I remember, some years ago, a conversation with a teacher about a vulnerable group of children in the class whose progress was limited. The answer was that the TA was responsible for that group, a case of inappropriate buck-passing.
The teaching standards were changed for September 2012 and offer a chance to explore the dynamics of teaching and learning, as well as to provide a benchmark against which to judge teacher performance. In a week in which the need for Qualified Teacher Status has been effectively removed, and where, in Parliament, comments were made, by Andrew Percey about poorly qualified Teaching Assistants (TAs) taking classes for extended periods, my musings returned to the notion of TA standards.
There are many excellent TAs around the country, some extremely well qualified, at degree level, often in specialisms which complement the skills of the teaching staff. These specialists are often to be seen working 1:1 with a learner with specific special needs. They are a necessary feature of the learner’s life if they are to access information and create their own learning. They impact greatly on that child’s life.
There are generalist TAs whose role is to support a class, under the supervision of a class teacher. I would expect a generalist TA to be qualified to GCSE C standard in maths and English, or equivalent. That was always stated in any job specification.
Where they are given oversight of a group of learners for a period of time, they are effectively acting as a teacher, so I’d argue that they should be operating at the level of a basically competent (low good) teacher in a number of the standards, the lighter coloured boxes on the image. Some of the wording in the boxes below has been changed to account for different responsibilities.
The subtlety of teaching and learning occurs within standards 6 and 5, thinking on your feet and adapting to the developing needs of learners. Some TAs, as a result of lengthy careers in the role may have developed an innate ability to do fine tweaks in a lesson, while others might simply ensure that the activity is finished, rather than concentrating on the embedded learning. It is this area where a teacher needs to keep a close eye on the needs of all learners, including any being supervised by the TA; to engage in any necessary teaching or tweaking to need, creating appropriate expectations and seeking enhanced outcomes. The teacher should be able to create, rapidly, an alternative to the main lesson if necessary to accommodate the identified needs of an individual or the group.
If there are groups in a class supervised, or taught, on a very regular basis by a TA, this expectation grows stronger. This group is often the “special needs” group. The class teacher is responsible for the progress of every child in the class, so should not devolve that responsibility to a TA.
In an era where non-qualified teachers might make a greater appearance in schools, could a scenario be envisaged where an unqualified teacher and an unqualified TA could be responsible for the learning of a class? I would expect both participants in this situation to be qualified to at least the same level and hopefully, in the case of the teacher to a (much) higher level. The teacher is paid for significantly greater responsibility.
As a comparison, I include descriptors of a higher all-round expectation of a teacher.
Notes from an earlier assessment visit.
It is always a joy to work alongside committed professionals, prepared to be open and honest with a stranger, whose role is to make a judgement on the school.Three key members of the support staff stood out as exceptional practitioners, largely because of the specialist roles that they played in the life of the school and in the lives of vulnerable children. The ELSA (Emotional Literacy Support Assistant), Nurture group lead and the HLTA (Higher Level Teaching Assistant) articulated how they created opportunities for children to have quality time where they could reflect on issues in their lives which might be having an impact on their schoolwork. These times covered before school and playtimes/lunchtimes. As they reflected on their roles, it became very clear that what they were describing was an internal TAC (Team Around the Child). They demonstrated that they were proactive in ensuring that the highest quality communication between adults was key to their success, bringing in other adults as needed.
All three described what can only be described as substantial goodwill, a care for all the children in the school and a very highly developed collegiate staff who valued the roles that they each played. They provided an ever present additional set of eyes and ears, spotting problems before they took hold to a point where remediation would be needed.
Parents had earlier praised their work and commitment as part of the school team.
They were very much valued. Without them, the school and specific children would be poorer and the teaching staff would have a significant increase in day to day issues to distract them from the learning needs of their classes.
Good TAs are like gold dust.