The funding available from local authorities for the induction and CPD of teaching assistants and other support staff has been severely depleted by the spending cuts of the last year. There is also a question mark over the future of higher level teaching assistant (HLTA) status. This means that individual schools are being forced to take on more responsibility for the training and career development of this important sector of the workforce.

Where are we now?
Last summer, the government announced it was axing grant funding for the training of support staff. Much of the money, which was paid to local authorities by the Training and Development Agency (TDA), was spent on funding teaching assistants through the process of gaining HLTA status. However, it was also used to pay for local authority-run induction and CPD for TAs.

In addition to this, over the past year many local authority employees whose job it was to coordinate training for the school support workforce have been made redundant, redeployed or asked to take on additional responsibilities. As a result, in many areas there is no one to oversee the HLTA programme.

Currently, the cost of the three days’ training needed to prepare a portfolio for HLTA assessment is around £1,000. Now funding has been withdrawn for this, it has to either be paid for by the school or by the TA themselves. Few TAs are in a position to self-fund so more are likely to be approaching their heads and governing bodies for help. But, given that HLTA is a ‘status’, or official recognition of what a TA can already do, rather than a training programme designed to develop further skills, is it worth spending the money?

Kath Perrin, a former primary head who is now a freelance consultant and trainer, believes that it is. ‘The HLTA programme involves a set of very rigorous standards so it offers heads, governors and parents a safeguard and a guarantee that a TA taking on an extended role is up to the job.’ This is particularly important when TAs are taking charge of classes as PPA cover. HLTA status is also a way of providing TAs with career progression and an incentive to develop their expertise.

The withdrawal of funding may seem to call into question the survival of the HLTA programme but it seems that there are currently no plans to axe it. In fact, the TDA is continuing to provide funding for the final assessment stage of the process, which costs around £500. However, it has been made clear that this is a temporary arrangement with a rolling two-month limit pending further announcements. This means that TAs embarking on the programme now are uncertain as to whether they will need to find a further £500 to complete it.

There are also concerns about the way recruitment to the HLTA programme is going to be managed. With many local authorities now lacking a support staff training coordinator, the TDA recommends that TAs wishing to gain the status go directly to their regional training provider. Previously the local authority vetting process required for funding would ensure that all TAs entering the programme were able to meet the 33 standards, or would support schools to provide opportunities for them to get up to speed. However, now the onus is on headteachers to ensure candidates they are supporting are able to meet the criteria and therefore complete the programme successfully.

There is also the worry that the private training providers delivering the programme may have financial incentives to accept as many applicants as possible, so access may be determined by ability to pay rather than by suitability. Other forms of CPD and induction of support staff are increasingly becoming the responsibility of individual schools. The likely government rationale for this is that school budgets contain an element of CPD funding for all staff, particularly with schools being encouraged to become academies.

Ways forward
It is clear that much can be achieved through collaborative working. One creative response to the cuts comes from Kirklees local authority in West Yorkshire, which has appointed 10 staff members in various roles in schools across the authority to act as advocates for support staff and develop capacity for training.

In some areas, schools are coming together to devise ways to provide quality CPD despite limited budgets. A group of nine primary schools in West Sussex are pooling their resources to ensure that all TAs receive training. The schools are members of Schools All Learning Together (SALT). They are currently planning a day conference for around 100 TAs which will focus on how children learn and ways of assessing progress. The schools are buying in an expert from the local authority to deliver the training, and the total cost of the day will be approximately £600.

Schools in the area are also looking at extending their collaborative work. Bob White, headteacher at Lindfield Primary School, says: ‘I recently attended a locality CPD meeting representing 21 schools, including two secondary schools, 18 primary schools and one special school, where we discussed future ways of delivering CPD through using the expertise of staff in our own schools. This would be at a much lower cost and yet still provide quality bespoke CPD opportunities for all of our staff.

 ‘Only through a significant commitment to CPD can we build capacity to improve, enabling our teaching assistants to grow and ultimately ensure standards in our schools rise still further,’ he adds.

Caroline Roberts is a teacher and freelance writer