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Special days

Maria Corby can't imagine life without teaching assistants

"I think it's a good sign," says the lady on the Restructuring the Workforce course, "when I pop into a classroom and I can't tell the teacher from the teaching assistant."

Oh really? I always think I'm doing well if you can tell me from the kids.

On a messy day when I'm crawling on the floor, jelly in my hair and twigs stuck to my jumper, you'd be hard-pressed to know I was an adult, never mind a member of the leadership team. It's odd about TAs though; in special schools we have had excellent working relationships with them, used their talents and enjoyed having others in the classroom with whom to share ideas, laughter, tears and chocolate biscuits.

I've heard of mainstream schools where they aren't allowed in the same staffroom as teachers, and that teachers find their presence inhibiting.

Our assistants take groups, suggest ideas, train and support other members of staff and contribute to the school in a professional way. I couldn't imagine working without them.

Our classes now run as teams, with the teachers leading and the assistants - two, three, four or even five of them - playing vital roles. Teamwork is great; it means that the teacher doesn't have to have all the answers. If Chris is good at art and craft and Fred plays the piano, or if Mary is motherly and kind and Charlie is challenging and demanding of the children, everyone can play their part and the children get a better deal all round.

My mother was a nursery nurse and helped teachers by doing jobs such as washing paint pots and changing nappies. She would come home complaining that her training had been wasted; she had all this knowledge of child development and play, and the teachers didn't know how to use her. This made me determined in two ways: one, to be a teacher and two, to make the most of my TAs.

So if the lady on the course did pop into my class she'd struggle to tell the difference between us. To give you a clue, I'm the one under the desk with the jelly, Chris is at the play table with the cornflour gloop and Charlie is in the home corner pretending to be mummy. The children? They've all gone home; we're just setting up the classroom for tomorrow.

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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