Learning support assistants are the lifeblood of a school. Without doubt, schools would crumble without them.
And yet the public's appreciation of the role that they play – and often the teaching staff’s view of them, too – is not as positive as it should be.
Taking a staff meeting, as I did today, with a team of LSAs can be a humbling and enlightening experience.
The LSAs I was working with felt an almost universal sense of guilt that they could not do more for the children they supported and cared for.
They also felt that the job expected of them, day in, day out, was an impossible one to do.
Insufficient time and unmanageable workload
Many of them are extremely qualified. Often, they almost fell into the role, when childcare issues were at the forefront of their minds.
They have in the past taken on roles at a much higher level. And yet, universally, they felt that they couldn't successfully tackle the LSA job presented to them.
They felt they had insufficient time with the children, and most felt that the workload was unmanageable.
The interventions they are asked to deliver often have to be rushed, or are left incomplete, which only compounds the frustration.
Pay – or a lack of it – is also an issue. But far more concerning to them was the lack of appreciation or recognition for the skilled work they do.
One member of the team commented that she was a “dogsbody”. And this was echoed by many of the others.
They are regularly asked to work with “tricky children”, they said, with insufficient training, support or space.
Communication – or the lack of it – is also a major issue. A policy change at the top is often not filtered down sufficiently, and yet they’re the ones who have to implement the changes.
This inevitably leads to frustration, both with senior management and with their own roles.
Many of their frustrations can best be summarised by their belief that little respect is shown for them, or for the complex roles that they fulfil. Few people actually listen to them.
And yet the role they fulfil is crucial.
Love for children
But they were also an incredibly bubbly group of people.
They all share a love for children: for what their pupils say and do. Those pupils’ individual successes were the reason they turned up to work every day.
Learning support assistants do so much that is positive in a school – and yet we seldom recognise this.
They are underpaid and undervalued, and we couldn't live without them.
Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were 'outstanding' across all categories