Anna Holland works as a learning support assistant (LSA) with students ages 13 to 16 years, at Gosford High School in Newcastle upon Tyne. Here she explains her role and the nature of her work as part of the student support base
I work as a Learning Support Assistant (LSA) with students aged 13 to 16 years, at Gosforth High School in Newcastle upon Tyne. The school is a specialist language college, with 1,700 students in total, and is federated with a local middle school.
I started working for the school in March 2007, and joined a team of five other LSAs who are part of the student support base. As well as providing computer facilities and a range of different resources, the student support base is home to a team of learning mentors, education welfare officers, the school’s special educational needs coordinator, Connexions advisors, a teacher of English as an additional language, and our community police officers.
The main benefit of the department being multi-agency is that it allows for direct communication and eases the sharing of information, which in turn enables us all to fully support the students educationally, socially, emotionally and physically. It also means that they know exactly where to come, whatever their issue may be.
The primary remit of my job is to support students on curriculum-related tasks and aid them in overcoming barriers to learning. This umbrella term incorporates specific special educational needs, such as dyslexia and autism, but also extends to issues such as low self-esteem, anger management problems or school phobia. Because there is such a varied range of barriers experienced by young people, the type of support that an LSA provides is dependent on the individual needs of the student.
I work with a variety of students from across the three academic years. In some lessons I support on a one-to-one basis with a specific student and in others I support the whole class. Working on a one-to-one basis with a young person can be a very delicate operation, as it is important to ensure that they do not become isolated or appear different from their peers. This year I have supported approximately 12 students on a one-to-one basis and five full classes, in subjects ranging from traditional English, maths and science, to more practical lessons such as construction and cookery.
A typical day for me at Gosforth High School
‘Explain it to me…’
I use a range of supporting techniques, depending upon the needs of the student. Some students struggle to learn when information is taught to the class as a whole. When this occurs I ‘scaffold’ the students’ learning by working through tasks with them, explaining things in a step-by-step fashion but ensuring that the students are completing the task themselves. As their level of understanding grows, I reduce my input, until they reach a point where they’re confident to work independently. In some circumstances I have to differentiate work to suit the abilities of the young person I am supporting.
A significant number of students I work with have difficulty in understanding what exactly they are being asked to do, as they struggle to take in instructions given verbally. So, when work is set, I ask them to explain it to me and help them to deconstruct the task into manageable goals, jotting down ‘prompt words’ to help them later. Then, throughout the lesson, I will check on their progress and ensure that they are staying on task.
An important part of my job is to give positive reinforcement and encouragement to the young people I support, to help build up their self-esteem and confidence. This is such a very simple thing to do but it can have a substantial impact on their learning and development.
A wider aspect of my role involves monitoring the social, emotional and physical wellbeing of the students. This is a far less concrete element of the job and is primarily achieved through building a rapport with the students I support and by taking a general interest in them. This in turn builds a better working relationship within the classroom and provides me with more leverage when trying to encourage students to work. The relationship that an LSA is able to build with the students they support is unique and I feel that I am in a privileged position that most teaching staff miss out on.
Many LSAs are known by their first names, relationships are less formal and sometimes, as a consequence, the students really open up. I often see the students I support in a variety of settings, which allows me to build a profile of their overall strengths and weaknesses and gives me a wider understanding of their behaviour, character and progress. This in turn enables me to support them more effectively in overcoming barriers to learning.
I thoroughly enjoy working as an LSA and find it continually rewarding. Through assisting on a residential trip (see below) I have been privileged to witness growth in the students within a short period, both in terms of their level of maturity and their confidence within themselves. Seeing such positive improvements is for me the most rewarding element of working with young people.
ASDAN trips – adventure and independence
What is ASDAN?
Outside of my normal duties as an LSA, the most prominent activity is supporting the ASDAN classes in a variety of adventurous trips, with the aim of helping the students to complete the course challenges. Many students who participate in the ASDAN course are on the SEN register or have been identified as being suited to the course, as it aims to develop students personally and socially by enhancing self-esteem, raising aspirations and by encouraging them to make real contributions to the community.
While most of the trips are one-day excursions, there is the occasional residential trip, which requires input from the team of LSAs in order to facilitate its organisation. The most recent residential trip was to Belgium, which focused on students learning about the First World War.
First time away
Once we were off, the real fun began! The residential trip allowed for the students to develop educationally by learning about the First World War in an active way, but also to develop socially. Four classes were taken, with a mixture of students from Years 10 and 11. This meant that a lot of students were mixing with peers with whom they had not previously interacted. Across the four days of the trip, real friendships were built and students were able to experience an element of independent living and gain that little bit more responsibility for themselves.
The majority of the students who participate in the ASDAN course struggle to engage in learning within a rigid classroom environment. The trips enable them to learn through being active and experiencing things for themselves. In the weeks after the trip to Belgium there was a noticeable positive change in the educational and behavioural performance of most of the students. The residential trip had also strengthened the relationship between the staff and students, which for me has impacted on the support I am able to give the students within the classroom.