What keeps me awake at night - Two professions, both alike in dignity

13th January 2012 at 00:00

that school staffrooms are divided is a well-known cliche. Scientists at one table enthusing over the Large Hadron Collider, English teachers debating the acceptable pluralisation of fish at another - it is an easy picture to paint. At the far end of most staffrooms, however, sit the teaching assistants (TAs). It is not this physical separation that keeps me awake at night but the unspoken belief that "they aren't real teachers", which in some cases can roughly translate as "they aren't real people".

I am aware that I am in danger of overgeneralising: relationships between TAs and teachers vary from school to school and from individual to individual. But as a special educational needs teacher in a mainstream school, I see a distinct and unpleasant general trend: TAs are frequently overlooked and undervalued.

While completing my PGCE, one of the best pieces of advice I received was that your TA is your most valuable resource. I have never forgotten this. A good TA knows more about individual pupils than anyone else in the school. In some cases, this extends beyond the classroom and into the playground or home. They have the potential to offer invaluable insights into a young person's mind. They know their strengths and weaknesses. They know who works well with who and who distracts whom. They probably know the pupils better than you do.

I understand that not all TAs are the same. Not all are enthusiastic and proactive. In fact, even in the best schools there can be a great disparity in their quality. This huge variety is the second thing that keeps me awake at night (I'm not an insomniac, I assure you). Being a TA is not considered a profession and this is clearly reflected in the salary offered (if we side-step higher level TAs for just one moment) and the qualifications and recruitment paths available. This means recruiting the best people for the job can be a mammoth challenge.

The government must develop qualifications that are a prerequisite for getting a TA post, together with a salary scale that reflects their skill levels. But with cuts being made to school budgets, it looks like I might just be dreaming.

The author is a secondary school teacher in east London. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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