'Schools can't function without teaching assistants – but they're first in the firing line when budgets are cut'

As school budgets are squeezed, thousands of teaching assistants are losing their jobs – we must fight to keep hold of them, writes one former head

Colin Harris

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There are three major elements of our education system now in a state of full-blown crisis.

The budget in almost all schools is no longer sufficient.

We have a major issue with teacher recruitment and retention within our system.

And problems with the SEND system are increasing at an alarming rate.

Who is suffering the most? Our pupils. But after them? The humble teaching assistants.

Teaching assistants, without doubt, are the heartbeat of every successful school. They show commitment, loyalty and a work ethic far beyond the financial remuneration they receive. Their range of jobs is vast, and losing them in the numbers we see at present is a near-sighted failing on those who control the purse strings.

'Teaching assistants are the key to inclusion'

Sadly, our TAs have been made the scapegoats of a financial crisis caused by the government – it's these unsung saviours who are feeling the brunt of the school budget cuts the most. Daily they are teachers, social workers and nurses rolled into one, with the added responsibilities of cooks, cleaners, organisers and best friends thrown in for good measure.

They are the extra pair of eyes, the support for the teacher on a professional and personal level; they ensure that the machinery of school actually works; they are the only ones capable of declogging a photocopier or finding that elusive set of protractors; they create those special relationships with pupils and also with the parents. And would we have any school trips schools without TAs?

Lest we forget, it's thanks to their work offering one-to-one or small-group support that schools can embrace inclusion, and cater to varying needs. 

I do not know one teacher who would be able to function at the level expected of them without their trusted TA by their side, and yet TAs are being lost in their thousands. Those that haven’t been binned get paid a pittance for what they do and still remain first in the firing line when the budgetary crisis hits.

Simply, education cannot function without them – we must fight to retain their rightful place in our schools. 

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

To read more of Colin's articles, visit his back catalogue

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Colin Harris

Colin Harris

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.

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