I’ve been reading a lot about deployment of TAs recently the Keyinsights article set me off and I’ve followed the great links to the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and others. Rob Webster of Maximising TAs is a must read. I think most would agree the following: 1. TAs should be used effectively But what is effective? The EEF have 7 pointers which are superb. 2. TAs should be trained. This is something our school and area partnership have been working hard to improve. We had a day looking at 1:1 literacy interventions, we’ve done some assistive technology training and last February we had a whole day with a series of workshops looking at language, reading, spelling, phonics and writing. 3. TAs should not be taking role of teacher, especially for those with learning difficulties where the gap between them and their peers is widening. This can be problematic – if a teacher wants to teach whole class they may ask TA to take an individual (usually in secondary) or a small group (more primary?) out to consolidate and reinforce information. I have no problem with this as long as the teacher is leading the learning. We must be sure TAs have been suitably trained to do this type of intervention however, sometimes they have more experience than teachers around SEN and working closely with the teacher can be a sublime relationship pushing the student/s on to make progress. We can however get this hideously wrong – a TA who doesn’t know how to teach phonics can do more harm than good and often with the very children who need specialist teaching the most. I’m afraid this is the fault of the teacher – they have abandoned this child and given full responsibility to the TA for the pupil/s with least resources available to them. I’d hope all would agree this is bad practice. What of the 1:1 TA who is with a child who has complex communication needs? This relationship is complicated. – the TA should have knowledge of the child’s need and know how best to include him or her into the mainstream using inclusive strategies. A best practice situation might be: Weekly planning with teacher – tweaking how and when child can cope in class and how they are accessing curriculum. In secondary, this is harder; while the student may have a key worker, it is likely a number of TAs will be involved and numerous teachers – how do we keep continuity and plan effectively for the student? And the one for me which causes most angst is the student who, for social and emotional reasons as well as learning difficulties is only coping in mainstream secondary with a TA by their side. How can we maximise this relationship so it is constructive rather than destructive? Can we plan for the student to learn independently yet keep their anxiety at a level where they don’t shut down completely? If a student requires a sensory diet but also benefits from break times with their peers, how can we fit this into a full timetable? How can the TAs and teachers plan for this? These are questions I have no answers to. Then there’s the child who requires a scribe and reader? Does this mean they sit back while the TA does the work for them? Are they engaged? For some, the TA copying off the board or making notes for the student means he or she can concentrate on the content without their literacy putting a barrier up for them. For others however, have they learned helplessness and while the TA is scribbling away they are busy distracting others, completely disengaged? Another problem for both teacher and TA to solve. When school has a student whose attendance is poor due to refusal, illness or mental health how should the TA be used in these circumstances? Continue to attend classes and make notes? Prepare resources to enable the student to catch up on their return? Act as a class TA to help others or, often in our case, ask the TA to help other students in other classes as sickness affects TAs too. Then there are Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs) who performance manage other TAs, take on other responsibilities such as small group interventions and literacy support. This work is done outside a mainstream classroom. I don’t think we’re getting everything right but I know I see some incredible practice between TAs and teachers. I also know we can improve the system but how? Communication is key but we struggle in the rapid, fire fighting environment we work in. Things change too- what works one week can be disastrous the next. An argument with another student or teacher can mean a student with difficulties is affected for weeks. The only way to keep improving is to keep checking, keep changing, trying new things but I’m also aware this can have an exhausting affect on teachers and TAs. Thank goodness they’re so adaptable – for to include our students with needs we have to to be flexible and make adjustments – we may not get it right all the time but sometimes, with these students no research has been done yet – the situation is a new one (even to me after 15 years) and we have to work within the parameters of knowledge, experience and the structure of school. We might also think the unthinkable, sometimes it’s like trying to be creative in a tiny box and it is the TAs who can liberate us – we must use them wisely and effectively but as part of the system not as an alternative.