frees up the teacher’s time but it doesn’t have a measurable impact upon children’s progress and after all that is what school is now mainly about.
When I was in a classroom full time would I have been happy if my teaching assistant had been removed – NO! I have worked with some amazing intuitive teaching assistants who had the children’s best interests at heart. They also formed a different relationship with them to the one that I had, this was good for the children. They worked with a group and could report back where children’s strengths and weaknesses were and were able to adapt the work that I had set so that some children could be stretched more whilst others were more supported. They did do some of the menial jobs, the pencils were always sharpened, resources were out on tables, the paint pots were washed.
I certainly felt that children made more academic progress because of them. As a teacher I could only hear so many children read 1-1 in a week. Having another trained adult enabled far more children to be heard and for those children who needed it, they could be heard everyday. Health professional would send in Occupational Therapy activities, physio exercises and speech and language programmes, my teaching assistants also happily delivered all of these.
I certainly appreciated all of my TAs, I hope that they realised just how much!