Teaching assistant wins prestigious award

Award celebrates activist who has made greatest contribution to Gateshead branch and its members

Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour party, Mary Tierney (Clare Tierney's mother) and Karen Jackson

Karen Jackson, a higher level teaching assistant at Thomas Hepburn Community Academy, has been awarded the prestigious Clare Tierney Memorial Award at her local UNISON AGM.

Clare Tierney, who had been Gateshead UNISON assistant branch secretary, passed away in 2012. Clare was a much-loved member of the branch team, who had a huge influence on everybody she met.

The award celebrates the UNISON steward or activist who it is felt has made the greatest contribution to the branch and its members in the previous year.

The award was presented to Ms Jackson by Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour Party, at Gateshead civic centre, for her outstanding contribution in raising the profile of teaching assistants nationally.

Since 2013, Ms Jackson has been part of a national focus group for teaching assistants. The group met with the then shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt to discuss the vital role teaching assistants play in education.

She also took part in a well-received and lively debate on “What is the point of teaching assistants” at the Sunday Times Festival of Education in Berkshire.

In 2014, she was selected by the Department for Education to be on the independent expert review panel set up to develop professional standards for teaching assistants.

In 2015, ministers made the decision not to publish the standards, which would have finally recognised teaching assistants professionally. However, professional organisations, including UNISON, are looking at how to take the standards forward.

Ms Jackson is still determined to get all teaching assistants the professional recognition they deserve.

She said: “There is a need for and value of professional standards for teaching assistants nationally. The standards that were developed had the potential to empower teaching assistants in their work with children and young people”.

She also described her job as “The most satisfying job she could have wished for”.