Celebrating the essential work of our TAs


Last week saw schools marking Teaching Assistant Celebration Day by highlighting the vital work that these unsung heroes do. Jo Coates explains.

It’s not been an easy few years for teaching assistants. In 2010, funding for training Higher Level Teaching Assistants was scrapped, along with plans for national pay and conditions in England with the abolition of the School Support Staff Negotiating Body.

Furthermore, cherry-picked comments from research about inappropriate deployment of teaching assistants has been used to justify redundancies. Such comments have also undermined the professional standing of teaching assistants and eclipsed the good practice that exists in the majority of schools. 

In April this year, the education secretary asked the School Teachers’ Review Body to consider scrapping the 24 tasks that teachers currently don’t have to carry out, which would have a knock-on effect on teaching assistant jobs. Then in June, national press reported that the Treasury and the Department for Education were considering phasing out teaching assistants in an attempt to save around £4 billion a year.

As a union representing more than 110,000 teaching assistants, we have been challenging this negative attitude that undermines the attempt to build a professional team around the child. Teaching assistants work tirelessly in our schools, yet too often, necessary training is not forthcoming, pay and other conditions are inadequate, and many teaching assistants carry out significant unpaid overtime. 

Despite these challenges, our research shows job satisfaction levels are high. But don’t just take our word for it – watch our film featuring teaching assistants at Pakeman Primary School in north London. The school used Pupil Premium funding in part to expand the number of one-to-one sessions by employing more teaching assistants and has since seen maths and English results rocket.

We have been running a positive campaign to promote the fantastic work teaching assistants, classroom assistants and pupil support assistants carry out every day. We have been overwhelmed by messages of support from headteachers, teachers, parents, carers, grandparents and school governors – who tell us time and time again what a huge difference teaching assistants make in schools, not only in terms of pupils’ attainment, but also to their wellbeing.

As Samantha Avery, a teaching assistant in Plymouth, told us: “Teaching assistants are often the ones that a child will turn to when they are struggling with peer relationships or struggling with life in general. This is crucial as suffering and unhappy children find it very difficult to learn, and can disrupt other children too as a result. The reality is that many children require heavy support and nurturing as people, quite apart from conventional education.”

Last Friday (November 29), schools around the UK celebrated their teaching assistants. From making them VIPs for the day in St Austell, to giant “thank you” cards in Cheshire, to teaching assistant focused “circle time” in Scunthorpe, schools are really embracing the spirit of the campaign.

This reinforces our finding from a survey of 210 school leaders that schools today couldn’t run without teaching assistants (95 per cent said teaching assistants add value to learning). 

While the celebration day will be full of stickers, glitter and cupcakes, we do have a serious message. Teaching assistants deserve to be valued and appreciated, properly trained and paid, and able to progress through a proper career structure. 

This week brings welcome news that the Education Endowment Foundation has clarified that summary research on teaching assistants “can mask both positive and negative outcomes”. It reports from new projects in teaching assistant deployment that “where positive impacts have been recorded, often teaching assistants have been trained in delivering a specific intervention”. We hope that our celebration day last week will mark a change in the tide where realising the potential of pupils goes hand-in-hand with realising the potential of teaching assistants.

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