CPD Week explores ways of ensuring that support staff are included in approaches to CPD so that no-one has the notion that they are on the bottom of the professional learning heap.pdf-2764504

CPD Week Info Sheet – Support staff.pdf

Limited resources balanced against numerous needs may mean that difficult decisions have to be made around spending for professional learning. But that shouldn’t affect the degree to which access to new learning is deemed to be fair across all types of staff in your school.

‘When I was a young coach I used to say, ‘treat everybody alike’. That’s bull. Treat everybody fairly.’
Bear Bryant

Professional learning for support staff
Regardless of the size of your school, it will have a core of support staff with various purposes, some of whom may be part-time, who help to propel your school forwards on a day-to-day basis. Anecdotal evidence shows that it is likely to be these members of staff who feel, often justifiably, that they get less of the action when it comes to appropriate and timely professional learning. If you want to tackle this in your school, these key reminders for embracing all staff members will help:

  • The goals that your school has for its pupils (to enjoy and achieve, and to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes they need to contribute and to thrive in life and so on) need to be reflected by all the staff they come into contact with. If some feel unsupported in their role, or worse, ill-equipped to carry it out, they are unlikely to pass positive messages to pupils. It is invariably unwise short-termism that seeks to sacrifice the development of some for the progress of others.
  • Have you ever done an audit of how professional learning resources are distributed among all staff? If not, how would you go about this? Remember, it’s not about all being treated equally in terms of the distribution of resources. Rather it’s about needs being met in order to maximise outcomes in terms of the attainment and achievement of pupils.
  • According to Unison, a sizeable proportion of support staff undertaking the training and development offered by their school rate it pretty poorly. Is this an area that you could look at to ensure that what is offered meets genuine need and leads to identifiable learning?
  • A common concern of support staff is that not enough training is offered and when it is offered, it isn’t at a time that enables part-time staff to participate. Support staff commonly undertake training in their own time, unpaid. This kind of goodwill is clearly very positive when it occurs, but cannot be relied upon in long-term planning for professional learning.
  • It may be worth adding an emotional literacy strand to your whole-school approach to professional learning. It is increasingly believed that emotional health can positively impact the way in which we learn, and that applies to all ages and stages!
  • Another generic approach which will benefit all staff is how to work with small groups. This kind of training can easily be shared among staff so that those who cannot attend do not necessarily miss out.
  • Make sure you know exactly what staff think about the way that they learn best. What works for your support staff? Can you facilitate this in any way? How can you encourage staff to learn from each other, perhaps through coaching and mentoring, modelling or observation?
  • Explore who might be a great resource within your wider workforce for training support staff (typically this is the SENCO). Even short but regular training sessions can have a positive impact. Do also make sure you keep a record of developing specialisms among support staff. The demands of the job are such that key members of staff can acquire relatively high levels of expertise in a particular area because the need is there.
  • A great start would be for each member of your support staff to have at least one targeted and highly effective training opportunity each year as an absolute minimum. Can you say that this happens in your school already?
  • Be mindful of the fact that unless the inclusion of all staff members (according to need) in your wider professional learning agenda is at the heart of all that you do, some are bound to feel unsupported.

Find out more

  • FAQs for TAs: Practical Advice and Working Solutions for Teaching Assistants published by Routledge, ISBN 9780415411059
  • This information sheet explores some best-practice ideas for nurturing the professional learning of support staff.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2010

About the author: Elizabeth Holmes qualified as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and is the author of several books specialising in the areas of professional development and teacher well-being.