TAs are the lifeblood of schools – but we overlook them

Teaching assistants' wellbeing is compromised daily by the difficulty of the role, says Colin Harris

Colin Harris

Teaching assistant, working with child

The wellbeing of teachers is a constant consideration for any school manager. And yet the humble teaching assistant seldom gets the same amount of thought. 

If we consider the effects of austerity over the past 10 years in our schools, TAs have certainly taken the brunt of all the government can chuck at them. Jobs have gone in scores, and those still in the profession are doing far more than 10 years ago, without the remuneration to go with it.

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Most TAs didn't go into the job for the money. The hours might have been an incentive, or they might have felt like they could make a positive impact on a young child's life. Whatever their rationale, I guarantee very few have stuck to the job description they were given when employed.

Threats and pressure

TAs’ jobs have altered enormously as austerity has bitten. Reduced numbers have led to increased workload for those remaining, often in areas they have little training in. TAs are often given the most challenging children to work with, and constantly dealing with demanding children can certainly take its toll. 

They can receive threats, both verbal and physical, on a daily basis, and are often at the forefront of any child's disclosure. This carries a pressure for all concerned: they need to ensure that all policies are appropriately dealt with and followed through.

And yet training for TAs is often a secondary thought. They seldom receive planning, preparation and assessment time, and so most days need to second-guess what is required of them. Of course, many schools fully involve their TAs in all aspects of school life, but sadly not all.

TAs are an invaluable resource, but their wellbeing is compromised daily by the difficulty of the role, and the children they are presented with, and the workload attached to this.

Add to this the fact that many TAs have to supplement their meagre salary with other jobs. They are therefore often the preschool or after-school workers, the dinner staff or even the lollipop people. All this makes for a very long day.

The lifeblood of our schools

Many TAs feel the status they have in schools is low. And so it is about time this was recognised, with a pay increase to represent the job being asked of them.

When I started as a headteacher I had just three TAs for 420 children. A sign of the times, yes, but it would be nice to believe that their status might have advanced alongside the increase in number. Sadly, this has not been the case. 

Our TAs are the lifeblood of our schools. They keep them going, and it is about time they were recognised for the sterling work they do.

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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