‘The only sticking plaster holding schools together? The army of teaching assistants’

There are two dominating themes to all school discussions at the moment: funding and recruitment. Both are at “crisis point”. Colin Harris writes in Tes.

First, let’s look at funding cuts. We continually get told by the gods that there is more money in the education system than ever before – and yet these same people expect schools to do so much more than just teach. Heads and teachers have to stretch their funding to pick up the pieces of a failing social services system, one that itself struggling with vast funding cuts.

Second, recruitment. Successive governments have ensured that teaching is now well down the list when graduates view the job market…poor pay, low esteem and massive over-work. Figures for new entrants are collapsing and teachers are fleeing the profession in their thousand, just as they reach maturity.

And how do schools cope with these twin crises? Well without the humble teaching assistant we would be in a far worse state than we are at the moment. It is they that are keeping the profession in one piece at the moment.

We now have more than 380,000 teaching assistants in our schools, a staggering number when you consider that in the year 2000 we had 79,000: nearly a fourfold increase. In fact, I am that old when I could remember a time when in our school of nearly 400 children we had just three.

A recent study of their role in schools showed that more than a third took over the place of the teacher when absent, many for a considerable length of time. And all interviewed felt they taught more this year than last year.

There are several ways for schools to deal with the insufficient number of teachers in the system – none of them pleasant: a shortened week, larger classes or more time on computers. Least acceptable is organising for classes to be taught by staff who are not qualified as teachers.

Read the full article ‘The only sticking plaster holding schools together? The army of teaching assistants’

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Categories: Employment, Infant, Primary, Teaching and Training.


  1. Judith Wilson

    This is a ‘no brainer’ – teaching assistants have been underrated and underpaid for YEARS! Now retired, I know from considerable personal experience how much the job has changed and how much is expected of our teaching assistants/learning support assistants. No matter what title we give them, there is a considerable amount of TEACHING involved, whether they are standing in for an absent teacher or not. Very often nowadays, TAs have qualifications comparable to those of a teacher (and indeed there are many qualified teachers carrying out the role of TA) and, even if they do not possess degree level qualifications, they amass considerably knowledge and experience which is invaluable to student and class teacher alike. It is an indisputable fact that many teachers simply could not do their job without the presence of one or more TAs in the classroom – I have seen for myself the agonised facial expression and heard the groans of dismay when a teacher has asked in the staff room, “Who’s with me for Year 7 maths?” and has received a negative response! I would argue that the phrase ‘humble teaching assistant’ mentioned in this article should be replaced with the far more accurate wording ‘magnificent teaching assistant’ and their numbers should be increased still further in our education system rather than depleted, AND their skills and expertise should undoubtedly be reflected in their currently pitiful salaries.

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