Phasing out teaching assistants is like axing all nurses from the NHS
So it appears Messrs Gove and Osborne have put their heads together and come up with a way to save £4bn from the education budget by phasing out the 232,000 teaching assistants (TAs) in the country.
This is the idea contained in a report by think tank Reform which says government ministers should support headteachers who reduce the amount of TAs and allow class sizes to rise. More money would be available to swell the size of teachers’ salaries and make ‘quality’ teaching count.
It would be a bit like proposing that the NHS runs without any nurses; there would just be more doctors on the wards getting frustrated because they are not able to get on with the job they were trained to do. And more nurses on the dole queue. And more patients not having their basic needs cared for. What a picture…
Every teacher in this country knows the value of a good teaching assistant. They are not a ‘mums’ army’ of classroom helpers as the Daily Mail patronisingly calls TAs; they are professionals who are trained to support the learning of the students and facilitate the teacher doing the very thing they are trained to do – teach.
Anyone (Mr Gove, are you listening?) who thinks TAs just wash up the paint brushes at the end of the day, do a bit of mindless photocopying and glorified babysitting are probably the same myopic people who think teachers head home at 3.30pm every day.
Without my various TAs I know I would have come unstuck many, many times. In my first class I had a child with severe autism. He had been supported through reception, year 1 and now year 2 by the same TA. When I first met him, in my interview lesson, he was twisted and contorted laying on a library shelf unable to really take part in the simple activity. But his TA soothed him and talked quietly to him until he could. She did this daily. She was his guide, his friend and I relied upon her utterly. His needs were so extreme that I would have struggled to have managed him, taught him and and taught the rest of the class too.
So, what happens when TAs like her get phased out? Those most challenging pupils would fail to survive in mainstream education and the number of special schools would have to increase? If this is all about budgets is that really going to be a cost saving? Is this really what is best for the children?
It’s not all about those challenging children either. TAs offer something very different to a class than the teacher does. They are more than your extra pair of eyes and ears and pair of hands; they can be your mediator, counsellor and conduit to parents, pupils and other members of staff.
Most are trained first-aiders and have other specific training under their belts – Makaton, Elklan, experts in dyslexia, autism and more. They have given of their free time to study, train and progress. Many already have a degree or A-levels and their job as a TA is a labour of love because it is certainly not ever going to make them wealthy (most TAs I know only dream of a salary over £15,000).
If the government is determined to look at the efficacy of TAs in schools then may I recommend they do more than focus on the findings of just one report. It might be worth its while to take a look at the report completed by the Institute of Education last year which showed the more teaching assistants a school has, the better the attainment of its students. Its findings are backed up by research from Unison in January this year which said that more than 95% of school leaders said TAs added value to schools; in particular in the team around the child, as effective mediators and advocates, with vulnerable pupils and enhancing learning environments for all pupils. Talk to any teacher and they will tell you why TAs are worth their collective weight in gold.
I shall leave the final word to Dr Mary Bousted from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL). She said: “How does the government propose to sack the teaching assistants that it does not employ?”
We are all waiting for your answer Mr Gove – or will you have to do a u-turn on this half-baked idea too?