School funding: Should parents be teaching assistants?

Schools are increasingly turning to parent volunteers to help in the classroom – but this is worrying, says Fiona Henderson

Fiona Henderson

School funding: School schools ask parents to help out in the classroom?

As a parent, I’ve noticed that going into Year 1 can be a bit like second-child syndrome. You’ve done a year of primary school, you know what’s what. Basically, you’ve got this. 

But then the reality hits. 

All at once, there’s a noticeable step up in terms of academic expectation and a growing emphasis on independence. 

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At my children’s school, those in Year 1 are expected to sort themselves out in the mornings without too much interference from parents, rather than having parents lingering (for ages!) as they do in the Reception classroom. 

So it’s understandable – predictable, even – that there have been a few unhappy children at drop-off as this term gets underway and expectations are changing.

The loss of teaching assistants

I’ve seen this before. Twice, now. And twice I have been so very grateful that there is a teaching assistant in the classroom as well as a teacher to help with tricky transitions in the morning and throughout the day. 

Surely a TA is essential in going from Reception to Year 1? Maybe, but they are sadly not there any more, at our school and many others. 

We’ve gone into this school year with 12 fewer TAs than in the summer term across the whole of the school.

Other classes have one-to-one TAs who seem to pick up some of the slack, but this can’t be fair on those pupils who have an additional need for specialist support.

A couple of weeks into term and after some discussion on the parents’ WhatsApp group, a sign-up sheet appeared in our class for parents to volunteer on a regular basis to come into the classroom and help.

In short, to do some of what the TA would have done last year. There are plenty of volunteers. I hover about it with a pen, deliberating over what to do.

'Not quite convinced'

On the one hand, I think it’s a brilliant idea. Parents can relieve the teacher a little bit, and get involved with the school.

One parent would love to become a TA in the future, so it’s a great opportunity to get some experience of that.

But I’m not quite convinced – we’ve always been encouraged to volunteer on a more informal basis and I do my fair share of school trips. But, ultimately, I’m uneasy about the idea of a regular slot, very clearly filling a gap left by a TA. 

I don’t have any training. I don’t want to devalue a hard job by assuming I can just waltz in and be useful. I happen to have a child and a DBS check, yes, but that doesn’t equip me to work in a classroom.

And, what does having your own parent in the classroom on a regular basis feel like to a child? If we’re meant to be encouraging independence, is going into school the right thing to do for my daughter?

I’m still weighing up the pros and cons of becoming a regular classroom volunteer. But I am helping out at the Harvest Festival.

Fiona Henderson is a freelance writer in the South West

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