Teaching assistants deserve our support

Today is a national celebration of teaching and classroom assistants, the work they do and the incalculable benefits they bring to pupils across the country. It is a glowing recognition of the high esteem that TAs are held in by teachers, parents and the students they support.  

UNISON is promoting the fantastic work teaching assistants, classroom assistants and pupil support assistants - to name just a few of their various guises – carry out in our classrooms every day.

The union has been overwhelmed by messages of support that tell us time and time again what a huge difference TAs make in schools. However, the vital contribution they make is often not understood or recognised.

TAs work tirelessly to support 430,000 teachers and nine million children every day.

They reduce the stress level and workload of teachers, improve classroom discipline, keep pupils on task and give one to one help. Without this physical, emotional and learning support, thousands of children would simply be unable to stay in mainstream schools. 

A TA’s job is certainly never easy. But the past few years have been particularly challenging. Funding for training Higher Level TAs was mercilessly scrapped by this out-of-touch government, along with plans for national pay and conditions in England.

Lately, the government quite rightly backtracked on reported plans to phase out TAs, but that doesn’t mean we will rest on our laurels. Some government sources are still trying to discredit TAs by misusing research from right-wing think tanks to belittle the work they do.

Suggestions that TAs are anything less than essential to our schools shows a gross ignorance of the contribution they make to our education system. So it is vital that we continue to challenge any negative attitude that undermines our TAs.  

I am proud that we represent more 110,000 teaching assistants, but it is a disgrace that the majority are low paid. Despite that many show their commitment to the job by working significant unpaid overtime.

The minimum local authority starting salary is just £12,145, a figure which is further reduced when you consider that most TAs receive term-time pay only. 

While the celebration day will be full of stickers, glitter and cupcakes, we do have a serious message. Teaching assistants deserve to be valued and appreciated, properly trained and paid, and be able to progress through a proper career structure. 

TAs really are the unsung heroes of our education system and we must continue to invest in them.