Assistants snapped up while still studying

Schools are flocking to sign up students on new-look course

MOST OF them are mothers who wanted to return to work after taking time out to raise their children.

But little did they realise how quickly they would be snapped up by schools after enrolling on teaching assistant courses at Barry College in the Vale of Glamorgan.

A cohort of 50 trainees are taking level 2, the equivalent to GCSE, with a further 10 in the process of completing the more advanced level 3 - on a par with an A-level. Almost all level 2 students have clinched posts before the course ends in May.

Most say positive experiences in motherhood was the motivation for them signing up, along with experience helping out at their children's schools, be it reading stories or supervising lunches.

But level 3 leader Debra Braithwaite claims the newly introduced theory of the more in-depth course has led to increased demand from schools looking for teaching assistants of the highest calibre.

She said the courses, provided by the OCR exam board, give students the theory to back up practical work undertaken in the classroom, something schools have been pushing for over the past year.

Dawn Latham, who oversees level 2 training, also praises the less theory-heavy level 2: "There are so many people who want the job of teaching assistant, but this OCR qualification has the edge."

At level 2 there are no formal entry requirements, which means it opens opportunities for many who might have missed out on teaching. However, candidates are required to have good basic numeracy and literacy skills.

Once successfully completed, trainees can apply for level 3 to study in greater depth, exploring child psychology, special needs and bad behaviour.

Even on the level 2 course candidates are given lessons on language development, learning styles and dealing with dyspraxia and dyslexia.

Level 2 trainee Sue Chinneck worked in a building society before becoming a full-time mother of three. When her youngest started nursery she helped out, often doing reading.

"I really loved doing it and the teachers were always grateful for the support," she said.

Alison Wood, already a lunch-time superviser at Cadoxton primary school, in Barry, and also level 2, said: "I feel that I'm giving something to the teacher."

Alison Warner had worked in banking but left to raise her two children.

"I've been offered a full-time job and one-to-one work with a special needs child," said the level 2 student.

The Assembly government has estimated that an extra 3,350 classroom assistants will be needed to support the foundation phase for three to seven-year-olds by 2011.

New adult:pupil ratios for the play-based phase are now set at 1:8 for three to five-year-olds and 1:15 for five to seven-year-olds.

Last weekend, Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the NUT Cymru, told delegates at the union's all-Wales meeting in Cardiff that youngsters had a right to be taught by a qualified teacher, not a classroom assistant.

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