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Free 60 page Teacher Guidance and Glossary Booklet by Thinking Child

Thinking Child aims to produce creative resources and training opportunities for colleagues, children and parents. They have generously provided TA Focus with helpful guides for Teaching Assistants. Please read, share and give us any feedback on further topics you would like to know more about.


60 page grammar booklet – by Sue Dixon, founder of Thinking Child

Over the course of last term – in fact just this week – I’ve had lots of chats with TAs about GRAMMAR.

If you work in upper key stage in particular you will know that your need a good grasp of grammar to be able to support children’s reading and writing.

Understandably, there are anxieties; feelings of being a bit overwhelmed and/or under confident about grammar subject knowledge and terminology.

So I’ve decided to give away our 60 page Teacher Guidance and Glossary Booklet (usually sold as part of the school resource IT’S A CASE OF GRAMMAR)

The booklet is made up of sections: Words, Phrases, Clauses, Sentences and Punctuation with step by step information and ‘Talking Points’ at the end of each section.

It enables teachers and TAs to brush up on the parts of grammar they might feel a bit ‘shaky’ on. It can be done together at a staff meeting in small groups or individually.

Download this 60 page booklet ABSOLUTELY FREE

What you should know before becoming a Teaching Assistant by Andrea Duncan

How do I become a Teaching Assistant?

If this question was asked 10 years ago, the answer would be pretty easy. Find an open Teaching Assistant position in your local school and give them a call. Chances are you’ll walk into a job without any experience. Today, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Teaching Assistant role has changed dramatically in recent years and these key members of classroom support staff have increased responsibility (but not pay, I should add). If there is one fact a TA-to-be should know is the role is hugely competitive now. With tight budgets and highly qualified candidates to choose from, many TAs are finding it hard to secure employment.

Are there TA jobs in my local schools?

It really depends on your area within the UK. Some schools are screaming out for TAs, whilst others are inundated with applications for each advertised post. That brings me onto the other factor. Years ago, there were no such applications to fill out for a TA role. You simply ‘walked in’ to a job without experience or qualifications. These days, application forms are the norm and they take time and practise to master. Many TAs are well experienced with the application form process – usually it takes a number of applications before one is successful.

What about qualifications and skills?

Qualifications are standard these days. Local Education Authorities will have slightly different rules from one another, but they will usually ask for a QCF (Qualifications and Credit Framework), formerly the NVQ. There are varying levels. Level 2 is standard and level 3 will require solid experience. Within these levels is a varying degree of experience. The ‘Award’ is purely theoretical and gives the student a good understanding of the subject. The Awards are usually the basis of online courses (home study) as the course can be completed in the comfort of your home. The ‘Certificate’ is more thorough and you need to arrange a work placement or other relevant experience. The ‘Diploma’ is the most thorough and will require excellent experience and includes a number of units omitted from the previous two. Most LEAs will require a Level 2 Certificate at the very least and there are a number of suitable topics to choose from relating to Teaching Assistants.

Once such popular topic is the Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools. To obtain these qualifications, the would be Teaching Assistant will need to find a suitable course either in college or online. Even once qualified, the process of finding a TA role is tricky. There are plenty of online job boards packed with TA or SEN (Special Educational Needs) jobs, but salaries aren’t particularly high. The Government is currently considering changing the pay structure now that is acknowledging the hard work of classroom support staff. It is essential to research local school posts and the minimum experience/qualifications necessary before embarking on a course or applying for TA jobs. If you have a clear path to becoming a Teaching Assistant, it will minimise possible disappointment at the end.

When a Book Is Too Difficult by Thinking Child

Thinking Child aims to produce creative resources and training opportunities for colleagues, children and parents. They have generously provided TA Focus with helpful guides for Teaching Assistants. Please read, share and give us any feedback on further topics you would like to know more about.

What should you do if you think a book is too difficult for a child?

One way or another there are many children who find themselves with a reading book that is too difficult for them.
There are lots of reasons why this happens including being ‘pushed’ up a reading scheme too quickly and ‘pushy’ parents who think that their child shouldn’t have a book that is ‘too easy’ (both of these are areas for separate discussion).

NB – I’m referring to books that children are expected to read by themselves – not other books that the teacher might choose for other reasons

I’m quite sure you have met such a child. They might be struggling at the decoding strategies – not breaking words down because they are too difficult, or finding the complexity of the sentences too challenging. These children are reasonably easy to spot. They are often quite stressed by the whole experience of reading.

A simple way of reaching judgements about the suitability of text.


If 95% or more of the words are read correctly, the pupil can clearly read this level without help



If 90-95% read correctly, the pupil will need help top make full use of a passage at this level: this is the correct level for guided reading and reading tuition.



If less than 90% correct, the passage is too difficult and an easier one should be found.




Another way would be to ask a child to count the number of words they struggle with on the first couple of pages – if they use up all the fingers and thumb on one hand then the book is probably too difficult.

However – there are lots of other children whose decoding isn’t too bad and they seem to be a ‘fluent’ reader. But they might not be understanding very much of what they are reading.

If you think you are with such a child and being asked to read with them, try a few additional questions to see what they are actually understanding:

Ask them to point to parts of the text to show you where they are finding their answers. E.g. ‘Can you point to where it says….’ ‘Why do you think he decided to do …..?’ ‘That’s an interesting word – what do you think it means?’ Can you think of another word that is similar?

If there is little comprehension, then a simpler text might be more suitable.

If you think a child is really struggling – are you able to mention this and/or help the child choose a more suitable book?

It needs flagging up. I see too many children struggling with books unnecessarily. Reading should be an enjoyable challenge – offering pleasure and small steps of achievement.

We risk children being turned off reading altogether if their continual experience is one of struggle and frustration.

I mean – would you keep doing something that you continually found tricky and made you feel like a failure??

Ideas for Group Activities by Thinking Child

Thinking Child aims to produce creative resources and training opportunities for colleagues, children and parents. They have generously provided TA Focus with helpful guides for Teaching Assistants. Please read, share and give us any feedback on further topics you would like to know more about.


Group Activity Ideas for Teaching Assistants

It is often a challenge to think of engaging activities for group situations; ones that have a clear learning outcome as well. I always believe that if children are supported to think and talk in a structured way then learning is most likely to be taking place.

These are a few ideas that could be used and adapted for small group/guided sessions – linked to literacy/speaking & listening outcomes.

Play a short music track (music without words is easier).

Ask children to close their eyes and visualise whilst it is playing – they are not to speak until the music ends:

• Where can you see?
• What colours do you think of?
• Who is in your ‘picture’?
• Imagine two characters in your place – how do they feel?
• What is the body language between your characters?
• What mood are they in?
• What happens next?

Then give children time to work in pairs and small groups to ‘swap’ stories.
An extension to this might be to ask children to match a favourite piece of music to a picture book they know. They could have that music playing softly in the background as they read it aloud to a partner or a group of younger children.


Quick fire questions to think and talk about: This requires children to listen carefully to each other, structure a proper ‘conversation’ and give clear reasons for their thinking.

• When were you last frightened? Why? (this could also be excited / jealous / nervous)
• What’s the worst thing you’ve heard this year?
• What’s been the most waste of time?
• What have been the most important bits of learning?


Entertaining Reading

Ask children to browse and choose a picture book they like. Give them time to properly practise reading it out loud – they need to pay attention to which pictures they will focus on and which ones to actually show their classmates. They will need to think about their expression – linked to punctuation, voices of characters etc.

Then let children read their books aloud to each other – the ‘test’ is whether they entertain each other.


Make up a large ‘feely bag’ with a range of random objects.

Children have to put their hands into the bag and without looking, feel one of the objects in detail.  Provide some strips of card. Children have to write down their top 5 five words on cards to describe what they have just felt.

Ask another group of children to do the same but they are allowed to look at the objects as well. Compare the vocabulary from each group.

Random Pictures – Guide the artist

Children have to think of some random things and write them on small cards (you could limit it to things they might see in school).

Working in pairs, one child picks a card and reads it without their partner seeing it.

They then have to ‘instruct’ the other to draw it – without naming it in anyway. E.g. If the word ‘chair’ is on a card:

‘Draw a straight horizontal line three quarters up the page, about 10 centimetres long and in the middle of the paper. From each end of that line draw a line going down….. ‘


Sentence Finishers – What kind of person are you?

How well do children really know each other?

Ask them to work with someone they trust and finish off these sentences:

• If I can see someone getting angry with me I…..
• Just before going to sleep I…
• When something scares me I…
• When I am faced with a new challenge, something I’ve never done before I…
• As soon as I get home I …
• When I am asked to do something I don’t enjoy I …

Children can make up their own sentence starters and you can have a constructive discussion about managing your own behaviour.

You can ask them to ‘report back’ on their partner – what kind of person are they? Have they learnt something about them that they didn’t know before?

A Fairly Depressing State of Affairs…And Why We Don’t Have More Male Teaching Assistants by Anita Wooltorton

A few days ago, I was responsible for dragging a dark cloud of depression over the head of one of the nicest, most affable, trusting ‘gentle-men’ I know; a retired Head teacher, whom I sometimes meet up with at conferences.

As we sat there waiting for the conference to begin, we got talking about economics, and the importance to the current generation of ‘the bank of mum and dad’, and he was rather surprised when I made the claim that it was a pity that this wouldn’t be open to any future generations for the vast majority of people. He asked me why not, and I explained my thesis to him, by the end of which, as he was saying uncharacteristically “My God, how depressing”, I did make the offer that, as we were a couple of stories up, maybe we should open the window and both jump together.

My idea to him went something like this; ‘the bank of mum and dad’ is only viable when ‘mum and dad’ have the opportunity to get some collateral behind them, which they can pass on to their kids; ‘mum and dad’ have, in the past, traditionally built up collateral by buying a house that they could afford, normally on marriage, and seeing that house steadily rise in value over the years; as the mortgage was not too high, they found that as the years passed, they had more disposable income that they could put away. They may have been to college or university, or may not, but they did not start off their working life saddled with a hideous amount of debt hanging over their heads. ‘Mum and dad’ were masters of their own destiny, deciding what to do for their own kids’ wellbeing when the kids came along, whether to work full-part-or home-time, because the mortgage was still ticking along at a reasonable level, on a property that was not taking up the vast majority of their income. They were in a position to, in the main, help their kids out should the need arise, but ‘mum and dad’ didn’t expect that they would have to, because their kids, in their turn, would get their own affordable place to live, and ‘mum and dad’ could look forward to a comfortable retirement, safe in the knowledge that their kids were okay.

But, as we all know, those days are gone; ‘mum and dad’ not only help their kids through college and university, they also see their kids come out at the end with a colossal debt before they even do a day’s work. Property prices have ballooned to the point where few of their kids can afford a deposit; if they earn enough to start saving for the deposit, they earn enough to start paying back their student loan, and who can do both? ‘The bank of mum and dad’ might step in, thereby robbing ‘mum and dad’ of their planned comfortable retirement, which may, incidentally, push them to release equity in their house, thereby robbing their children of any residual nest-egg which may have been coming their way when ‘the bank of mum and dad’ finally closes.

So now their kids owe ‘the bank of mum and dad’, the government body that oversees their student loans, and the excruciating payments they have to make just to keep a roof over their heads. If they decide to have kids, they have no choice about returning to work; they have to, to service all of their debts…plus they then have to pay for childcare. What chance do they have to save, in order to become ‘the bank of mum and dad’ for their own kids?

Okay, I know some of you are screaming that the scenario I have painted is straight out of a 1970s middle-class sit-com, with Richard Briars playing the erstwhile dad, and Felicity Kendal the slightly perky but understanding mum, and that many of you did not have ‘a bank of mum and dad’ to call upon, but can I take you back to 1983, when a much younger and slimmer newly-married me bought my first house? Both of us were ‘council house kids’; we knew ‘the bank of mum and dad’ might be good for paying for the wedding flowers, or buying us some crockery, but “don’t push it”. The building society waived the need for a deposit, and we bought a very nice if slightly old-fashioned 3-bed terrace for £20,000…. and we managed……but when we moved 4 years later, the selling price had more than doubled, to £42,000, as had the property we were buying, and we climbed aboard the treadmill, working longer and longer hours, as we convinced ourselves that we were making progress. I firmly believe that this was the tipping-point for ‘the bank of mum and dad’ for many families over the country, and what we are witnessing now is this bank ceasing to exist for more and more families, as professions which were once stable, and solid, and safe, fall into the pit now signified by the dehumanising and merciless term ‘the working poor’.

Yes, yes, yes, but what has all this got to do with the lack of male teaching assistants?… Quite a lot, really…..

The explosion in the employment of teaching assistants came into being from about the time I was first married, when ‘the bank of mum and dad’ was there for quite a sizeable amount of the young population, and many women still had the choice of how to order their working lives to suit their families; we may like to think that feminism was changing our lives radically, turning us all overnight into bra-burning, ball-breaking workaholics, ready to grab the career ladder and scale it like a Himalayan Sherpa on speed, but feminism was more like the steady drip of a leaking tap, which the male world of work chose, in the main, to ignore, to grudgingly put up with or become annoyed about, as the mood took them, sometimes with a snort of derision, sometimes a leer. It was still acceptable for mothers returning to work after having children to consider part-time work, as a top-up to the main (male) wage earner’s pay… “pin-money” to help out with a few luxuries and treats and the smaller bills.

This is where the working practices governing Teaching Assistants were set in super-fast quick-setting cement, and made into concrete boots which have slowed down the development of this profession ever since: a reasonable hourly rate attractive enough to the more intelligent, but not overly ambitious, working woman, for thirty hours a week, thirty-nine weeks of the year; there was no point in us being in school if the kids we were employed to follow were on holiday, was there?……and it suited us, in droves!

It continues to suit many of us, to this day; we convince ourselves that the extra holidays are ‘one of the perks of the job’, that we need those breaks to ‘get over’ the hectic times when we are working, because we are continually on the back foot during term-time, trying to ascertain what we have missed during training and planning sessions we are not paid to attend. We proudly guard our hourly rate of pay, choosing to ignore the nine weeks of the year for which we, in effect, receive no pay at all; I wonder if the job would be quite so popular if the wages were not stretched out into equal monthly payments, and we were only paid when we were in school; something tells me the long summer holidays would not be quite so enticing if we didn’t receive a pay packet at all in August, but that is what is happening, in effect, and we put up with it, because the majority of us are female, and have been conditioned to do so: To accept, to ‘not make a fuss’, to just get on with it.

There are two words which ensure that male teaching assistants are viewed in the same way as unicorns and dancing chickens, and those words are ‘pro rata’. Whether we like it or not, men are still brainwashed from childhood to ‘do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’, to expect to work long hours and to be the main breadwinner, whatever their circumstances, and the thought of ‘not earning’ for nine weeks of the year would take them out of their comfort zone. Yes, we are seeing more men willing to consider becoming a teaching assistant, but only as a stepping-stone in a long career in education; a dip into the murky waters of school-life to see ‘if teaching might be right for them’…..many do not plan to stay, they are here and there, now and then.

And why should we expect them to stay? How can people conditioned from birth to earn a ‘decent wage’, to ‘keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table’ think seriously about becoming a teaching assistant on thirty hours a week, thirty-nine weeks a year? God knows the full-time salary is not a fortune, but those two little words ‘pro rata’ effectively bar vast swathes of the population from even contemplating a career in school support work.

What correlation there is now between earnings and house prices mocks and laughs in the face of the average worker; what I felt confident to aspire to in the early 80s is as remote a dream as winning the lottery for many younger people today, with average house prices ten times greater than the average salary, according to the Daily Telegraph. Are we really surprised that 93% of Teaching Assistants are female, given the hours, the pay, and increasingly, the lack of job security?

In a survey recently taken at a secondary school, out of twenty Teaching Assistants, four were coming up for retirement, three were using it as work experience before taking up teacher training, whilst only one professed to be happy with her rate of pay; the other twelve were either struggling to pay their bills and/or reliant on either family or working tax credits, and concerned that they would no longer be able to carry on doing a job they loved if or when those credits ceased. What kind of a society would allow an army of workers who have become vital to the wellbeing and stability of our education system and the future generations of workers to be so badly paid that they cannot carry out their profession without handouts and second jobs? The hourly rate is a smoke screen which fogs the issue of poor pay and unfair contracts.

Make no mistake, this is a job which has never ensured economic independence for those employed in it; I have known TAs who have had to make the choice not between eating and heating, but between eating and paying the rent, and paying the rent won, as eating lost out…heating wasn’t even a possibility. If you’re a young man, you might contemplate being a Teaching Assistant whilst you are still welcome in the family home, but get a place of your own, or settle and have a family? Don’t make me laugh! Young men soon realise they have to go into something far more lucrative if they want any quality of life whatsoever, but in schools populated by students who have precious few positive male role models in their lives, the benefits of attracting someone who can be looked up to as an older brother figure far outweigh the cost implications; I remember working with one male TA a few years ago who walked around the school like a latter-day Pied Piper, his pack of followers hanging on every word of advice and banter.

Now I am not insisting that all TA positions should become full-time, but surely it is not beyond the wit of senior management and governing bodies in schools and academies to see that it would be in everyone’s interests if we were given the opportunity to work longer hours should we wish to do so. Think of what we could achieve if we were welcomed into school faculties to plan the school year, along with our full-time salaried colleagues, or maybe, just maybe, those nine weeks of the year we are not paid for now could be spent studying and researching the many disabilities we come into contact with on a daily basis.

Maybe then we might see more men willing to make a commitment to being a TA as a long term career prospect, and achieve the gender balance we so desperately need.





A little tool to help find Teaching Assistant jobs

Okay, so you have the relevant Teaching Assistant qualifications and/or experience, but you just can’t find any jobs. Maybe you’ve enlisted the help of educational job agencies or even relied on word of mouth to find vacancies, but you can’t seem to find roles in your area and every door is slamming in your face?

I have a little secret I want to share with you and it only takes a few minutes of your time to set up. Heard of Google Alerts?  Let me explain.

Google Alerts is a nifty little tool which brings to you (usually via email) pages recently indexed in Google’s database. Google is finding new website material all the time and what you’re asking Google to do using the alert is to let you know when it finds content about a specific topic. You can specify exactly what search term you are interested in receiving information about i.e. Teaching Assistant jobs! Each time Google finds a new page with the words ‘Teaching Assistant jobs’ within the text, an email will be sent to you with the link.

Typical websites which regularly add new pages for TA jobs are Reed, The Guardian, eteach.com, jobsgopublic.com, jobisjob.co.uk, jobserve.com, Total Jobs and even school websites! 

Instead of visiting each of these websites and searching for TA roles, simply create a Google Alert and let Google do the work for you.

This is what you need to do.

Visit Google Alerts (https://www.google.co.uk/alerts) and in the box at the top of the page, type in a specific search term i.e. ‘teaching assistant jobs’

You will be prompted to add an email address where Google will send these alerts.

Before you click ‘Create Alert’, have a look at the ‘Show options’ section.

How often?

Depending on how general the search term is, you probably won’t want to receive alerts as they happen. I usually go for once a day, where the related alerts are grouped into one email.


Leave as ‘Automatic’, but you may want to specify a source such as news or blog if you’re receiving hundreds of alerts which contain the search term you are using.


Keep to the UK for the purpose of this example.

How many?

Use ‘all results’ unless you are receiving alerts for spammy nonsensical websites.

That’s it!

You can be more specific about the alert. Say you want to create alerts about ‘Teaching Assistant jobs London’, bear in mind that websites may include TA roles in London, but may use a different title such as ‘Teaching Assistant jobs in Hounslow’. Don’t be too specific as you may miss opportunities.

Alerts you may want to set up

  • Teaching Assistant jobs
  • Teaching Assistant roles
  • Teaching Assistant vacancies
  • Teaching Assistant job Level 2
  • Teaching Assistant job Level 3
  • SEN jobs
  • SEN roles
  • SEN vacancies
  • LSA jobs
  • LSA vacancies
  • LSA roles

You get the idea…

National Teaching Assistants’ Day September 2014

Today is National Teaching Assistants’ Day!

Once again, Teaching Personnel are hosting National Teaching Assistants’ Day, always held on 16th September. The event last year was extremely positive and there was a significant amount of activity in local schools and news, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

Teaching Personnel are hoping this year more schools will join in, celebrating hard working Teaching Assistants.

The View from the Chalkface by Anita Wooltorton

A few weeks ago, Joy Judge asked me to write something for TA Focus, and I quickly agreed. My first question was “What do you want me to write about?”

“Ooo, anything you like, really… about being a T.A. or a union rep., something along those lines”.

Right! No problemo! No sooner said than done! A large slice of the proverbial Mr Kipling’s coming right up! And I started to think…to plan…to ponder…

…Nothing…nada…niente; my brain slowly turned into the set of a 70’s Spaghetti Western, with nothing moving but a lone tumbleweed rolling down the deserted dirt street of a town devoid of ideas.

Only now, as I face the first day back at the chalkface, after a blissful few weeks which flitted by all to fitfully, do I feel that I can tackle the subject of what it means to be a TA: I needed that distance because, when you actually consider the statement “I am a Teaching Assistant”, nobody, until fairly recently, has had the vaguest damned idea about just what I was claiming!

Let me explain. A taxi driver drives a taxi, a window fitter fits windows, a teacher teaches, but just who or what does a teaching assistant assist; are we there to assist the teacher or the teaching, or, as has been the case in the vast majority of positions which fall under the general heading of TA, is neither a better answer?

Most people who came into this profession have found themselves supporting the learning of individual students, sometimes out of the classroom but mostly in class, with most of these students having been encumbered with a statement of special educational needs. The burgeoning growth of TA numbers is pretty consistent with the scramble by educational specialists and psychologists to have their papers on various ‘-isms’ and ‘-xias’ and the need for inclusion recognised by the establishment, and the closure of nasty, expensive special schools which kept these students out of the mainstream : what was an innovation in the 1970’s is now a job which employs over 300,000 people in the UK, and has become the accepted norm in just about every school in the country.

However, in the charge towards inclusion wherever possible, whether it was the right thing for the individual student or not, normally quite sane, measured, methodical people in education failed to ask themselves the very questions they expected their teaching staff to ask of their students each and every lesson: What are we aiming to achieve by placing TAs within schools? Who is the best person for this job? When should they be employed? Why are they necessary? Where should they work? How will we measure their achievements?

The failure to ask these very basic questions grew as the TA employment numbers ballooned. What we see, as teaching assistants became part of the education framework, are assumptions made in high places that whilst we were deemed necessary, to ‘deal with’ statemented and other problematic students on a day-to-day basis, little thought was given to the how, what, where, when & why aspects of our employment…presumably, those educational specialists missed that part of the equation, and with the unquestioning acceptance of generations (in professional career terms) of education ministers and officials, local authority personnel, headteachers, teachers, etc. the cheap, thoughtless, unprofessional misuse of teaching assistants became the status quo.

Hard words? Let me take you back to my first job as a Learning Support Assistant, when my then SENCo informed me that the gentleman in charge of education for my local county council viewed teaching assistants as “a bunch of middle-aged women who sit at the back of the class with the ‘numpties’ and try to keep them quiet”.

His words were harsh, totally unprofessional, and politically incorrect, but, you know what? He had a point, because the study, ‘Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants’ by Peter Blatchford et al, (when someone actually did get around to starting to research what we do), found that ‘middle-aged women’ was what most of us were, and sitting at the back of the class with the most vulnerable students was what most of us were doing . Because none of the ‘movers and shakers’ in education had asked those important questions, teaching assistants found themselves, over the years, doing anything and everything, from photocopying and general admin for teachers, to actively teaching whole classes on virtual slave-labour wages for headteachers who enthusiastically interpreted ‘cover supervision’ to mean anything that would get them out of a hole, cheaply. But by far the largest group were those of us trailing after statemented students from class to class, in an endless battle to ensure that they ‘kept up with the rest’.

Some of us found our way into schools by volunteering to help out with our own kids, and subsequently found that it suited, hours- and holiday- wise, and the money on offer came in handy; ‘pin-money’, if you like. As the years went by, this idea of women, locally based, of ‘a reasonable standard of education’ (whatever that means!), working hours which suited their commitments (if not their bank balance), became entrenched in education circles, especially as teachers moved further and further away from the schools they taught in, and moved jobs more frequently to keep pace with increasingly accelerated career paths: We, the support staff, became the stabilising factor, the friendly face of the status quo in schools…we weren’t going anywhere…

And we colluded in this contrived educational sleepwalking, because we are nice people; we wanted to help, to work in education with the vulnerable and less able, to feel a part of something that mattered, and we wouldn’t rock the boat, even if we wondered how watching an hour-long film about a kid breaking up a classroom could, in any way, shape or form, be called sufficient training on ‘behaviour problems and how to deal with them’, or how we could work in a Maths department effectively when nobody seemed bothered that we didn’t know how the new Maths being taught worked! We’re nice people, and those higher up must know what they were doing, right?

Okay, this scenario may not be the same for every TA reading this, but I’m willing to bet that I’ve struck a few chords with more than a few of you, and some of you will still be doing the same old dance.

However, our past doesn’t have to be our future, and it is up to us to push for the changes so badly needed in the implementation and career development of TAs. Whilst there are chinks of light appearing as the great and good slowly absorb what Blatchford et al have concluded in their offerings on the use and implementation of TAs, it is a slow, uphill battle to achieve the proper training, status, recognition and remuneration we deserve.

For every school that is waking up, smelling the coffee, and realising what a positive resource we could be, given the correct funding and encouragement, there are countless other dinosaurs, still lumbering around, waiting for everything else to evolve around them. For example, how can a secondary school attract the right people to work with the most vulnerable and needy students when the headteacher still refuses to advertise TA jobs properly, claiming it is an unjustified expense when ‘word of mouth’ will do? It’s like the old vaudeville joke about the bloke applying for a handyman’s job who couldn’t do anything in that line, but who claimed he qualified as ‘handy’ because he just lived around the corner! The trouble is, when it is your child who comes into daily contact with this person, the joke loses what little humour it had.

We, all 300,000 of us, need to get our act together, and drag the reluctant  dinosaurs into this century. Try something for me, will you? Ask about training for your job, and if you want to specialise, see what courses on ‘-isms’ and ‘-xias’ etc. are available in your area, because these courses are for you, and the students you work with deserve the best, not the cheapest, option. If you attend an interview for a school support job, make a point of asking what the school can do for you, what are the career prospects, and if they, like the academy sponsor who came to one of my previous schools with glorious plans for the teaching staff, but who stared at me like I’d just hit him in the face with a frozen halibut when I asked him his plans for TA career enhancement, my advice would be to ‘run like a bunny in the opposite direction’ because “…Erm…well…we really do value what teaching assistants do…erm…” just ain’t good enough anymore!

Ask for specifics; do they want a Teaching Assistant to assist teachers in a certain department as a specialism working with all (and I mean, all) abilities of student, or do they want Learning Support, trained to work with students with specific problems, or do they want a Learning Mentor, guiding all abilities throughout their school life? The possibilities are endless, what we need is appropriate training, a level of respect to reflect that status, and the proper pay levels that go along with it.

Personally, I will breathe a sigh of relief when I see our profession attracting as many male applicants as women,  not simply being used as a stepping stone into teaching, but as a career choice in its own right. Only then will I forget “middle-aged women sitting with the ‘numpties’”.



Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants : How Research Challenges Practice and Policy. Blatchford, P. Russell, A. and Webster, R. Routledge (London and NewYork). 2012

An Inspector Calls…. TAs’ experiences of Ofsted by Rob Webster

Teaching Assistant Ofsted ExperiencesLast term, we posted an invitation on this website and on social media asking TAs to share their experiences of Ofsted. We had over 60 responses from TAs, the majority (73%) of who worked in primary/infant schools; 20% worked in secondary settings and 6% in special schools.

Many TAs described the pressure and tension that formal inspection brings. ‘Ofsted hysteria’, as one TA put, is an endemic condition in English schools, and there are many accounts and reports attesting to the stress of and fallout from being ‘Ofsteded’. For teachers and school leaders, the long shadow Ofsted casts over their working lives has serious implications for their mental wellbeing.

Our aim was to find out to what extent, if any, TAs are included in and affected by the inspection process. Our sample was not scientifically selected, so we cannot make any generalisable claims based on the evidence we collected. Nevertheless, our analysis offers some insight into how TAs experience inspection and what it means for them. We have used some of the comments sent to us to illustrate some of the findings[1].

It is an open secret that the call from Ofsted causes school leaders and teachers to raise their game like nothing else. The frenzy before a visit prompts a comparison with the old joke that the Queen thinks the world smells of fresh paint. It was no surprise then that a number of TAs reported how normal routines and practices were changed when inspectors were due.

“Ofsted do not get a true impression of how the school runs on a daily basis… Where TAs would cover PPA during inspection, teachers often take back their classes”.

“Some TAs were taken off normal duties with pupils and given resource work to do instead of being part of inspection”.

These, and some other practices TAs reported, suggest that schools behave in ways they hope would prime the outcome.

“TAs were told… how to respond to questions they may ask us”.

“The teacher had giving me instructions to keep an SEN child out of the classroom because didn’t want to fail the observation”.

There was a sense in which decisions made by teachers and school leaders played to the expectations of inspectors, but put TAs in awkward positions.

“When Ofsted come into school normal routines are changed and we are suddenly asked to be in class – then a complaint is made that we are ‘just sitting in class’. I feel like we can’t win”.

As one HLTA, who was observed leading a Reception class while the teacher had PPA, described:

“[Inspector’s] comments were fair – too long on the carpet, but I had been advised to keep them sitting as long as possible by the class teacher!”

The Ofsted inspection framework states that evaluations must be supported by observations and supplementary evidence that may include ‘discussions about teaching and learning with teachers, TAs and other staff’. Yet only a handful of TAs reported that they were interviewed or were mentioned in the feedback to school leaders. Those that did mostly described positive experiences:

“[Inspectors] Were keen to know how I supported progress and learning. Positive feedback given in terms of what they saw – they liked that I didn’t sit with one child. They liked that I promoted independent working and that I knew targets and what the child needed to do to get there”.  Secondary TA

Many more TAs reported that they felt excluded from the inspection process. Several TAs reported that once the notice of inspection had been given, preparation happened around them, rather than with them.

“Very secretive… Feel like you aren’t included or important enough to be consulted with”.

Many TAs reported that they were not included in the inspection process: they felt overlooked in observations and their views were not sought.

“Throughout the inspection I wasn’t spoken to by any of the inspectors and they didn’t appear to take any notice or pay any interest in how I was supporting the child”.

“They didn’t ask us any questions or give us any feedback”.

TAs felt that being ‘ignored’ by inspectors suggested that their contribution was not valued.

“Your support in helping teacher for the lesson seems to go unnoticed. Makes you feel forgotten”.

“I have been through 3 Ofsted inspections, during all 3 I found that for the most part I was ignored by Ofsted inspectors and have found some of the inspectors to be rude, as if being a TA isn’t important”.

Remember, our survey was relatively informal, so we cannot be certain to what extent these experiences are shared more widely. Some meaningful research into TAs’ experiences of Ofsted would make a useful additional to that we have on teachers’ experiences.

Nevertheless, it is worth speculating on why there seems to be variation and vagueness in relation to Ofsted’s inclusion of TAs in the inspection process. Historically, Ofsted guidance relating to TAs is very limited. In the new 88 page School Inspection Handbook, TAs get just four mentions; three of them in just one 53 word paragraph.

This paragraph instructs inspectors to ‘evaluate the use of and contributionmade by TAs’. To do this, inspectors focus on school leaders and teachers, as it they who make the decisions about how TAs are used. This might explain why TAs feel ignored in observations. There is also the added factor of accountability. Regardless of any input from TAs, it is teachers, not TAs, who are answerable when it comes to pupils’ academic outcomes.

The rest of the paragraph asks inspectors to ‘consider whether TAs are clear about their role and knowledgeable about the pupils they support’. One would imagine that to determine this reliably, inspectors should consult TAs. Yet the experience of many TAs responding to our survey suggests this issue is either not considered or a judgment is reached on the basis of some other information.

Arguments for and against school inspection are well rehearsed, and until (or unless) a potential alternative is found, it looks like Ofsted is here to stay. Calls for reform of Ofsted (and its abolition) are based not only on the stress and pressure it puts school leaders and teachers under, but also the basis on which it makes unreliable and inconsistent judgments on schools.

The more immediate issue in relation to our survey is how should TAs feature as part of inspection. Given that TAs represent a quarter of the school workforce, and a third of the primary school workforce, it seems remiss not to include them in the formal evaluation of school processes and outcomes. For that to happen though, we need a clear sense of what it is TAs are expected to contribute.

Presently, the Ofsted framework reflects the gaping hole in national education policy and practice where there should be a clearly defined role and purpose to the TA role. As the education world steels for next May’s general election, we will be keeping an eye on political leaders to see if they can come up with an answer.

[1] All italicised comments are from TAs working in primary and infant schools settings, unless stated otherwise.

Nicky Morgan – supporting TAs

In July 2014, Nicky Morgan was appointed Secretary of State for Education, replacing Michael Gove.

Nicky will be settling into her new role in the coming months, but her team have sent TA Focus a message of support for TAs:

“The government places great value on all staff in schools for the contribution they make to improving the life chances of children. When appropriately skilled and deployed, we acknowledge that TAs can make an important contribution to the development of children and the support of teachers in delivering teaching and learning.

We know that headteachers and school governors have high regard for the support staff they employ and that those staff can have a very big impact on pupils’ learning. We want every member of staff, regardless of their position in the school, to be able to give of their best in supporting the success of children and young people and to be, and feel, valued for the work that they do. Ministers recognise and fully appreciate the many, varied and often challenging school support staff roles that exist today and the contribution that all school staff make to improving the life chances of pupils.”