Building a support network

9th March 2007 at 00:00
So, you can handle the kids - but what about the adults? Sara Bubb on getting the most out of support staff

Support staff are the unsung heroes of the education system. There are more of them than ever and in many schools they outnumber teachers. For a new teacher this is great - you'll get more help. But it also means that you'll have to manage other adults, which is something that is barely covered in teacher training.

One new teacher in inner London has a multilingual reception class of 30, a challenge for anyone. But five of the children started school with special needs statements (one's in a wheelchair and four are on the autistic spectrum) and each receives one-to-one support at all times.

So, not only does she have children with exceptional needs but at any one time she has to manage, at the least, five other adults. If she was in business she would have had training and a salary commensurate with that responsibility, but in teaching we just get on with it.

Managing other adults is not easy, especially when people are older than you and have been working in the school longer. Most support staff are wonderful but they need few, if any, qualifications to get their job so they have to rely on training on the job.

If you feel that there is a confusing array of people in your room you need to find out what they are paid to do, and what hours they work. Some are funded to support specific pupils and although they won't mind working with others, nothing should detract from their prime reason for being in class.

People are normally happy to help out with whatever you ask but do you know what skills and experience your teaching assistant has? There might be untapped treasures which your class could benefit from.

Even when you're teaching the whole class, the teaching assistant could be oiling the discussion by drawing in reticent pupils. Or this could be a time to prepare resources.

Some don't do quite what you have asked them to, so explain, model, and write instructions. Perhaps they do too much for the children and encourage over-dependence. Do not be afraid to mention concerns, they haven't had the benefit of your training.

A common irritation is when teaching assistants carry on talking to pupils when you have asked for everyone's attention. Theatrically or humorously emphasise that you need everyone's attention Sara Bubb is an education consultant specialising in induction. She answers questions on our forums at

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