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Toddlers and the iPad addiction

Jane Fletcher runs a business from home and is a part time teaching assistant. She has written a guest post demonstrating how she used detailed observation to discover how the iPad is affecting her son’s activities.

“My 3 year old son is playing happily with his cars and trucks, making vocal noises as they crash into each other and tip over the edge of the card box he’s using as a makeshift city. I’m getting on with some paperwork but glancing over at the imaginative events. He skips over to me and politely offers me a car, hoping I’ll join in. I welcome the break from the tediousness of my work and allow him to delicately take me by the hand to have some fun.

Apple iPad

Last week wasn’t as blissful. Tuesday afternoon was filled with tearful tantrums, physical violence and a disinterest in all things normal to my son. You see, he had been using my iPad for a few hours. Like thousands of parents out there, I have allowed my son to use my iPad once or twice a week when I’ve needed to get on with the washing up, ironing or other tasks around our house. This has been the norm for about 10 months, after we discovered his amazing ability to interact with the apps, photos, games and YouTube videos. He would navigate through screens and buttons as easily as his ability to breathe. He would intuitively open new apps and work through puzzles and other activities without needing our help.

And so I would leave him to browse through the mass of YouTube children’s videos and listen to him chuckling happily, peeking in every now and then to vet the content he watched. I was comfortable with him becoming computer literate as early as possible to give him the best start, unlike his mother (I still can’t set up emails and Facebook accounts without help from my husband!). I had also read recently that a local secondary school head teacher had been promoting the use of iPads throughout lessons, so decided my son would benefit from getting used to tablets at an early age. The usage was never daily, he only really used it once or twice a week, but gradually the separation from the tablet was becoming too much for him to cope with.

Last week he had been watching a YouTube clip for a matter of minutes when I realised I had an appointment to keep, which meant we had to leave the house sharpish. Interrupting his interaction with the iPad led to an almost agonising wail followed by the first violent behaviour I had seen from him. He lashed out, screaming and kicking, leaving me shocked and worried. My son was acting like a crazed, addicted animal!

I’m a part time teaching assistant, so I’ve learnt to be observant around children in order to pick up on signs that others are unlikely to see. I decided to keep a record of my son’s behaviour after using the iPad and compare it to his normal behaviour. The results were astounding and has led me to believe that many children are now in danger of long term psychological damage, unbeknown to their parents (toddlers requiring therapy – The Telegraph). I allowed him to use the iPad for an hour one day during the morning, then monitor his behaviour in the afternoon. The next day I monitored his afternoon behaviour without the use of the iPad in the morning. I repeated this series a few times and these were the main results after using the iPad in the morning:

  • His concentration deteriorated when performing simple tasks such as stacking blocks to build a tower. Normally he would happily build for around 10 – 15 minutes without being distracted. This was reduced to a few minutes before becoming bored and restless.
  • His imagination became limited. Normally he can draw using multiple colouring pens and can create imaginative pictures. After using the iPad, he would become agitated at being left to perform a task on his own and would require intervention from me in order to think of what next to draw.
  • His activities became fickle. He changed his mind frequently about what he wanted to do – starting to play with his cars, then running over to play with his bricks and then back again in a matter of minutes. I’ve seen this behaviour with the iPad – my son flits from one app to another and very rarely lets a video play in its entirety before being distracted with a new video in the menu.
  • He became less interactive with his surroundings, almost in a trance. Calling his name didn’t always get a response!

My son’s behaviour really demonstrates that although digital technology is innovative, advanced and can be a perfect educational tool (my son HAS learnt loads from using it), toddlers shouldn’t be encouraged to use devices on their own, no matter how adept they are. It’s so tempting to leave them to discover iPad wonders such as interactive cats and dogs, digital jigsaw puzzles and CBeebies on BBC iPlayer, but it’s best to leave them to their own imagination without any restrictions. Let them build Lego houses and drive their toy cars along makeshift roads. We don’t know the long term effects of young children using iPads, simply because they’ve not been around long enough. I’ve seen the effects of excessive use of televisions in households and I suspect the introduction of tablets and smartphones at an early age will be far worse in the long term.”

Win Teaching Assistant’s Handbook for Level 2 and 3

This competition has now ended.

Teaching Assistant's HandbookTo coincide with UNISON’s celebratory day for teaching assistants on 29th November 2013, we’re offering TWO winners the chance to win QCF teaching assistant study books. Hodder Education have generously provided Teaching Assistant’s Handbook for Level 2 and Teaching Assistant’s Handbook for Level 3, worth £22.99 each, for each lucky winner.

Please comment below, answering the following question – ‘what makes a good teaching assistant?’

This competition has now ended.


We will notify the winner via email or Facebook.

About the Teaching Assistant’s Handbook

If you are thinking of completing a teaching assistant course, there are some very good companions to help with theory and practical tasks, mainly written by experienced teachers or teaching assistants. Two fantastic books are Teena Kamen’s Teaching Assistant’s Handbook for Level 2 and Teaching Assistant’s Handbook for Level 3 which are geared towards the QCF Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools qualifications level 2 and 3. Both are packed with brilliant insights into child development, the importance of observation and how TAs can provide support. These books are aimed at students taking the course, but will also support tutors and assessors. Each book details the background knowledge and practical exercises for each unit within the qualification.

Teena Kamen has written many books on child development, having spent many years as a primary school teacher.

Teaching Assistant’s Handbook for Level 2


Author: Teena Kamen

Suitable for those studying for the following qualifications:

  • Level 2 Award in Support Work in Schools
  • Level 2 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools
  • Level 2 Certificate in Supporting the Wider Curriculum in Schools

Support the development of children and young people in a variety of educational settings, including primary, secondary, special and extended schools.

  • Includes tasks that will develop personal and professional skills as well as key tasks which will contribute to assessment.
  • Covers the new QCF qualifications fully and follows the exact unit structure.
  • Includes key terms and case studies for additional student support

9781444121315 • 238pp • 2010 • RRP £22.99 • Paperback

This title is also available as an eBook through selected online retailers.

Buy direct from Hodder Education


Teaching Assistant’s Handbook for Level 3

Teaching Assistant's Handbook Level 3Author: Teena Kamen

Suitable for those studying for the following qualifications:

  • Level 3 Award in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools
  • Level 3 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools
  • Level 3 Diploma in Specialist support for teaching and learning in schools
  • Level 3 Certificate in Cover Supervision

Get practical guidance on how to support the development of children and young people in a variety of educational settings with this widely respected book.

  • Helps learners to meaningfully apply theory to assignments and tasks with topical case studies
  • Develops and reinforces key concepts with activities for individual and group work
  • Links key tasks to the National Occupational Standards to develop students’ personal and professional skills and contribute to their assessment portfolio

9781444121322 • 340pp • 2011 • £22.99 • Paperback

This title is also available as an eBook through selected online retailers.

Buy direct from Hodder Education

About Hodder Education

Hodder Education logoHodder Education publishes resources by Carolyn Meggitt, Jennie Lindon and other trusted Childcare & Early Years authors. In addition to being CACHE’s exclusive publishing partner, Hodder Education provides quality print and digital resources for teaching assistants as well as for GCSE students, undergraduates and practitioners to help students and practitioners achieve their best. Visit www.hoddereducation.co.uk to learn more.

Competition Terms

  • The competition will end on 29th November 2013.
  • Entrants must be at least 16 years of age and a UK resident.
  • The winning comment will be selected by the TA Focus team on or after the closing date.
  • Winners will be notified by email within 14 days of the winning comment being chosen.
  • There is no cash alternative to the prize.
  • TA Focus’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
  • Open to UK residents only.

UNISON – speaking up for TAs

UNISON TA dayA date for your diary – 29th November 2013. This is the date UNISON, one of the largest education unions, has set aside for the celebration of teaching assistants. Although the Department of Education have specified teaching assistants will not be phased out (the media have reported otherwise), funding has most definitely been reduced, leaving many TAs with little pay and long working hours.

UNISON recognise the hard work many TAs contribute and are encouraging all TAs and members of the public to come together to celebrate.

More information about why UNISON are fighting for TAs

Campaign briefing for 29th November

>> TA Focus’ competition to win two Teaching Assistant’s Handbooks <<

The Evident Value of Teaching Assistants

At the end of 2012, UNISON carried out a survey of school leaders to assess the value of teaching assistants. The overwhelming majority of the school leaders who replied ‘justified their use of TAs’. The range of help TAs provide is astonishing, from IT support and administration to covering teachers’ PPA time and behaviour management.

The report (including the responses to the survey) can be found below. It’s well worth a read as the content details how TA roles have evolved over the years and the importance of these roles within education today.

UNISON TA survey results – January 2013

Local Education Authorities and Statementing

Local Education Authorities (LEAs) are generally responsible for the teaching assistant recruitment for schools within the borough. The teaching assistant (TA) title covers many roles within the school, but is usually those that assist the teacher during classes. Some experienced TAs can even manage a whole class, depending on their experience (which the government has been uncomfortable with in recent months).

Some LEAs have seen their TA government funding cut, which has had a huge impact, but many LEAs are still recruiting much needed TAs due to class sizes and teacher workloads.

Teaching assistant jobs are advertised either in local newspapers, local authority school bulletins or job websites. Once recruited, many TAs are encouraged to study for additional qualifications to enhance their knowledge and skills via third party learning centres. Some TAs can find themselves going on to study for teaching qualifications.

Many LEAs will request a qualification, usually an NVQ Level 2 Teaching Assistant or QCF Level 2 STL, whilst others will see these qualifications as ‘desirable’. It all depends on the demand of TAs within the borough.

All LEAs will require experience working with children, with special needs experience as a bonus. DBS (formerly CBR) checks will also be a requirement.

If you are considering becoming a teaching assistant, please contact your LEA to check their requirements.

SEN and the Process of Statementing

Children can sometimes have disabilities or needs that can have an impact on their ability to learn. These areas include:

  • physical needs and impairments
  • reading and writing
  • social or behaviour
  • comprehension
  • the ability to concentrate (i.e. ADHD)

Statemented students are those who are educated in mainstream schools with the help of a teaching assistant, covering their specific needs. The formal account of the special needs required for the student is the ‘statement of special needs’ and is only required if the school is unable to support the student via other means. Not all special needs students will need a ‘statement’. For example, dyslexic students are unlikely to be statemented.

The process of statementing a student can be a long process (many months!) and not all applications with Local Education Authorities are a success. With the application, evidence is required to demonstrate the student’s difficulties. All schools will typically have what is known as a SENCo (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator), who deals with daily SEN operations. Usually a teacher will be appointed for the role.

The first stage is the ‘statutory assessment’ which assesses the student’s needs – either at the request of the school or parent – and is carried out by the LEA. The assessment usually takes 6 weeks to make the decision whether to carry out the assessment. The LEA will contact some or all of the following:

– the parents
– the school
– an educational psychologist (EP)
– social services, if applicable
– a doctor
– speech language therapist

After the assessment, the LEA will take up to 12 weeks to make a decision.

Teacher Cherryl Drabble’s Petition

Save TAsAfter the news of the Government culling teaching assistants across the UK, petitions were started to encourage parents, teachers, other teaching assistants and, well, everyone to sign up and fight against the decision. Cherryl Drabble, a teacher, who set up the ‘SAY NO TO REMOVAL OF TEACHING ASSISTANTS’ petition would really like as many numbers as possible. Therefore, please visit her petition and sign. If you wish to spread the word, she has put together the following email to use:


Dear Friends,

I just signed the petition “Say no to removal of Teaching Assistants” and wanted to ask if you could add your name too.

This campaign means a lot to me and the more support we can get behind it, the better chance we have of succeeding. You can read more and sign the petition here:


Thank you!

P.S. Can you also take a moment to share the petition with others? It’s really easy – all you need to do is forward this email or share this link on Facebook or Twitter


Michael Gove and the Department for Education

In the summer of 2013, the Treasury and Department for Education considered reducing the number of teaching assistants (TAs) within schools, claiming the impact of pupils’ educational outcomes was negligible. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, considered phasing out teaching assistants after a think tank, Reform, suggested increasing the sizes of classes and teachers’ salaries would be more beneficial, much to the chagrin of teachers and teaching assistants across the UK. Reform proposed reducing the number of TAs and increasing teacher numbers instead to ensure those qualified to educate take classes.

It is true that some schools across the UK have made a number of TAs redundant (or encouraged them to pursue teacher training), probably because funding has decreased, but TAs are actually still in demand. The numbers of students within schools are increasing, thus a need for TAs to assist with classroom activities is more prominent now than ever.

phasing out teaching assistants

The whole idea of phasing out TAs is absurd and has been likened to the NHS running without any nurses. Perhaps Gove is ignorant of the roles teaching assistants play within the classroom, but others certainly aren’t and there has been a huge backlash over the summer, culminating in various online campaigns generating thousands of signatures.

A number of TAs we’ve talked to have told us how invaluable their help is in ensuring students with special education needs get the attention they need. “Teachers are overworked and don’t get enough to spend with individual students in their classes,” one TA said. “We spend quality time with those that need us, making colourful displays and involving them in as many activities as possible, something that would not be possible in a classroom environment with just the teacher and students.”

“Many TAs specialise in specific areas of special needs, which the teacher may not have expertise in,” another told us. “Some of us help students with physical disabilities, but we are able to allow them to join in with activities such as swimming and gymnastics. Gove and his team will end up making these activities difficult to do.”

TA roles are varied within schools – most will help teachers with any administration work, preparing classes and providing general support. More specialised TAs will administer medicines and helping physically disabled students adapt to classroom activities and providing support to parents. Some qualifications will also allow the TA to actually take classes for small groups, which provides immense support for those students where English is their second language.

The question now is what Gove will decide to do. Maybe spending some time with TAs, watching what they do and how they benefit the whole schooling system will help. Reform based their proposal on research carried out by the Institute of Education, which did not suggest phasing out teaching assistants. Instead the research showed TAs need to be deployed in schools more carefully. Vast numbers of schools are still hiring TAs, so their roles are still very much valued.

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net