How lucky I was to be able to attend the TES Schools Awards evening last Friday. It was an amazing evening and truly heartening to be able to celebrate the success of so many of our schools across the country. The quality represented was awe-inspiring and I was left with the feeling that I had been part of a very special night.
While thinking about the awards, however, I began to think of the group within our schools that we just do not celebrate enough: the teaching assistants.
We now have 240,000 teaching assistants across the country, doing so many different roles. They provide the backbone of every school, representing stability, hard work and what is really good about our education system.
Enormously positive impact
Do we as a teaching profession celebrate what they afford to us all? I think not. Certainly, the government does not realise the breadth of skills these members of staff possess and the extra value they provide for little cost – and the fact that they create an enormously positive impact in all our educational establishments.
When highly trained, teaching assistants support the progress of so many of our children, especially with basic skills. Through their ability to build relationships with the most difficult of children, they also facilitate pupil engagement and ensure that many more children access the curriculum. This, in turn, allows teachers to focus on other aspects of the curriculum, whether more creative or practical activities, or spend more time with the pupils – actually teaching. Can you imagine what lesson time would be without them? Certainly, the end result is that teachers are more supported and less stressed.
Teaching assistants also enable more team-teaching situations. They promote a more inclusive approach, which is necessary to enable every child to feel valued and supported. And what a wonderful asset they are when we work with parents. That difficult pupil calms down when they come across the TA with whom they have a special bond.
Not just a mums' army
I know that many of you will be agreeing with these sentiments. So why, I ask, do teaching assistants not get appropriate recognition? They certainly deserve so much more money than they get at present.
But, more importantly, they need acknowledgment of the vital role they play in our schools. We know that too many government minsters still see them as some sort of mums’ army, backing display boards and photocopying. Such days have long gone, folks. Teaching assistants now have a career structure and many train to be teachers. Their influence in schools is enormous – instrumental in establishing independence in our children, developing learning skills and often being the lead person in delivering intervention strategies. All in all, we cannot now do without them.
Of course, we still need to ensure they receive appropriate training. We also need to ensure they receive support in respect of the job they do. And, vitally, we need to ensure their part in all our schools is appreciated.
May I offer a suggestion to our wonderful profession just before the summer holidays? Why don't we all go in tomorrow and tell our TAs how much we treasure them and how vital they are to us? If every school does, then the ripple effect would be felt across the country. We would also be challenging those who do not appreciate TAs’ worth.
I certainly know that my school would not be as successful as it is without them. What about your school?
Colin Harris is headteacher of Warren Park Primary School in Havant, Hampshire