13th March 2015 at 00:00

There's no mystery to a good TA - just trust us

As trainee teaching assistants, we want to respond to "Teaching assistant role must evolve or die" (News, 27 February).

When volunteering on placements for our course, some of us feel valued and others do not. Some of us feel that we're asked to do too much, others not enough. Talking to TAs employed at these schools, this seems to sum up their experiences.

The TA role is wide-ranging. It can bring to mind images of a couple of children being read to in a side room all the way through to a higher-level TA teaching a class of 30 children. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

Salary is definitely an issue. Schools surely want to employ the best people and get the best out of them, but pay is poor and teachers know this. Maybe that's why some TAs sit reading about Saxby Smart's latest adventure as a schoolboy private detective. Of course, reading to children is useful, but more important is being given the responsibility to make a difference.

We feel that teachers need to get to know their assistants; utilise their skills; sit down with them and exchange ideas. A dedicated TA used well can be an invaluable aid. They are there in emergencies, there to help with planning, there to help struggling pupils, there to help thriving pupils develop even further.

TAs in secondary schools seem to be more valued. Some even have their own staffrooms, specific training and targets. For some reason, all this seems to be lacking in primary.

There is so much more TAs can do if they are given the chance and the trust. It shouldn't take Saxby Smart to work that out.

Teaching assistant level 2 students

Newton House, Manchester

For more on teaching assistants, see page 40

No ifs, no buts: children must come first

Ann Mroz argues eloquently against the introduction of mandatory reporting of child safeguarding concerns and points to the failures of previous initiatives to protect the children in our care ("Prosecuting teachers won't prevent child abuse", Editorial, 6 March). Unfortunately, a misguided interpretation of professional allegiance combined with a tick-box approach to safeguarding responsibilities has resulted in too many missed opportunities. Mandatory reporting would at least serve to remind us that children simply must come first - no ifs and buts, no "some other agency will pick up on that". Too many of us have seen failures in the current approach to safeguarding lead to irrecoverable harm to children; the time has surely come for mandatory reporting to draw a line in the sand.

Neil Roskilly

Chief executive, Independent Schools Association

Strong foundations for a safe platform

When reading about the NSPCC giving legal protection to staff who blow the whistle ("How a children's charity will keep teachers safe, too", News, 6 March), I was struck by the hugely difficult job schools have to do to help children today.

Governments have placed more and more responsibility on to schools and then removed key support such as funding for Every Child Matters and Sure Start, telling teachers not to be social workers and to teach only key subjects.

Luckily, good schools and even better teachers have always put young people first, addressing the issues they face as well as "instructing" them in key skills. Giving children a safe platform to share their concerns is the most important job any school can do. So ignore the knee-jerk reactions from central government and keep supporting children. And, thanks to organisations like the NSPCC, your staff will be supported, too.

Frederick Sandall

Retired headteacher

Your overseas colleagues need you

Sunny Varkey sums up the value of high-quality teacher training well when he writes: "the most important factor in a good education, whether in rural Uganda or inner-city US, [is] well-educated, well-trained and well-respected teachers" ("Put education at the top of global agenda", Comment, 6 March).

I have seen teachers working selflessly in challenging contexts, such as low-cost private schools in rural India and oversubscribed government institutions in Uganda. Such teachers often lack the support they need to perform at their best and keep students engaged and in school.

Their ability to teach is limited by lack of access to CPD. Varkey issues a challenge to government ministers to "prioritise education and, in particular, teacher training in developing countries". Limited Resource Teacher Training (LRTT) is a non-governmental organisation that is making a big difference in this area.

As countries work to meet the unprecedented explosion in demand for education, more and more highly skilled teachers are needed globally. Every summer, teachers from the UK are embracing this challenge by providing training in low-income countries. Through LRTT fellowships, teachers have supported educational growth in Uganda, Tanzania, India, Nepal, Cambodia and Guyana. TES readers, please consider joining them.

Lizzie Waddling

Art teacher and Limited Resource Teacher Training fellow. Find out more at www.lrtt.org

Staying the coursework

I read with interest A guide to new GCSEs in English (supplement, 6 March). Although the proposed new texts are exciting, 100 per cent exam-based assessment could disadvantage students who perform well in coursework. Will this specification meet the eclectic needs of all learners, including those with special educational needs? Coursework can be an effective vehicle for differentiation that gives every learner the chance to perform to the best of their ability. Time will tell.

Mark Damon Chutter


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