Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Teaching Assistants = Teaching on the cheap?

Teaching assistants do a fantastic job. I haven’t got any time for the kind of elitism that was prevalent in schools, teachers couldn’t be questioned and parents were kept at the school gate. The creation of a ‘walled garden’ left teachers open to attack by the forces of conservatism.

On the other side we do need well paid, well trained, teachers. It should be a job that people aspire to. What concerns me is the way that schools have used teaching assistants to casualise and de-skill the job. In one sense their role has changed from filling the glue pots, sharpening the pencils and washing the paintbrushes. The 2003 ‘Remodelling Agreement’, which allowed classes to be taught by teaching assistants or cover supervisors, exemplified this change.

The rise in numbers has been startling, over the ten years of the Labour Government teaching assistants in primary and secondary schools rose from 61,260 to 165,380 and other support staff from 75,200 to 147,000. In primary schools the number of teachers increased from 183,930 to 188,860.

There is no doubt that many teaching assistants have a wealth of experience to call on. However, when you look at the care of the elderly, the young, the sick, or the disabled then the profile of the workforce is always the same – female, part time, casual, untrained and low paid. 98% of teaching assistants are female, they work on average 26 hours, one in five have no permanent contract, they only need NVQ Level 1 (below GCSE standard) to work in schools and average pay in primary schools is £7.90 an hour.

In many primary and secondary schools children (particularly those with special needs) may spend most of their school day being taught by teaching assistants. Contrast that with other European countries, in most of them the job of ‘teaching assistant’ simply doesn’t exist. Apart from the caretaker and the admin staff the only adults in the schools are teachers. If they have extra money they employ teachers.

The presence of a highly educated workforce isn’t only a standard in education, take children in care, in Britain 80% of staff are unqualified and only 1% of looked after children make it to higher education. Contrast that with Germany and Denmark where a high proportion of staff have degrees and most children in their care go on to university. There is a similar position with nursery care, in Denmark every childcare worker has a three year degree, whereas in England 40% of staff don’t even have GCSEs.

Teaching assistants make it easier for teachers to manage the class, particularly if they take out some of the more troublesome pupils. On the other side many special education needs children have complex requirements that call for highly skilled staff. Where has been the research about the impact of teaching assistants in schools?

This isn’t an attack on teaching assistants; in my personal experience most of them would make excellent teachers - if they had the time and the finances to train. The bottom line is, if you had an accident who would you want to attend to you a St John’s Ambulance volunteer or a trained paramedic? If you were assaulted in the street would you want a special constable to deal with the situation or a police officer? In the event of a fire would it be a part time retained or professional fire fighter?

So who would you want teaching your child? A teaching assistant or a teacher?


"So who would you want teaching your child? A teaching assistant or a teacher?"
As an ex classroom assistant, my answer would have to be a teacher.
For most of us with childre with SEN we have no choice who teaches our children. The L.S.As in our school are brilliant, wonderful people but they are not trained teachers and quite frankly it bothers me that a child can spend all of literacy and numeracy with a TA who is not trained (or paid) to evaluate what their problems are.
totally agree withmost things stated - except the bit about the SEN - in most case the ta's who support/ teach sen children have as much (or more ) knowledge than the class teacher abouthow best to deal with particular scenarious in learning
Just because we're not qualified teachers (though some of us are) does not mean we're incompetent thickoes unable to read or write. Do you seriously believe that TAs are cut adrift and left to 'make it up on their own'? Do you think we're not considered as valued members of staff by the teaching staff and the SLT. We're not left to teach whole classes but take out groups to support and reinforce their learning with a lesson plan discussed beforehand with the teacher. We work very closely with the teaching staff and they expect us to know as much as they do regarding SEN pupils, sometimes more. If you're that concerned go and discuss it with the Head of the school. But you won't of course because it's too much fun criticising the status of the teaching assistant.
Well, in normal circumstances of course a teacher, but, given a choice between a disillusioned, waiting for retirement, teacher and a qualified, highly motivated TA, I would go for the TA.
I'm a TA with a BA (hons) in Childhood studies. I have no desire to become a teacher and believe that as a TA I'm better placed to support the children who need it most. We are not halfwits who have no idea what we are doing. We plan with the teacher and quite often have a far better understanding of what a childs needs are. I find your comments insulting to TA's as we work bloody hard on rubbish money to ensure that the children we work with get the best out of their education. Most TA's are very well qualified and often better educated than the class teacher. I'm not suggesting for one moment that TA's should replace teachers and agree that they should be teaching the class but please give us the respect we deserve instead of making us out to be uneducated dummies.
Wow - for someone who thinks that 'TA's do a fantastic job' you sure don't mind laying into them. Well done on that first paragraph - I suppose you thought that would make people think that you actually value TA's??
As a teacher I work very closely with my fantastic TA to plan and prepare lesson for LA children.
These children really benefit and improve with this small group input and as a result are now coming back into class when they can cope.
Fair enough we are more qualified but in no way do we allow TA's to just get on with it on their own.
For someone who doesn't have time for 'elitism' you're coming across as a bit of a snob.
I feel sorry for the TA's in your school, they obviously have no idea what you really think of them.
Many of the TAs I have worked with over the years have all the qualities and skills they need to teach their groups of children. In good schools TAs and teachers work together in partnership and children give the same respect to TAs as teachers. I wonder if Mr Read sends out the right message to the children in his school if he so clearly feels TAs are inferior. I hope he keeps his opinions well hidden, otherwise his TAs might decide to leave him in the class with his disruptive pupils while they go and do some important pencil sharpening.
"So who would you want teaching your child? A teaching assistant or a teacher?"

That would depend. If the teacher was as cynical as you sound (you're not a realist, you are a cynic) I'd have thought the caretaker, cook or secretary would probably give the children a better deal.
Anyone who works in education would see that a good balance of each is the way forward. Both roles have a lot to offer each and every pupil but in differing ways.
There are those of us that are content with being highly qualified TA.s and do not have asperations to become teachers.
Well Mr Read way to go, if your aim was to make us feel anymore undervalued, it's people like you that instill those cynical views.
Perhaps a day in a TA's shoes would help you with a reality check
Of the t.a's in my school who teach classes only one has no qualifications. One has a degree, two have foundation degrees and are on their 3rd year studies and I am just completing my foundation degree. We have all undertaken this CPD in our own time at our own expense to ensure that the children we teach have a high a standard as we can possibly manage. I know that a lot of the teachers would rather have us than a series of supply teachers as we build goo relationships with the pupils and really care about their learning.
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