Teaching Assistants are too often undervalued and that needs to change. Learn how with these 10 ways schools can better support their Teaching Assistants, from former Teaching Assistant, Cat Allott.

Teaching Assistants (TAs), Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) and Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs) are vital members of the school team. Their responsibilities are vast, with the role evolving from being the ‘teacher’s assistants’ of the past to the highly skilled paraprofessionals of the present. Despite this shift, the vital role of TAs is still widely misunderstood which can often lead to them feeling overlooked, overworked and unappreciated.

So how can school leaders ensure that teaching assistants feel supported, valued and confident to fulfil their vital role of facilitating teaching and learning?

NB: Where TAs are mentioned throughout this article, this encompasses HLTAs and LSAs too.

 

1. Ensure TAs understand expectations

School staff should work together to ensure that expectations and directions are clear and understood. It’s the responsibility of the class teachers and the SENDCO to ensure that TAs are deployed effectively to best support targeted pupils. By involving TAs in discussions about planning, feedback and the next steps for interventions, they will fully understand their role and the steps they need to take to meet expectations. Organising timetables and delegating teaching assistant support can be difficult and there will always be times when plans may have to change because of circumstances such as staff absences, meeting attendance and courses, and so on. Communicate these changes as soon as possible so that TAs can plan and adapt accordingly.

2. Consider interests and expertise

Knowing the interests, expertise and experience of the school’s TAs can assist SLT with organising timetables and deploying staff effectively. A staff audit is a useful opportunity to find out where TAs would be best placed to use their skills. Not only will this have the greatest impact on the pupils, but it will also make your staff feel valued and respected. Share information about new school year deployment ahead of the summer holidays to allow for TAs to brush up on subject knowledge, organise learning areas and liaise with the class teachers before the break to give them the chance to feel prepared for a new school year.

3. Support staff wellbeing

Pupil and staff wellbeing is a priority for school leaders everywhere. Wellbeing workshops, a presentation in a staff meeting or one-off yoga sessions are merely box-ticking activities that don’t support long-term wellbeing.

Instead, school leaders should ensure they invest time to get to know each member of staff. Learn about them, greet everyone they see and encourage staff to spend time together in the staffroom at lunchtime to embed a culture of mutual respect and build positive relationships.

Include TA voices in staff surveys and in decision-making. There may be some members of staff who have different needs. Work with them to ensure they are supported and not seen as inconvenient. When organising termly staff social events, be mindful of cost. The pro-rota term-time-only salary of TAs means they are under financial restraints.

4. Ensure staff are clear about working hours

Encourage a good work-life balance, always acknowledge the goodwill of colleagues but don’t expect staff to work past their contracted hours. If training days are not included in TA contracts, don’t expect them to attend these sessions out of goodwill. In a recent TA Digest survey, 95% of TAs said they work over their contracted hours to complete their workload. Encourage TAs to leave work on time by ensuring that class teachers and SENDCOs respect their working hours and ensure their workload is manageable.

5. Provide suitable working environments

TAs are likely to work with 1:1 pupils or small groups away from the classroom. It’s common to see TAs wandering around school followed by a small line of children looking for a suitable place to learn. They’re often forced to settle in draughty cloakrooms, on the hall floor or in a busy corridor. Not only does this lead to wasted learning time but it also means that the pupils find it difficult to concentrate – becoming disengaged and ultimately not making the progress the session was designed to facilitate. It’s important that school leaders create suitable working environments where TAs can support pupils effectively. If it’s a shared intervention room, display a timetable on the door that all members of staff must respect. If a group must work in the library, ensure that this doesn’t clash with classes coming in to choose books. Wherever TAs are scheduled to work, make sure these areas are wellequipped with resources to facilitate high-quality input

6. Encourage and enable professional development

A good way to support teaching assistants is to invest in high-quality professional development opportunities to give them the knowledge and skills to fulfil their roles successfully. Source and fund training courses, webinars and reading, and give TAs the time to complete this within their working hours. Offering these CPD opportunities contributes toward a school ethos whereby teaching assistants are viewed in high regard.

7. Have an open-door policy

School leaders should be approachable, understanding and proactive. By having an open-door policy where conversations are encouraged and supported, TAs and other staff will feel more inclined to share ideas, constructively question and ask for support. There will be times when teaching assistants need help from senior leaders for reasons that may be professional or personal. By having an open-door policy, staff members will feel more at ease to discuss difficult issues as they know they will be listened to and supported.

8. Develop effective means of communication

With teaching assistants often contracted to the hours pupils are in school, they are often the last to know about any staffing issues, timetable changes or important messages. School leaders should prioritise effective information sharing on regularly updated staff notice boards, mutually convenient short staff briefings and whole-staff emails sent during working hours. Display calendars, working hours, duty rotas and intervention timetables in a communal area to ensure clarity. With TAs often responsible for working with pupils with additional needs, it’s also important that they attend any meetings around the child, including those with parents and outside professionals, to ensure that they are clear on targets and strategies to best support the needs of the pupil.

9. Clear, consistent policies

Policies for behaviour, routine and expectations must be clear and consistent across all staff. This ensures that pupils treat all members of staff with equal respect. By having clear routines for transitioning around school, TAs are less likely to need to ask for support from other members of staff, contributing to them feeling valued members of the school community.

10. Celebrate success

Take part in events that celebrate teaching assistants. National TA Day in September and the ‘Twinkl Thank You TAs’ event in July are perfect opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate TAs in your school. Don’t limit the appreciation of TAs to just these days though, thread the sentiment into your school’s way of working. Teaching assistants are important members of the team, their expertise and input should be acknowledged and appreciated. Appreciation doesn’t have to be in the form of a grand gesture, a little thank you can certainly go a long way.

Teaching assistants run on goodwill and a passion to make a difference for every child they teach. They deserve recognition for all the effort and dedication they all put in every day.

Author

  • Cat Allott

    Cat is a segment assistant for Twinkl's Teaching Assistant segment. After working as a teaching assistant for a time, she completed her teacher training and taught in KS2. With a background in speech and language therapy and working in a variety of educational settings, she is keen to raise the profile of teaching assistants.
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