Don't devalue the role of assistants

8th September 2000 at 01:00
SUE Palmer ( "Leaders and helpers", TES, August 25) refers to the "simple" understanding that "teachers teach" and "assistants assist". But our government-funded research, which looks in detail at the deployment of teaching assistants in three education authorities, suggests that her

analysis is out-of-touch.

Many of today's teaching assistants are directly (and substantially) involved in children's learning in classrooms - sometimes under the teacher's guidance, but sometimes very much on their own initiative.

Assistants are often asked to work with the most demanding children, many of whom find it hard to engage with the teacher's teaching.

They collaborate with teachers to run literacy and numeracy hours. Sometimes they run these, and additional literacy support sessions, single-handed - albeit with groups rather than classes of children.

Thi Government is encouraging of a "para-professional" role for assistants but, alas, there is no talk of increasing their pay.

Despite the rapid increase in teaching assistant numbers and their extended role in classrooms, there has been a continued failure to recognise fully their skills and contribution.

Sadly, the overall effect of Sue Palmer's article is to add to this short-sightedness.

Through study, training and experience, many teachers doubtless have insights and skills that many assistants don't.

However, our research suggests strongly that it is no longer tenable to suggest that teaching is the sole prerogative of teachers - if it ever was.

Roger Hancock, Alan Marr and Will Swann

Faculty of education and language studies

Open University

Walton Hall

Milton Keynes

Buckinghamshire

Research Focus, 27


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