Teaching assistants under-used

24th August 2007 at 01:00
But higher-level status brings increased confidence and job satisfaction

HIGHER LEVEL teaching assistants are making a positive impact on schools, but many are not being given the chance to use their new skills.

A Training Development Agency for Schools study shows nearly a quarter of those with HLTA status said their school did not make effective use of them, largely due to a shortage of posts.

Only a third are working exclusively in higher level tasks, such as taking whole classes, and another third are working in split roles, with most being paid at different rates for different duties.

School leaders said they needed more money and time for the assistants to plan and prepare with teachers.

Unions say the shortfall in opportunities for higher level teaching assistants is down to schools' overly narrow understanding of their role and reluctance to pay more for their services.

Once they have met a set of national standards, schools can decide how the assistants are deployed. Their responsibilities can range from taking whole classes under supervision by a teacher to being a head of year. More than a third of those surveyed said they took whole classes every day.

The study also shows that 13 per cent of higher level assistants who covered whole classes did so because of a vacant teaching post.

Bruni de La Motte, a national officer for education at Unison, the public services workers' union, called the situation scandalous.

She also raised concerns about the extensive use of higher level teaching assistants in primary schools to cover full classes.

"There is a blurring of cover supervision and teaching in primaries and this raises issues of whether they should be paid as an unqualified teacher," she said.

Graham Holley, chief executive of the Training and Development Agency for Schools, said: "Getting the approach to HLTA deployment right is key to achieving the best results for all schools."

The study, carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research for the agency, indicated high levels of job satisfaction among staff employed in the position.

Most of the 1,500 staff surveyed said the status had raised their confidence and self-esteem, because of increased responsibilities. Most of the 1,100 senior leaders involved in the research said the new staff had helped improve pupil performance.

Maria Usman-Khizar, 28, is one of the luckier higher level assistants. She has found her niche specialising in maths at the London academy in Edgware, north London.

Since graduating from being a teaching assistant, she has started to take classes on her own, marks exam papers and supports strugglers. She is also a language examiner for GCSE Urdu.

She said: "I am very much part of the department and feel totally valued for the contribution I am making. There is a real appreciation for my work and skills."

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