Teaching assistants

Them as can do. And then they teach!

The Telegraph is asking today if teaching assistants should be allowed to teach. This is a follow-up to the previous day’s piece entitled “School pupils ‘taught by untrained staff”, in which it was revealed that ‘assistants were used as temporary cover in more than 80 per cent of schools’. The blow hards claim everything from TAs being used as cheap labour (which in many cases they are), to them filling in for teachers snowed under by the rising tide of bureaucracy, to them being unqualified to do the job.
We all know that TAs teach groups of children and individuals all the time, as well as filling in for teachers who are undertaking other duties. It happens. In lots of ways, it’s a good thing we have TAs. In my old school, when a master was otherwise engaged (anything from meeting the head to nipping out to place a bet on a horse or dropping into the local pub for a swift one – I kid you not!), we were left to our own devices.
The quality of TAs often depends very much on the area in which the school is situated. When recruitment is difficult, heads often take what they can get and this might mean, as I have seen myself, taking on staff who are semi-literate and using them to teach literacy. Very often the newly employed TAs have previously been employed in occupations totally unrelated to teaching – and so what? It is not uncommon to see parents who are very highly educated – in some cases very much more so than the average teacher and who have previously been holding down high powered jobs – who decide to take on a TA role while their children are at school. At the other end of the spectrum, a parent could have been stacking shelves in a well known supermarket.
The truth is that, as in any line of work, you get good and bad. As far as TAs go, the good far outweighs the bad. The important thing is for senior management in schools to make sure that TAs are not asked to do jobs they are not qualified for because, when they are, children’s education can suffer and TAs can lose confidence through being unable to cope with the demands placed on them.
So, Graeme, what is the point in asking the question? Each situation needs to be judged on its merits or is, as one of my masters of the drinking kind would have said, sui generis.