The role of the teaching assistant has changed dramatically in recent years. The diverse range of responsibilities that TAs undertake is ever-changing and constantly expanding: staff support learning within classrooms, deliver structured interventions to small groups and individual students, and assist with the day-to-day running of schools.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how indispensable TAs are: many lead the vulnerable and key worker provisions in schools while teachers were occupied by remote teaching.
I have worked as a teaching assistant, and later a higher-level teaching assistant (HLTA), for the past 20 years. I am extremely passionate about my profession and decided to translate this passion into a project during the summer term last year.
After a number of conversations with my Sendco, we agreed that teaching assistants needed something designed specifically for them. Funding from the Ipswich Opportunity Area allowed our dream to become a reality and the Suffolk TA network was created.
The network supports and promotes the work of teaching assistants across the county, and had developed through a Research Schools Network programme led by Unity Research School. Together, we explored the recommendations within the Education Endowment Foundation guidance report Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants, and how they translated, through insightful leadership, into ever-more strategic deployment of TAs.
The network operates from an evidence-informed perspective and regularly collaborates with the Research Schools Network to ensure that our training offer and support is grounded in the EEF guidance.
We have over 250 members, and membership is constantly growing. Members receive regular communication through a newsletter, which is packed full of inspirational articles by local teaching assistants. Our profile across Suffolk, and nationally, is growing and the feedback I am receiving is really positive. Members frequently comment on the importance of receiving information about local CPD offers directed to them and appreciate the fact that these training opportunities are tailored to their professional requirements.
However, despite the positive response that the Suffolk TA Network has received, we have encountered a particular barrier. Due to the crucial role that teaching assistants undertake, many schools have struggled to release their staff to attend training. In response to this issue, the network now delivers most of its sessions with morning, afternoon and twilight options, but this can mean staff participating in CPD in their own time.
CPD for teaching assistants: How school leaders can support TA development
We know that quality CPD opportunities are essential for effective support, but I also completely understand the challenges that schools face. To make access to tailored CPD easier for TAs, I’d recommend that schools to take the following four steps.
1. Release one TA to attend a training session with the requirement that they disseminate their learning to the team at a suitable time, possibly a staff meeting or PD day.
2. Allow TAs to develop specialist areas of expertise so their CPD can be targeted to their specific needs.
3. Ensure that TAs have some PPA time written into their timetables to allow them to access training, even if these are prerecorded sessions.
4. Harness the skills that your TAs already have to allow them to share their knowledge with others.
TA networks are an excellent vehicle for quality CPD opportunities for teaching assistants and I am working with other counties to replicate the model in a way that suits their specific requirements.
I hope to see more TA networks developing across the country and would love to support any schools that would like to be part of this journey. Please get in touch and follow us on Twitter @SuffolkTan.
Abi Joachim a teaching assistant and the TA network coordinator for Suffolk