Delegates at UNISON’s annual local government conference today pledged to campaign to protect teaching assistants, working with teaching and head teacher unions, parents and pupils to highlight the huge role they play in educating children.
Earlier this year, it was reported that the government has asked the teachers review body to look at teachers’ contracts with a view to them taking on duties currently performed by teaching assistants. In the last month, a right wing think tank with close links to the government has also called for teaching assistants to be sacked.
The union, which represents the majority of teaching assistants, will be meeting soon with the Education Secretary Michael Gove to discuss his plans.
Jon Richards, UNISON head of education, said:
“If the coalition makes serious moves to take teaching assistants out of classrooms, they’ll have a fight on their hands. There’s been a huge outpouring of support for the work our members do in schools from parents, teachers, head teachers and even from pupils. They know schools would crumble without the hard work and dedication of teaching assistants.”
A recent survey of head teachers by UNISON showed that 95% said TAs added value to schools. They said that a reduction in the number of teaching assistants would impact on children with special education and health needs, on teachers, and the running of schools. This is backed up by the following testimony from a head teacher in the North West:
“I’ve been teaching for 25 years and without a variety of support staff I wouldn’t have been able to do my job. The role has changed over the years and they are now highly skilled educators with an established career structure working in partnership with teachers.
“As a Head I see highly qualified and experienced support staff as essential in any school, they allow for vulnerable pupils needs to be met and pupils reach their potential both academically and socially.
“As a parent I also see the value – my son has SEN and would have been failed by a system without the partnership of creative and innovative TAs and teachers, who have modified the curriculum so he is reaching his potential academically but more so socially.”
A school without teaching assistants
Teaching assistants play a varied and important role in schools, regularly administering medicines to children, and supporting those with special health or physical needs. They adapt resources for those with visual impairments, carry out SEN reviews, liaise with parents and outside agencies, mentor children and provide personal care.
They also support teachers with admin, class preparation, displays and classroom management, provide IT and technical support, run after and before school clubs and support sessions. TAs invigilate exams, do playground duty and lunchtime supervision.
With the right qualifications, TAs can cover classes for teachers, deliver GSCE subjects for small groups and deliver English classes for speakers of other languages. They also provide targeted intervention programmes and support, such as reading programmes, spelling drives and math support.
Full time staff are paid on average around £16,000 per year, but most are part time and often only get paid during term time, so earn much less. The majority of teaching assistants are women.