Vulnerable pupils deserve the best

7th January 2005 at 00:00
I moved from Scotland to a very rural area of England, where posts for learning supportspecial needs teachers are very few and far between. I recently applied for a post as teaching assistant at a local secondary school. This is a school deemed to be failing and is in special measures.

The newly-created post was for a unit being established for pupils with behavioural difficulties, identified by the Office for Standards in Education as a growing problem in the school. It was described, by the special educational needs co-ordinator, as giving a great deal of autonomy to the successful candidate who would set up the unit, devise work programmes, instigate social-skills training, monitor pupils' progress, "fulfil a learning mentoring role for children who find themselves in challenging circumstances", and liaise with parents and outside agencies.

The ethos and day-to-day work would be largely in the hands of this teaching assistant. Indeed the free rein for initiative was presented as a selling point of the job! The interview was conducted by only the Senco. No member of the senior management team took part in the interview process, perhaps an indication of the status they accorded to the post. When I expressed surprise at the level of work required, feeling that it was much more a teaching role, the interviewer agreed and stated that teacher and teaching assistant roles were now very much blurred and that in her opinion the two should merge.

I found it extraordinary that any teacher should so devalue their own profession and that a school placed in special measures would consider the main staffing for a initiative for the most needy pupils with anything other than properly-qualified teaching staff. Surely these pupils deserve the best, not the cheapest.

Are parents of pupils with special needs aware of the amount of time their children may be spending in school, supervised by under-qualified staff?

As long as people in low pay areas, such as where I live, are prepared to come forward and be flattered into taking on what are essentially teaching roles for pay far below teachers' salaries, then schools and local authorities will be only too happy to pocket the difference. Perhaps it is only concerned parents who are in a position to change this situation. But they can only do so if they know this is happening.

As a qualified teacher with 20 years' experience in special needs I was not prepared to collude with this erosion of teaching posts and the willingness to settle for second-best educational provision for the most vulnerable pupils, and so withdrew from the interview process.

I would be interested to hear from readers if this is a common situation throughout England and Wales.

Virginia Schroder. 197 Kingsway, Hereford

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