The mortar that keeps our schools together

Today is National Teaching Assistants’ Day and Abbie Deeming – Senior Lecturer in Education – blogs about how important their input is to children’s education.

If you’ve been in a school at some point in the last couple of years, you’ve probably met one of the most important people in the life of the school. I’m talking about teaching assistants, the often unsung, under-appreciated and underpaid lifeblood of the school. For those of you who haven’t come across teaching assistants you should be aware that was teachers all the bricks of the education system, teaching assistants are the mortar; without them the walls would fall down. Increasingly during the pandemic and since they are often the staff who are keeping schools together and enabling learning to take place.

Teaching Assistants hold many roles within schools. Some of them are what you might consider to be in traditional support roles, in that they support the teacher day today in the classroom, working 1-2-1 or with small groups supporting learning and hearing readers, possibly supporting with craft activities. But more and more often teaching assistants are taking on more responsibility; it’s not unusual for them to cover classes when teachers are called away, to take responsibility for interventions to provide uplift for pupils who are struggling, to adapt teachers’ planning to meet the needs of a child with special educational needs or even take on responsibility for planning and delivering non-core subject areas.

Although teaching assistants have been around since the 1960s, often referred to originally as classroom assistants, they came to greater prominence with the introduction in 2002/3 National Workforce Agreement which also introduced the role of Higher Level Teaching Assistants, with numbers trebling in the last 20 years. Once their original duties might have been washing paint pots, putting up displays, photocopying and listening to readers, today teaching assistants fulfil a wide range of roles within the school, from supporting teachers, producing resources, to working with pupils to support their learning, to providing pastoral, emotional and wellbeing support.

Research carried out by the Education Endowment Foundation and the Institute of Education at University of London has shown the high levels of efficacy the teaching assistants have and the impact they have on learning. teachers will often cite the benefits they feel through working with teaching assistants to reduce stress, workload, and disruptions in class; this is alongside the work they do to support pupils’ learning and wellbeing.

During the pandemic, the work teaching assistants did hold schools together and kept the education system working. We need to recognise the commitment and expertise of these professionals through appropriate recognition of their status and recompense that reflects the essential work that they do.

It has been my honour and privilege to work with teaching assistants over the last 20 years, and I have always been impressed with that commitment to their jobs, their schools and the pupils they work with. I hope you will join me in thanking them for everything they do and ensuring that we remember them not just today, Teaching Assistant Appreciation Day, but everyday.

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