We must change the narrative and appreciate the vital and specialist role of teaching assistants
Research carried out during the lockdown identified the role of the teaching assistant (TA) as a vital resource for schools dealing with challenges bought on by Covid.
Further to this, work by the International Literacy Centre and the UCL Institute of Education stated that TAs had been "pivotal in allowing schools to keep functioning" and that it was "hard to see how schools could have managed without them."
More key findings showed that, during the winter 2021 lockdown, almost half of teaching and classroom assistants (49%) covered staff absences, enabling schools to stay open to vulnerable and key worker children. It also found that 88% supported vulnerable and key worker children in school, and just over half (51%) managed a whole class or bubble on their own.
So why do we need to change the narrative?
When we spoke to members of the public as part of our recent teaching assistant campaign, All I Do, some of their responses were in contrast. “They keep them busy. Keep them quiet,” one person boldly stated. Another believed that teaching assistants are “mostly just helping the teachers rather than helping the children”.
This was only a small sample, but it demonstrated how there’s a lot of work to do in raising awareness of teaching assistants and the value they bring in supporting the needs of children and young people – and this stretches way beyond the implications of COVID.
The value of specialist intervention from experienced teaching assistants is well-known within education, and their role is appreciated. Yet when we see the headlines warning of widescale redundancies, with teaching assistants always the first at risk, where is the public outcry? Where are the petitions to the Government?
For example, a National Association of Head Teachers survey last year highlighted that, because of increasing pressure on budgets, 66% of school leaders believe they will need to consider making teaching assistants redundant or reducing their hours.
The vital and specialist role of the teaching assistant
Expectations of the role have evolved over the past decade, and many teaching assistants hold a wide range of skill-based experiences, along with higher level qualifications at Level 3 and above. It’s justifiable that they should be recognised and the role professionalised for the outstanding part they play.
Research analysis from the Supporting SEND Report in 2021 identified that teaching assistants are most likely to be allocated children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). A poll last year by the research organisation Teacher Tapp showed that 88% of primary teachers and 81% of secondary teachers feel they don’t have all the help they need to support students with SEND.
A shift in the cultural landscape and mindset of those within the educational sector will support the move for policy change in raising the profile of teaching assistants. This must also be coupled with more vocal support and recognition of the role from the Government and media.
What are we doing for the profession?
NCFE is committed to enhancing practice through impactful CPD, tailored training opportunities in relation to skill sets, and enabling teaching assistants to be deployed appropriately in supporting children and young people to be the best they can possibly be, now and in the future.
We'll also shortly be publishing a research paper that concludes our findings from our All I Do campaign, which saw input from over 300 individuals on the role of the teaching assistant.
I’m hopeful that we can leave a legacy and help more people understand and become advocates for teaching assistants. And whilst this public perception is, of course, important, the real long-term change I want to see is that when budgets inevitably get squeezed, teaching assistants are fought for, protected, and cherished.
By continuing the cyclical process of hiring and firing teaching assistants when times get tough, there’s only really one loser – the children and young people themselves.
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