Don't take it lying down

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
The Teaching Assistant's Handbook

By Peter Gossage and Martin Higgs

pfp Publishing

Five copies plus teachers' book and CD-Rom pound;75

How to Support and Manage Teaching Assistants

By Veronica Birkett

LDA pound;9.99

Working with Support in the Classroom

Edited by Anne Campbell and Gavin Fairbairn

Paul Chapman Publishing pound;17.99

There has never been a better time to be a teaching assistant. Thanks to government funding there are more posts, better training, a developing career path and increased opportunities to take on greater responsibilities. Gone are the days when all they did was mix paint and put the straws in the milk bottles. Remuneration is not great, but this too has improved and, given the record of Unison (the TAs' union), is likely to get better.

PFP has a reputation for producing common-sense "how to" guides and The Teaching Assistant's Handbook maintains the company's high standards. As it says on the tin, this is a handbook for teaching assistants, although this package includes a book to help heads or teachers get the most out of their TAs. The handbook addresses the least experienced TA and covers all the essentials, from legal issues (including child protection) to what to expect in terms of direction from the class teacher (and how to get it).

There is even a section on whistle-blowing: no, not in the playground, but to draw attention to a member of the team acting illegally. Whistle-blowing in the playground is covered through comprehensive diagrams on page 53. A bit basic? Perhaps, but I still come across teachers who position themselves badly on playground duty. Remember, this is pitched at the novice, so we get advice such as: "There are children taken ill at school and children who come to school when they are ill." Pass the sick bucket.

Top tip boxes encapsulate key advice, such as, "Have a strategy for dealing with fights worked out in advance". (That's playground fights, by the way, not staffroom arguments over who ate the last of the Hobnobs.) The list of routine tasks would grace any TA's job description and the advice on playground games and time-fillers for the classroom will be a boon to those new to the job.

One experienced TA decided to write her own job description based on the reality of life as an assistant, and it is now available for all to learn from in Veronica Birkett's book. Written to support senior managers and teachers, it takes the reader through the selection process, induction, working in class and finally a chapter on drawing up your own, customised teaching assistant's handbook. This idea is inspiring in its simplicity.

The TAs write it themselves (distributed leadership in action) and it includes basic information about the school, "who we are and what we do", timetables, "where to find us", "our skills", and "how we can help" (resourcing; behaviour; special needs; supporting supply teachers).

TAs themselves will find this a useful self-help guide. Those who feel put upon might even like to buy a copy for the head to read.

Reading more like an academic study, Working with Support in the Classroom is a series of research-based articles, written primarily for teachers and student teachers. It covers early years, primary and secondary; it includes general advice on working with children and may be of particular interest to those who work with children with special educational needs.

The editors wanted contributors to adopt an easy and engaging writing style, but the layout looks more formal and daunting than in the other two books. The pieces are, however, thought-provoking and insightful. It is not a cover-to-cover read, but individual sections could be brought to the attention of teachersassistants according to need.

The chapter on "valuing diversity" focuses on Derek, a septuagenarian, and how he counters stereotypes of "old people" ("Old people eat and sleep.

They go outside for a walk," according to nursery children) by working with the children in a nursery with a large Asian intake. Similarly, Derek benefits from being valued by staff and children and also by becoming more relaxed in the company of Asian children and adults. This is lifelong learning in action.

One of the most fascinating pieces is a semi-fictionalised account of a new nursery teacher and an established nursery nurse. It describes how an initially fractious relationship is developed over time into something of enormous benefit to the children and the adults working with them.

Partnership (based on mutual respect and understanding) and the positive impact TAs can have on the lives of pupils and teachers are common themes in each of these books.

As Campbell and Fairbairn remind us, "good ideas can become great when two informed professionals discuss and refine them".

Kevin Harcombe is headteacher at Redlands primary, Fareham, Hampshire

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