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Why we must support Teaching Assistants in avoiding a crisis of provision for our most vulnerable children and young people
The importance of Teaching Assistants as pillars of support to our education system – and specifically to some of the most vulnerable children in classrooms across our country – is completely understated.
Research carried out during the lockdown identified the role of the Teaching Assistant as a vital resource for schools dealing with challenges brought on by Covid. Work by the International Literacy Centre and the UCL Institute of Education stated that Teaching Assistants had been “pivotal in allowing schools to keep functioning” and that it was “hard to see how schools could have managed without them.”
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.
Teaching Assistants have always played a significant role within the education system, but this has clearly been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic.
Yet, when we spoke to members of the public as part of our Teaching Assistant campaign All I Do, some of their responses were in contrast.
When asked about the role of the Teaching Assistant working with children and young people, responses included how “they keep them busy [and] keep them quiet”. Another believed that Teaching Assistants are “mostly just helping the teachers rather than helping the children.”
Whilst this was a small sample of public perceptions on the role of Teaching Assistants, it emphasised the need to raise awareness of the role, shining a light on the passion and commitment they bring in meeting the diverse needs of children and young people, particularly those with specific needs including social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
You can watch our full campaign video of Teaching Assistants reacting to misconceptions about their job below.
Supporting vulnerable children
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. 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.
Yet, a further survey by the National Association of Head Teachers 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.
It’s clear where the impact would be felt most harshly in this instance – on those children and young people who depend on specialist support in the classroom to not only thrive in their education, but within their communities and at home with their families.
The value of specialist intervention from experienced Teaching Assistants is well known within education and as our survey discovered, many feel valued and respected. Yet, when we see headlines warning of widespread redundancies within the system it is Teaching Assistants that are first at risk. Where is the public outcry? Where are the petitions to Government?
So, what can we do?
A shift in mindset from those in the educational sector will help to raise the profile of Teaching Assistants. This must also be coupled with more vocal support and recognition of the role from the Government and media.
Our new report on Teaching Assistants – "Perceptions of Teaching Assistants: Exploring the vital, specialist role of the Teaching Assistant for children and young people’s holistic education and wellbeing" – outlines further recommendations, such as professionalising the role, improving access to training and development opportunities and ensuring Teaching Assistants are fully integrated into educational settings.
At a roundtable event as part of our All I Do campaign, Mr Gynn – a primary school headteacher – emphasised the importance of developing positive relationships with Teaching Assistants, understanding ways to deploy them depending on their skills and at the same time, ensure they feel valued and respected within the team – which I also concur with.
Having been in the sector for many years, I’m all too aware and have seen first-hand the critical nature of the Teaching Assistant role in supporting the diverse needs of children and young people. So, by continuing the cyclical process of hiring and firing Teaching Assistants when times get tough, there’s only ever one loser – the children themselves.
Research shows almost three quarters of teaching assistants have thought about leaving the profession
A new report published this week by NCFE has warned that change is needed quickly if a crisis of support for some of the most vulnerable children in schools is to be avoided.
As our campaign to raise the profile of teaching assistants continues, Angie Rogers, Subject Specialist in Teaching and Learning, says we must do more to protect the role when financial pressures increase.
As we launch our first-ever Social Impact Report, our Chief Executive, David Gallagher, outlines the importance of measuring our impact and looks at some of its key findings.