I went to a seminar today entitled “Maximising the use of TAs” with Rob Webster leading it. To most Rob Webster is probably a name that means nothing but his name appears prominently in the bibliography of my last SENCo assignment (along with names such as Blatchford – all people who write influential government reports). He was nothing like I had imagined – much younger and more human!
Maximising the use of TAs – it’s something we definitely want to do in school. The Sutton Trust produced a document in about 2013 saying (in slightly different words) that TAs were expensive and added no value to a pupil’s progress. Everyone was up in arms – they may not add value to a pupil’s progress but they helped keep schools running and teachers sane!
It was an interesting seminar that made me start to evaluate how we use our TAs and could we used them more efficiently (I do not want to say how can we make them work harder!) and help them to help the children more? It’s an interesting question – ‘how can they help the children more?’ it seems from research that TAs ‘help’ by frequently providing answers and ‘spoon feeding’ the child rather than letting them struggle a bit and get there on their own. It is easy to do but although the child goes away with a page with lots of ticks have they really learnt anything?
Over the years I have worked with some amazing TAs; TAs who really encourage independence, save meltdowns because the answer isn’t immediately apparent to the child but offer just enough appropriate questions to enable them to ‘get it’. These are the TAs that everyone dreams of working with but TAs, though, are not supposed to be teachers, they do their best in as far as their training and experience lets them. Teachers came in for a fair bit of stick – are they giving the TAs enough support and guidance as to what they expect? Teacher training was not immune from the questioning – are teacher training course teaching teachers to manage TAs effectively? Senior Leadership was also challenged – they need to set the tone of what happens to TAs.
We were reminded again of the new Code of Practice and the role of teachers as the educators who are responsible for the progress of children in their class even if someone else was teaching them. It is not good enough to say the TA taught that lesson! It was interesting to hear that the children with the highest degree of SEN in mainstream schools get the least interaction with the teacher – intuitively I think most of us would say that that isn’t right.
Changing how the TAs are used in a school is not just down to the SENCO it is a whole school issue. I may have arrived home earlier from the seminar than I would if I’d been in school but my school-brain has still been switched on and I now have even more questions to answer!