Do Teaching Assistants Make a Real Difference? Should They Be Paid More?

Do Teaching Assistants Make a Real Difference? Should They Be Paid More?

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There is no shortage of research measuring the impact of teaching assistants (TAs) on student learning.

There is a common thread through all the results from various research projects over the years – if TAs are used in a targeted way within the classroom, learning and progress of individual children vastly improves.

When education budgets are under threat, the TA can be under threat too. As head teachers balance the books, cutting back on or not replacing TAs is a common means by which money is recouped.

With the research highlighting the power of a TA working in a structured way on a one-to-one or group basis with children and young people, it is no surprise that in recent years, the numbers of TAs in schools have trebled.

And you too, may be thinking of joining the ranks of 24,000 TAs in primary and secondary schools across the UK. Or, you may want to join to growing number of TAs working with stu

Teaching-assistant
dents in a college setting or in pupil referral units (PRUs).

Getting qualified

One aspect of being a TA that has changed in recent years is the expectation of a TA being qualified. There are many high quality teaching assistant courses online, allowing people to study in their own time and without giving up their day job.

These courses can equip a student with the basic skills of working with children and students, and specialist online teaching courses are instrumental in equipping TAs with specialist knowledge and skills where working with student with specific needs.

Making a real difference

A TA in the classroom is an under-used resource if they are only being asked to tidy up, quell poor behaviour and switch the lights on and off. When used in a structured way, a TA can make a real difference in a classroom.

When teachers and children were asked how or what this difference was, this is what they said;

  • Progress – structured mini-sessions with one student or a small group can be a catalyst to their learning. This is apparent in studies relating to structured and planned reading sessions. Carried out three times a week for 20 minutes per session, the TA worked with children to improve their reading. This intense but non-pressured environment saw children’s reading levels leapfrog. The ability to read better and faster is a much needed skill in mainstream classrooms.
  • Remove stress for lower-attaining pupils – everyone learns at a different pace but for some children, this means they are slower than the ‘average pace of learning’. This can mean they are left behind, both in the lesson but also in their own comfort and well-being. Tests and assessments present these children with stress and pressure that is difficult to process. Working with a TA, concentrating on key learning attainments, takes the stress away from such occasions, and also gives a better idea of individual progress too.
  • Lightens the workload – class sizes are mushrooming. This can lead to an environment in which some children can struggle to learn but for a class teacher, attempting to cater to everyone’s needs become an insurmountable nightmare. There is no doubt, say teachers, that a knowledgeable and skilled TA in the classroom helps to lighten their workload.


The school perspective

Having more people willing and skilled to interact and help their students learn is, for a school, a great thing. This leads to more individual attention per student something that educators say is sorely needed in our crowded and busy education sector.

However, understanding how to use TAs varies from one school to the next, as well as from one teacher to the next;

  • The role of the TA in the classroom needs to be understood and their skills used appropriately
  • Liaison between the teacher and TA before a lesson is essential; in some schools, time pressures make this almost impossible
  • Tasks and activities in the lesson should also be flagged with the TA, along with the skills the lesson is teaching the children. Armed with this information, the TA is aware on what they need to concentrate and place emphasis.

Professionalising the role

There is no doubt that the role of the TA has changed and still is changing. In effect it is undergoing a professionalization process, whereby the role of the TA is much clearer, both in and out of the classroom. In other words, people are completing teaching assistant courses, becoming skilled and qualified to a high standard.

There is also an increase in TAs holding additional qualifications, completing an array of specialist teaching assistant courses online. These skills that are sorely needed in mainstream schools and colleges.

Teaching-assistant(1)

Many children have additional learning needs, requiring extra support in the classroom. But there are other issues too that many TAs are now regularly dealing with on a daily basis;

  • Behavioural issues – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, depressions, anxiety and stress are all terms commonly used in artic
    les across the web and newspapers. But, it may surprise you to learn that children are being diagnosed with these disorders too and dealing with these issues in the classroom can be challenging. A TA with a specialist qualification in some of these issues and syndromes can make for a far more pleasant learning environment for all learners.
  • Speech and language difficulties – learning to read, write and talk presents many challenges to children and there is no doubt that one-to-one attention can be the catalyst to overcoming some of these obstacles.
  • ADHD and ADD – Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are two increasingly common behavioural issues that can be disruptive. Understanding the diagnosis, and having the skills and abilities to diffuse and deal with situations, can often fall to a TA.
  • Autism – an autistic child can sometimes find it difficult to socially integrate with their peers. Also, the inability to read the emotions of others can lead to confusion and anxiety; situations can soon escalate. A TA with specialist training, including Autism Awareness, can identify potential pinch points in the day, or when an issue looks sets to escalate, and can calm a student. Reassurance is key when dealing with any student with additional learning needs.
  • Medical conditions – from diabetes to epilepsy, there are many medical conditions that need to be managed. As adults, we are more aware of the signs and danger zones when it comes to existing medical conditions of our own, but for children and young people, a responsible adult may need to help them manage their medical issue in school. As well as first aid training, any schools also look to train TAs to deal with specific medical issues. This is common need in special education units and settings.

More pay?

The issue of pay is a thorny one. Although on a national scale, the pay levels vary widely from one school to another in most cases, from one local education authority to the next. TAs take home an annual salary which does not reflect the vital and important role they play in helping children to learn and progress.

With the role of the TA changing, discussing the issue of increased pay may soon become a pressing need. As TAs complete qualifications, becoming specialists in certain areas and fields, the need to reward this specialism will be needed.

Detractors to the argument of more pay for TAs point out that by paying TAs more, the number of TAs across the board will, by necessity, have to decrease. Although the number of TAs is set to rise, researchers have proven time and time again, that TAs who are qualified and deliver structured sessions are far more useful and powerful in the learning process, than a TA who simply tidies away after the children.

Being a TA – how to start

If you are interested in becoming a TA, you will be joining the ranks of women and men across the country who have one of the most rewarding careers possible.

Volunteering in your local school can be an excellent way to understand the education system in your area, becoming acquainted with the modern ways of the classroom. Studying for a generic TA qualification is also a great start, followed by specialising in key areas.

Online learning is beneficial in so many ways. For many people, learning new skills and knowledge from home is a low-stress and no-pressure environment. You can learn from the comfort of your sofa at a time that suits you – and better still, at a pace that suits you.

Learning with online courses also makes financial sense. You don’t have to give up your current job nor reduce hours. You can also pay on a monthly basis, meaning that when you are newly qualified you don’t have a student debt hanging around either.

TAs are indispensable within the education system with many grown adults still able to remember the teacher and TA that had the most influence on their education.

Why not join the growing throng of TAs and start your online teaching assistant course today?

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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