When I started my first headship over 25 years ago, there were just two teaching assistants in the school of nearly 400 pupils.
One was kind enough to ask my preference when it came to hot drinks and ensured that my cup was always full, and then sorted out the dinner ladies ( I must admit that is something to be missed); while the other tidied the staffroom, photocopied for England and ensured that the biscuit barrel was always full.
Boy, how life has changed. These days we have highly trained teaching assistants with a clear career structure who provide the backbone to most – if not all – schools across the country.
Their hard work, dedication and professionalism is what truly forms the foundation upon which our profession can build, and yet this government has never come close to sufficiently appreciating them.
We all know that children do not learn if worried, stressed, hungry or angry. And who is normally the key to alleviating these concerns among the pupils in a classroom? The humble TA, that’s who. With their vast skill-set, they make relationships happen and enable the teacher to actually teach. Ask any teacher what it is like to teach without support...
Together with the other "background staff" – the home-school link worker and the counsellors – truly TAs are the foundation of most schools. They are the staff who allow us to put wellbeing at the centre of what the best schools do.
'Pupils will be damaged'
But, in times of austerity, what goes first? We are told that the government needs to claw back £3 billion, but surely that shouldn’t mean the hollowing out of the very core of our schools: our TAs.
The government needs to appreciate the perils of such a situation. Cuts will ensure that the profession suffers. But this is incidental compared with the damage that will be done to the individual students when their support is lost.
Surely we are not returning to a time when the only function of the few TAs left with a job is to make the head’s coffee and to keep the photocopier busy?
Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsteds were 'outstanding' across all categories