Dear Ted

7th February 2003 at 00:00
I'm a and good at my job. Although TAs are I don't want to be into becoming What should I do?

Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own - by writing to: Dear Ted, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. Or email: dear.ted@tes.co.uk

Ted says

The simple answer is, you won't be. Government plans to alleviate teachers'

workload cannot force you to act against your own judgment or wishes. My worry about the proposals for teaching assistants to take classes on their own is that it could all go horribly wrong.

The first time an untrained teacher has an accident, makes an unfortunate remark or acts in any way inappropriately - however well intentioned she has been-the head and the person concerned will be crucified by the press, and probably by parents as well.

Nor do I believe that having a less well-paid grade performing what should be the teacher's duties enhances the teaching profession. There used to be two levels of dental qualification, the more briefly trained being forbidden to perform the full range of dental procedures. The lower level was eventually phased out and there has been no clamour from dentists to restore it, even though they are happy to work closely with their support staff.

Most teaching assistants do a superb job and I have talked to many teachers who are full of praise for what they do: the sort of supporting and complementing work with groups that you describe to me in your letter. It would be unfair if they were pressured into feeling they ought to take on a set of duties for which they are not being paid and have usually not been trained.

Enjoy what you do well and do not feel guilty if you resist attempts to increase your responsibilities. On the other hand, should you change your mind and decide to become a teacher, get proper training. Many teaching assistants have done this. One of the first national winners of the Teaching Awards was among the most brilliant new primary teachers I have ever seen. She benefited enormously from having done your job before she trained.

You say

Enjoy your job

As an effective teaching assistant, you are now in a relatively strong position to develop your talents and gain recognition for your efforts - the much-publicised changes will make many forward-thinking headteachers keen to employ you. And if you are prepared to undertake further training and to take on extra responsibilities, you will put yourself in a strong position to be considered for a more senior teaching assistant role. This is a post that more schools are likely to offer in the future.

You may be right to resist the pressure to become a teacher, but you could recognise this as an acknowledgement of the fine job you are doing.

Concentrate on the positive benefits of the job and less on your poor treatment.

Tim Parkes, learning support teacher, Birmingham

Develop your current role

My advice is to develop your role as an assistant. A class teacher is constrained by exam requirements and there is always some element of "cramming" in the delivery of a particular lesson. A teaching assistant working with small groups can afford to be more student-centred and concentrate on the needs of individual pupils. A teaching assistant who performs such a role is every bit as professional as a teacher, even though the amount of preparation and the overall training may be less rigorous.

And if all teaching assistants become teachers, will there be yet another generation of teaching assistants? Where will it end?

Tony Ireland, Prestwich

See what's in it for you

I totally agree with you. Teaching assistants do a magnificent job in thousands of schools and are poorly treated by those who hold the purse strings. In recent years, many schools have opened up training opportunities for teaching assistants, and the Government has at last recognised the contribution they make. The new national agreement should guarantee improved training opportunities for all support staff and introduce a career structure that should go some way to meeting your concerns. Look closely at the agreement and talk to your headteacher and governing body about what it could mean for you. But keep your options open and use the time to try some whole-class teaching.

In my school, I have teaching assistants who are able to take complete lessons and others who lead specific aspects of the literacy hour or daily mathematics lesson. Having several staff who are able to take the lead at different times in the lesson will be stimulating for the children and rewarding for all the adults involved, and will help you decide which role you prefer.

Mike Beale, headteacher, Lancashire

The choice is yours

No doubt the response of the Department for Education and Skills would be:

"You can become one of our new 'high-grade' assistants and, for a little extra money, teach whole classes while qualified teachers are removed from the classroom to write the plans for you." Does this make sense? The choice is yours. It sounds as though you are really interested in teaching and learning. If you have the ability and commitment, you could earn a hell of a lot more money and get more job satisfaction by becoming a teacher. If you are happy with things as they are, that's great for the lucky teachers you support.

Heather Pomroy, London N2

Coming up: Scolded in public

"My deputy head recently harangued me in the school corridor as pupils passed for dismissing a class early. What should I have done about this public dressing-down?" What do readers think? Let us know by emailing dear.ted@tes.co.uk. We pay pound;40 for every answer published

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