Sending the wrong signal to teaching assistants

Written by: Deborah Lawson | Published:
Deborah Lawson, general secretary, Voice

The long-awaited and promised standards for teaching assistants are not to be published, the government has said. Deborah Lawson says this is a mistake

In October 2014, the coalition government committed to raising the status and professionalism of teaching assistants.

There appeared to be recognition of the skills and experience of teaching assistants and a desire to ensure that they were used to best effect.

An independent panel was established to design and consult on a set of standards for teaching assistants. Teaching assistants in all phases of education were delighted to see recognition of their skills and the opportunity to formalise their professional relationship with teacher colleagues, and secure their professional position within the education team.

The recent decision of the secretary of state not to publish the draft standards for teaching assistants, more than six months after the draft was produced, is a huge disappointment for more than 255,000 teaching assistants.

The reason given was that after due consideration of all the documentation the government now believes that schools are best placed to decide how they use and deploy teaching assistants and to set standards for the teaching assistants they employ.

We agree that schools are best placed for this, but the decision not to publish guidance not only reduces support for already hard-pressed and overworked school leaders and teachers, it robs teaching assistants of the opportunity for their training, skills and experience to be formally recognised and to secure professional status.

With professional standards for teachers and headteachers, and the establishment of the College of Teaching, the decision sends a poor message from government to the teaching assistant workforce, treating them as the poor relation of the education team, an afterthought, second class. School support staff carry out a vital role. They are essential members of the education team in schools who are highly valued by their teacher colleagues.

The number of teaching assistants and school support staff has grown considerably in the last 10 years. Research into their effective contribution to pupil progress and outcomes clearly demonstrates how, when they are trained and participate in planning, teaching assistants add value to teacher input, supporting the development of independent learning skills and delivering structured interventions.

The Education Endowment Foundation report, Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants, which the now elusive teaching assistant standards were originally intended to complement, recommends the adoption of evidenced-based interventions carried out by teaching assistants.

The report recognises that there are currently few reliable programmes for which there is a secure evidence base, adding another factor to the workload of overburdened heads, head of departments and teachers when considering the development and deployment of teaching assistants.

The draft standards were intended to be a tool for teachers and school leaders, to support the management and development of teaching assistants and to raise their status and professionalism.

They were not intended to dictate to schools what, who and how to recruit and develop teaching assistants.

They were in support of teaching assistants taking ownership of their own practice and professional development and to support line managers in the application of local and appropriate appraisal and identification of development needs.

Schools leaders, teachers and teaching assistants are now required to craft standards for themselves if they are to have all the tools necessary in a journey towards the self-improving system which the government aspires to.


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