In our last SENCO Week bulletin, we began a three-part review of recruiting and managing teaching assistants − a key part of the SENCO role. This week, we look at some of the different ways of deploying TAs
SENCO Week Help Sheet 6 - Tips for Teaching Assistants.pdf
Support for SENCOs
Although TAs may be involved in a variety of tasks (preparing resources, administrative tasks, etc) the main part of their job in most schools is to support pupils in their learning − whether inside the classroom, or outside. When properly planned and professionally delivered, both types of support can be very effective and make a considerable (and measurable) impact on children's achievement. To some extent, the planning and monitoring of small group and individual work outside the classroom is a more straightforward option for the SENCO.
You can maintain more control and outcomes are more easily measured. The value of this way of working has long been recognised and various types of 'catch-up' programmes are now in operation to good effect. When a child is significantly delayed in the development of language/literacy skills, for example, addressing these directly and skilfully in a small group is usually the most successful way forward. Those of you who have been fortunate enough to be involved with Reading Recovery programmes will know how powerful this type of intervention can be. There is sometimes resistance to this way of working however, from both parents and teachers (and sometimes the pupils themselves), so it's important to make sure that you have thought about some of the issues involved:
- Venue: ideally somewhere quiet and comfortable.
- Timing: not always at the same time of the week so that pupils don't 'miss out' on the same art/music/PE lesson.
- Learning: activities carefully planned, targeted to meet specific needs and regularly reviewed.
- Class teachers: monitor the work undertaken and manage pupils' exit/re-entry into the classroom.
- Pupils: understand the purpose of the group and are encouraged to evaluate their own progress and the effectiveness of the group.
Ideally, interventions should be short term, with pupils making sufficient progress to be able to achieve back in the classroom. Where children have received this type of support for an extended period, you need to take stock of the situation and evaluate the impact of what has been done: can you try something different?
Traditionally, individual and small group work has been used primarily for improving pupils' literacy skills, but addressing other areas of development can also be valuable: maths; study skills/thinking skills; balance and coordination; social and emotional development.
Supporting pupils in the classroom is favoured in many schools and often means that larger groups can benefit. The main dangers with this type of support is that the TA spends a lot of time in 'passive' mode; does not know enough about the subject matter to be effective; is not effectively 'managed'. The relationship between TA and teacher is the key to effective working. Aim for a partnership with clearly understood (and 'separate') responsibilities, underpinned by a professional approach, a willingness to share concerns as they arise and a willingness to give credit where it is due. Issues to consider include:
- personalities: pairing a teacher with a like-minded TA
- establishing a means of communication between teacher and TA so that the TA always knows what the lesson objectives are (what should pupils know, be able to do by the end?)
- being clear about the TA's own specific objectives in every lesson
- addressing issues of subject knowledge − particularly in secondary schools
The sticking point often boils down to 'not enough time' − to plan, to discuss, to evaluate, etc. But if appropriate systems of working are established, teachers and TAs become ever-more 'slick' in using them and usually find that, in the long term, time is actually saved, and outcomes improved. Strategies to consider include:
- TAs attending phase/subject planning meetings and/or being given copies of teachers' planning sheets
- TAs accepting responsibility for finding out about a topic to be taught so that they can be a 'step ahead' of pupils (many schools now allocate TAs to specific year groups or subject areas to facilitate this building up of subject knowledge)
- each TA having a tray in the staff room where teachers can leave a note or completed pro forma about an upcoming lesson; an example is given below, but remember that something like this works best when people have ownership of it, so work with TAs and teachers to design your own version
- using the computer network to exchange information at the beginning/end of each day or week
- the SENCO providing joint workshops for teachers/TAs to agree working systems (in schools where teachers compete for classroom support, attending such a meeting and agreeing to collaborate as specified could be a condition of being allocated support). More on this next week.
The Teaching Assistant's Resource Pack - containing Making the Most of Teaching Assistants and Teaching Assistant’s Handbook. Click here to find out more details.
A report published last month discloses some surprising statistics about SEN. The work is part of Cambridge University's Primary Review, the largest study of primary education for 40 years (the full review will be published in the autumn). It found that there is still wide variation in the system of statementing, with 3.1% of children being awarded statements in some areas, while the proportion is as low as 0.3 % in others. Identification of need continues to be 'resource driven', with a wide variety of interpretations and practices across different local authorities. Boys are more likely to have their SEN recognised and catered for than are girls, as are children from middle class homes. The study also found that the number of children with SEN in mainstream primary schools is dropping, in spite of the government's inclusion policy.
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This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2008
About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.