Teaching assistants (TA) are an invaluable asset to every school and to every classroom. Their support for the teacher as well as the students themselves means that a seamless three-way learning team is set up to guide the class through the term with the availability of the well-trained professional who is there to help with the requirements of the teacher to lighten the lesson workload.
As well as providing general learning help, their specialist knowledge with regards to SEN is invaluable in one to one work with individual pupils to enable them to either work at their own pace under the careful guidance of a sympathetic and focused TA or to keep up with the rest of the class with the gentle help of the TA by their side.
The TA then is an integral part of any teaching team so it’s important that the school offers qualitative support on a proactive basis as well as when required or requested.
A TA will join a school with at least a minimum level of competence along with the required qualifications. If the school wants to enrich the career opportunities of the TA, then work based training should be made available along with progression to the role of Senior TA where appropriate.
When joining the school, the TA should receive the same mandatory induction training as a teacher. This could include health and safety, safeguarding and perhaps a First Aid at Work course. These, along with being made to feel like part of the teaching staff from the first day will result in a TA who is ready to work with the students from the moment they walk into the classroom.
As time goes by, if it becomes apparent that the TA would benefit from specific training such as managing student behaviour, then perhaps an individual tutorial type session or an invitation to an in-house training course would be seen as a great help.
Teachers are incredibly busy with a high workload and whilst they will be appreciative of the work of the TA, they will not be in a position to carry out focused observation on their work. The minimum of an annual observation of the TA by a trained member of the school observation team with either the class in general or when working with individual students will provide the TA, the teacher and the school the ability to give feedback on their methods of working along with any guidance to further develop their skills.
If it is felt that extra support may be required, then a follow up observation should be instigated with a cohesive plan in place to look at areas for personal development.
TAs are a resource of passionate individuals and many have incredible levels of knowledge and skill within some areas where individual support is required – dyslexia for example. Every school should be fully committed to the motivation, support and offering of training possibilities to all TAs they employ in order to utilise their rich vein of dedication and experience.