Monday, November 26, 2007

Teacher or Teaching Assistant?

My post – Teaching Assistants = Teaching on the cheap? – attracted a few comments, mainly from… outraged teaching assistants. Regrettably they seemed to divide into either, we don’t do it like that in my school (well I was writing about the general not the particular) or they descended into personal insult, ‘you must think your teaching assistants are useless’. Welcome to the Internet the home of reasoned and cogent debate. I just wish some of the people posting would work on their comprehension skills, just to recap… ‘in my personal experience most teaching assistants would make excellent teachers - if they had the time and the finances to train.’

None of the posts really commented on or tried to analyse the massive rise in the numbers of teaching assistants and support staff over the last ten years. There was the ‘having fully qualified teachers in schools is just a pipe dream, we’ll never be like other European countries’. Yeah, we’re just the fourth wealthiest country in the world. It’s the same kind of logic in America, ‘we’ll never be able to fund a free and comprehensive health service’, - meanwhile 40 million working people go uninsured (see Michael Moore's ‘Sicko’ for more details).

I’m sure that in many schools teachers prepare detailed lessons for well qualified teaching assistants (1 in 8 have degrees or the equivalent) who work on integrating children back into the classes. However, on the other side of the equation no sooner was the ink dry on the 2003 ‘Remodelling Agreement’ and unscrupulous heads began to hire ‘cover supervisors’, the example in this article by ‘Colin Edwards’ doesn’t exist in isolation. In my friend’s school they appointed a cover supervisor with no English or Maths qualifications but the head felt he could ‘control’ the classes.

As for the Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs) 15,000 have been trained, but their pay and status hasn’t exactly improved. Many head teachers have only paid them the higher rate when they have taken classes. I stand by what I wrote in the first article children should be taught by a fully qualified teacher.

There are some interesting comparisons, there has been a wide scale survey on care for vulnerable children (The Children’s Workforce Strategy), and it examined other European countries. In relation to homes for looked after children in England they commended the staff for their care and attention towards the children. They also noted that 80% of staff are unqualified, only 1% of the children go into higher education and that many children have complex needs. Their recommendation is that all staff should be trained to degree level.

Teaching assistants do fantastic work with special education needs children, however they also have complex learning difficulties. Some of them have very poor writing skills but highly developed speaking and listening skills. Do most teaching assistants have the training to develop this? I’ll put my hand up now I don’t; I haven’t had the required specialist training.

When it comes to special needs teaching there is a class divide, it’s partly based on anecdote and personal observation (where is the research on the use of teaching assistants?) but in the leafy suburbs where classes are full and therefore under Local Management of Schools (LMS) the school has the money to pay for it, they employ qualified SEN teachers to take out groups of children. They also typically have fewer SEN children and parents who insist on their children being taught by a teacher.

In more ‘challenging’ schools they tend to have falling rolls and therefore less money, there’s more pressure on SATs results (farm the SEN children out, let’s concentrate on the borderline ones) and some of the parents aren’t the most forthright in advocating for their children’s education. To put it crudely a middle class child is ‘dyslexic’ and needs professional help whereas a working class child is just ‘thick’.

In this country spending money on teachers just isn’t thought to be of value. In the last ten years, instead of employing thousands more teaching assistants would it not have been better to have recruited more teachers? For me it was summed up in 1993 by Conservative Education Minister John Patten’s comments about replacing nursery teachers with a ‘Mum’s Army’ of unqualified staff. Maybe it happened anyway?

Teacher or teaching assistant? Let’s put it this way, if you were rewiring your house, would you choose Fred from the down the road who ‘knows a bit about electrics’ or a fully qualified electrician who could issue you with a safety certificate, once the work is completed? Why should we expect less for education?


Mr Read, HLTA = Higher Level Teaching Assistant, not Higher Learning Teaching Assistant. :)
As far as I am aware, and this has been said many times on the TES website, cover supervisors should hand out work, keep control for the length of the lesson, and then collect the work back in. That's it! No teaching! - they don't have the subject knowledge. It's basically babysitting! Why do they need qualifications if they can control,and discipline when necessary, a class?
Cover supervisors may only be required to distribute, collect and maintain order and therein lies the problem.

Why should we give our children a second rate education (second rate may be optimistic with some CS I've come across) by employing a babysitting service.

Hire a supply teacher and allow their education to continue to progress.

Anon. only because I don't have a google account or any intention of opening one.
I must preface my comments by saying in my current school the TA's are excellent, patient, helpful and underpaid.

In my last school (more challenging), the Head hired someone who was unable to read or write (she had got someone to fill in the application form for her).

So, 'quality variable' is the general experience. You are spot on about that odious little creep Patten and the 'Mum's Army' comment. He has his wish, it would seem.
In my job I am able to develop a different relationship with the children, many will come to me with issues they feel unable to talk to their teachers about and I am able to see more issues for myself that the teacher may be too busy to spot.
Nice blog! I'm starting work as a tuition teacher next month and was wondering if you knew of any good teaching resources? Atm, I just know of amazon and first class.
Just read the very interseting link written by Colin the Cover Supervisor. All I can say is - shame on the head for not sacking the incompetent twit. If he could not manage the behaviour of a group of kids then he should not have been working in the school. Shame on Colin for not realising that he was taking the job of a perfectly capable Cover Supervisor with Behaviour Management experience and the ability to control their own temper!
Cover Supervisors are hardworking, vital members of staff in our school. They are well trained and very well respected.
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