Are teaching assistants taken for granted?

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TAs may be undervalued and under rewarded

The role of a teaching Assistant (TA) is one of the most rewarding, fulfilling and exciting jobs there is. I should know, I spent three years as a TA in a medium-sized Welsh secondary school on the outskirts of Swansea. Those three years were some of the best of my life and I know I was able to make a real difference to the lives of countless learners under the umbrella of our wonderful education system.

There is nothing more exciting than seeing the learners you are responsible for mentoring and coaching achieving great things, whether through examination results, learning a new skill or moving on to bigger and better things.

TAs are not just the classroom assistant mums many people assume they are, because of their working hours. They are the lifeblood of our school system, especially when contributing to supporting learners with SEN. However, the work of TAs is often seen as something that anyone could do. The poor pay and terms and conditions associated with the role do little to dispel this myth. Where would learners with SEN be without the support of their classroom allies, though? Do our elected representatives understand the importance of the TA to our education system and our children?

I worked in a team that was amongst the most dedicated and hardworking departments in the school.  Going the extra mile was simply part of the job. In many respects, we were lucky because the Headteacher, who was willing to invest time and support into the team, allowed TAs to take on extra responsibilities. Phrases such as “safe haven” and “extra support” were part of the everyday vocabulary within the team and the TAs were viewed as useful colleagues of both teaching staff and management.

Poor conditions

With every swing of the Government’s arm, the TA is dealt yet another blow. TAs are told to remember how lucky they are that they have a job, albeit a job that pays an extremely modest wage and with very few opportunities to progress. They are told to take on the extra responsibilities once fulfilled by teachers, with nothing extra in return. The TA is taken for granted by the Government as “someone who will” rather than “someone who might”. This treatment contributes to TAs being seen as the poor relations of those with a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) and lowers morale. Yet, in my team alone, there were three TAs with a degree, two taking additional qualifications, a qualified teacher and many others who were fantastic at their jobs.

So how could the work of a TA be developed in the future? I would start with the pay and terms and conditions offered by many schools and local authorities and encourage them to work towards a more inclusive, involved effort. TAs should be encouraged to take up courses to improve their continued professional development, be involved in the in-service training days in schools, be encouraged to be a bigger part of school meetings and inspections and have clear goals around career progression.  The TA often knows more about what’s happening on the ground than many other school staff and should be encouraged to share this information with governing bodies and other school stakeholders, including parents of learners with SEN.

Can the strong team of TAs in the UK continue to deliver the high-standard, selfless and much needed support to our vulnerable learners when their jobs are already being seen as largely obsolete by the Government? I hope so, for the sake of our learners and teaching staff, and for the future of education. Concern for teaching assistants is here, and here to stay.

Further information

Arron Bevan-John worked as a teaching assistant in a comprehensive school for three years until September 2015.
www.abjcreations.wordpress.com

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