In the middle - Silent witnesses: the wrong way to treat learning support staff

24th October 2008 at 01:00

Do you make the best use of learning support assistants and teachers in your department or curriculum area? Used well, they are more than extra hands - they can transform a lesson.

How many teachers that you line-manage are embarrassed about having another adult in the room, or inhibited about asking the learning support worker what they want them to do to help the class? This is the first of the cardinal sins.

The second is the "silent teaching syndrome". The teacher who becomes obssessed with getting the pupils to work in silence, and at all other times indulges in long monologues explaining the work to them. This can leave support staff feeling frustrated and helpless, not knowing how to open the airwaves so that they work effectively with the pupils they should be supporting.

As one teaching assistant memorably complained to me: "I feel as useful as the faulty humming radiator on the wall. That's about as animate as I'm allowed to become."

If you are lucky, you will be in a school that cherishes learning support and has a clear policy for doing it, supported by regular training and meeting time. What is more likely is that the nurturing of the mainstreamsupport interaction is much more ad hoc than that - especially in secondary schools, where teaching assistants and specialist teachers support a number of teachers and subjects.

So there are two sensible pieces of advice a middle manager can give their staff. First, at least introduce learning support staff properly to the class in the first lesson they work in and stress the importance of the "partnership" they have with the teacher. This will help all pupils to value their contribution.

Second, encourage your teachers to find a little time each week to have a five-minute chat with them about what they are going to do. Over coffee in the staffroom is fine - it's not what the textbook says about planning, but it's a lot better than nothing.

Paul Blum, Senior manager in a London school.

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