Unsung Heroes Are a Class Apart ; Teaching and Learning Support Assistants Play an Increasingly Vital Role in Schools Yet Are Paid Very Little. However, Many Say Their Work Is Highly Rewarding. by Niki Chesworth
Chesworth, Niki, The Evening Standard (London, England)
[broken bar] AST week's news that one in five pupils is registered as having special needs stirred up a debate about whether so many young people really have additional educational needs rather than behavioural problems caused by poor parenting or social deprivation.
However, the hidden story behind the headlines is that many of these special educational needs (SEN) pupils are supported not by highly-qualified teachers but "almost exclusively" by teaching and learning support assistants (TAs and LSAs) who may have little training, let alone the skills to teach a child with a learning disorder.
Schools increasingly rely on these LSAs and TAs, with the number of full-time equivalent teaching assistants increasing from 147,200 in 2005 to 219,000 in 2011 -- a 72,500 or near 50 per cent increase.
Although the union Unison says the number has dropped by 6,000 as a result of Government cuts, it still means there is nearly one teaching assistant per teacher. To help upskill these vital staff a new Pounds 500,000 training initiative has been launched by the Department for Education, the annual SEN Support Scholarship Programme.
It will provide up to Pounds 2,000 to boost the skills of those working with children with special educational needs or a disability (SEND) and will fund staff through rigorous, degree-level specialist courses.
However, the numbers are limited -- only a few hundred will receive the scholarships, just a tiny fraction of the total numbers of TAs and LSAs working with children with SEND.
"It is not even a sticking plaster over the problem," says Christine Lewis, national officer in education for Unison. "These are staff who are already on low salaries, but they will have to find 50 per cent of the cost of training to get a scholarship.
"Even higher level teaching assistants (HLTAs) who may be on salaries of around Pounds 20,000 pro rata, which is effectively Pounds 14,000 as unlike teachers they are only paid for term-time working and not for holidays, will struggle to find the finance.
"Also, there is a requirement that they have at least a Level 3 qualification. So an awful lot of LSAs and TAs working with children with SEND will find they do not have the resources, time or qualifications for the scholarship.
"As a result they will remain very much dependent on the attitude of their school and local authority when it comes to training."
There are a range of alternative training routes. The Open University, for example, runs the Supporting Learning in Primary Schools course appropriate for teaching and classroom assistants working alongside teachers in primary schools or working in special schools. …