Margaret Thomas, UNISON Cymru/Wales regional secretary, has said that UNISON embraces the Welsh Government’s professional registration of learning support staff at schools and further education colleges as a first step to improving standards. However, she warned that raising standards would depend on investment in professional development and a proper career structure with transparent pay and conditions.
She said: “Welsh ministers have for years agreed in principle that a national structure for teaching assistants and all support staff is necessary – UNISON wants concerted action to achieve this.”
Ms Thomas made clear that schools in Wales “cannot survive without teaching assistants” and more must be done to ensure they are properly trained.
Teaching assistants were too often thrown in the deep end without sufficient professional development and left to get on with it, she said, adding that the majority suffer low pay, a lack of career opportunities and institutional discrimination that belittles their role.
UNISON has heard reports of teaching assistants paying for their own training and unhelpful head teachers saying they cannot afford to send staff on a course or pay more if you are successful – yet their school benefits directly from the new skills teaching assistants develop.
Her comments follow the publication of new figures highlighting the growing role of support staff in Welsh education.
Ms Thomas said: “Schools cannot survive without teaching assistants. They help to support children with special educational needs and those underperforming; help teachers to cope with big classes; release teachers for preparation time; and help those with English as an additional language – but they need access to training and ongoing support to be able to do it.”