Qualifications raise class assistants above 'pond life'

22nd September 2006 at 01:00
New qualifications based on teaching assistants' practical experience in the classroom will prevent them from being viewed as "pond life" who "know their place", say researchers.

Exeter university academics already have approval for national vocational qualifications for teaching assistants, equivalent to GCSEs and A-level, which focus on learning support rather than on teaching.

During interviews with support staff in six Devon schools, including primary, secondary and special, they found that manysaw themselves as subordinates in the classroom. They often cleared away teacups and used terms such as, "I am just a TA." One, describing classroom practice, said:

"Most of us are willing to make a suggestion, but we'll always make it through the teacher."

Rather than being seen as "para-teachers", assistants should be valued for their complementary role to the teacher, the researchers say.

"Support staff are expected to work in the shadow of a teacher and perform the same roles but to a lesser standard or ability, and without overall responsibility. This places the teaching and learning support assistant in the role of an incompetent adult, as opposed to a competent other, whose work has to be supervised and controlled," said the paper.

A syllabus, assessment schemes and training materials have been submitted to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which is also expected to approve the scheme at foundation degree level. It will provide an alternative to existing qualifications for teaching assistants, offering a learning support role for those who do not want to become "para-teachers".

The new qualifications will be based on judgments of classroom practice made by more experienced support staff, rather than on written work. A pilot is expected to begin in November.

Pond Life that know their place: the professional positions occupied and the importance of a teaching assistant community of practice by Debbie Morgan, Phil Bayliss and Glynis Pratchett.

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