Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

An Army of Support Staff Is Ready to Go into Action

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

An Army of Support Staff Is Ready to Go into Action

Article excerpt

One classroom assistant urges lecturers to draw on the wealth of experience their colleagues have to offer

Every day, a dedicated army of further education professionals in colleges all over the country supports thousands of teachers to train and grow the workforce of the future. These unsung co-workers of education's "middle child" bring with them the benefit of rich life skills and experience, and the promise of more accessible education for learners who have the greatest need. Yet their story is seldom ever told. Who are these mysterious heroes? They are the humble FE classroom support assistants.

There is a variety of reasons why the efforts of FE support assistants may appear hidden. Although the contribution of their counterparts in schools is fairly well documented, for some reason it seems that the value added by support staff in FE institutions is somewhat harder to discern from teacher education literature, internal reporting or government reviews.

Vital opportunities missed

FE teacher training programmes may not always widely equip new lecturers with ways to effectively utilise support staff, leaving some teachers unsure how best to deploy them. Training programmes, aimed largely at practice in schools, may obscure the true identity, value and purpose of the FE learning support assistant (LSA).

Staff development activities for support workers often lump them into one-size-fits-all events in which their real impact is rarely ever gauged or measured. LSAs may not always be strongly encouraged to pursue their own CPD, and those who do often receive very little kudos and don't get the opportunity to make a difference.

Direct communication between more senior management and LSAs can often be difficult to initiate and maintain. As a result, LSAs' huge amount of exposure to teaching, learning and assessment across the curriculum - which can even rival that of some learning coaches, senior managers or Ofsted inspectors - can dissipate into the ether, with vital opportunities being missed to evaluate and improve the learner experience.

This seems a real shame because many support staff possess extensive classroom experience, which could add great value to a range of curriculum activities that could feed into key initiatives.

This experience could include areas such as: the observation of teaching and learning; the use of technology; equality, diversity and inclusion; differentiation; behaviour management; development of literacy and numeracy; and learner achievement and retention; as well as progression into employment.

Excellent opportunities to get support staff involved, give them a proper sense of value and make real friends of these hard-working colleagues are there for the taking. …

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