Meet Sandra: the overlooked and underpaid TA at the heart of the school

Sandra has seen a lot in her 18 years at the school: three headteachers, a rebuild, an academisation, four Sendcos, tens of thousands of lessons…. She has also worked with thousands of vulnerable young people and their families in her role as a teaching assistant. Tes reports.

Not many people realise that Sandra has a degree in history of art. Most people don’t know that Sandra has four children at home, the eldest of whom has profound special educational needs. Quite a few teachers don’t seem to know Sandra’s name.

Sandra needs to bring in a salary to keep up with the rent and essential costs, though what not many people realise is that the salary she brings home barely equates to the minimum wage. She doesn’t get paid during the holidays. It’s some years since she and the family made it to the Sussex coast for a break.

Last week, Sandra took three cover lessons. Two were last-minute “favours” and the third a lesson where whoever was supposed to be covering didn’t turn up. It doesn’t bother her, particularly – she’s perfectly capable of managing herself in a classroom – but it would have been nice if somebody had realised – and acknowledged – this.

Often, teachers won’t realise how valuable Sandra is until she’s not there, pulled out of lessons for exams invigilation or for a child’s medical appointment. Then they’ll notice a distinct change of atmosphere in the classroom and, for a moment or two, feel a little lost. Sandra appreciates it when teachers ask for her advice and feedback on their lessons. She knows that the support she’s provided for Callum the NQT during his mentor’s long-term absence has been valuable. The best lessons for Sandra are when she and the teacher are a team, batting ideas and humour around and modelling learning and humanity.

There is distinct unease in Sandra’s department at the moment. Talk of a restructure has begun. Staff leaving aren’t being replaced. Sandra can’t help but wonder at the piddly amount that might be saved by losing a few TAs compared to, say, an expensive SLT member, but tries not to let it bother her too much.

NOTE: Sandra is not real, but her story represents the lived experiences of many teaching assistants in the UK today

Read the full article Meet Sandra: the overlooked and underpaid TA at the heart of the school

When was the last time you really thanked your TA for their help? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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