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How I became a Learning Support Assistant

April Gibson is a Learning Support Assistant studying for her Level 3. She has written a guest post detailing the challenges she faced finding a work placement and the diversity of the tasks within her role.

First hand experiences working as a Learning Support Assistant

I am a 23 year old female, living and working in Surrey. I work in a main stream, mixed gender, high school, supporting the Special Educational Needs department (SEN), as a Learning Support Assistant (LSA). I am writing this to share my experiences of working in this industry, as I am hoping it will encourage others to go into the same profession.

It took me a long time to secure myself an LSA role, however don’t let this put you off, perseverance is the key. I was told, after a few unsuccessful interviews, that whilst I had good GCSE and A-Level results and the experience of working with children (as a qualified swimming teacher), I did not have a specialised qualification, which other candidates did have – making them more employable than me.

Teaching Assistant Handbook level 3

Therefore I decided that I was going to go to college in order to obtain a Teaching Assistant qualification. I sourced guidance from a local college on my situation and they explained that because I already had experience of working with children that I could enter the NVQ Teaching Assistants course at level 3. However, I would need to have a work placement in order to qualify for entry onto the course, as I would be regularly assessed by an examiner. I then wrote to all the local schools asking if I could spend a few days a week working as a voluntary Teaching Assistant to help support my college course. To my disappointment, no school replied to my request, therefore preventing me from going to college.

In the mean time I had spent many hours looking and applying for jobs – just like many application forms, they were long, detailed and difficult to complete, they also required me to write a person specification. Eventually to my delight I was invited to an interview at a high school, for the position of a ‘Learning Support Assistant’. I spent the majority of the day at the school and had two different interviews, one with a board of senior members of staff, and one with the head of SEN. I also had to attend a lesson and support the students, so that they were able to observe me in a teaching environment. Lastly, I had to write a report on the lesson I had been in to show that I was able to record information accurately. I had been to a few interviews before this one, however this one seemed to be more thorough and professional; I had a really good feel about the school. At the end of the week I was offered the job, and gladly accepted it.

Working as an LSA in a high school differs from being a Teaching Assistant in a primary school. Firstly, as an LSA I attend a variety of lessons, which are located in different classrooms and I usually support a different pupil each lesson; whereas a Teaching Assistant in a primary school tends to support the same teacher and class all year. The primary job of an LSA is to support any children who have a statement. (A statement is a formal document detailing a child’s learning difficulties and the help that will be given. This ensures that children receive the right help to support their education). Each academic year I receive a timetable, with each lesson that I have to attend and with the child I am supporting. As an LSA I am responsible to support any child who has a statement as these are my priority, however I still need to be available to help other students in the class. I have a duty to help pupils to understand and access lessons in order for them to learn, therefore enabling them to follow the National Curriculum set by the government.  This support may be given in a number of ways depending on the pupil’s statement and how they need and prefer to be supported in lessons. Not all children like the presence of an adult with them in a lesson as it can make them feel embarrassed and inadequate, therefore as an LSA you have to be aware of this and support the pupil in the most beneficial way for them.

For every lesson I attend, I have to complete a report sheet for the statemented pupils that I have supported. This is to record what the child has achieved during the lesson, for example: have they worked independently, did they participate in class discussion or volunteer answers to the teacher. In addition to this, I also have to record anything that the pupil really struggled with and what measures I put in place to differentiate the work for them. Throughout the year, each child’s statement is reviewed. When this happens I am requested to write a detailed report for every subject I support them in, detailing what they are capable of doing independently or what they find difficult. Whilst writing these reviews I refer back to the repost sheets that I have previously written to ensure that I am providing an accurate reflection of the pupil’s ability.

As part of my job description I have to attend playground duties, these can be before school – when the children arrive in the morning, at break or at lunchtimes. During these times it is my responsibility to ensure that all children are being sensible, safe and obeying the school rules.

In addition to this, some evenings after school I also have to assist in setting up and running homework club, along with other members of the LSA team. Homework club provides the children with the opportunity to complete their homework at school, where they have the support of the LSA’s.

This academic year I have had the opportunity to work one to one with a pupil who has Down syndrome, and although this is a rewarding position it comes with new challenges. Working as a one to one means that I support this pupil in each lesson instead of supporting different  pupils in each lesson, which has allowed me to build a good working relationship with her. In order to fulfil my job successfully I have had to learn a lot about Down Syndrome, and had to find other techniques to integrate this pupil into lessons, make more resources and differentiating all classwork. Not only do I support the pupil academically, but due to her disability, I also assist her with everyday tasks, for example: tying her hair back, putting in her hearing aids and taking her to the toilet.

As part of my performance management target, I have begun to complete the Level 3 Teaching Assistant qualification, through the Cambridge open college (who provide you with an online tutor that can assist you if required). The college sends me all of the assignments, which I complete at home and submit back to the college; this is all done online and in your own time, therefore there are no set deadlines; however the course must be completed within the year. I have found this course structure to be very convenient for me as I am able to fit the assignments around my work.

To help me complete this qualification I have referred to several Teaching Assistant books. Although they all cover similar ideas, information and topics, I have recently acquired the latest edition of the ‘Teaching Assistant’s Handbook Level 3’. This has been a very interesting read and contains lot of relevant information that will support me in the completion of my course. In addition to this, it also contains the most up to date information about policies and legislations, which can be difficult to find.

Even though being a Learning Support Assistant can be challenging, I find it to be an extremely rewarding and enjoyable job, where each day is different to the previous one. There are always new challenges to face and I am consistently learning new things. This job gives me the opportunity to make a real difference to someone else’s life – you could to this too!