Teaching assistants need fresh ways of approaching CPD , so that they have the chance to grow and learn in line with other members of your school’s community. CPD Week looks at CPD for TAs

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down!
Henry David Thoreau

It is far easier in theory than in reality to ensure that every member of staff has equality of opportunity when it comes to access to professional development. Many factors combine to conspire against that aim, yet we have no choice; equality has to be our focus.

The roles of the wider workforce in schools are expanding in response to the changing challenges of education, so it’s absolutely right that the spotlight should fall on teaching assistants (TAs) on a fairly regular basis. Getting right the development opportunities for these important contributors is essential if we are to make the most of the many and varied skills in our midst.

We know from research and reviews by the Training and Development Agency for Schools of the national occupational standards for TAs, and the professional standards for higher level TAs, that there are some central aspects of the job still to be strengthened. It makes sense to start your school’s focus on TAs’ professional and personal development with those identified areas, which include:

  • assessment for learning
  • delivering sessions to individuals/small groups/whole classes and contributing to teachers’ planning and evaluation
  • supporting children with EAL
  • pastoral and welfare support, including behaviour management
  • SEN, including support for children’s physical needs and the administration of medication.

That’s an immense amount to cover in typically limited time, but these ideas may help:

  • Make sure that your school has a fair way of ensuring equal access to professional learning for TAs. Some schools find that part-time hours can be a hurdle but it really is crucial that any such training takes place within contracted time and that the burden of expenses is carried by schools and not by TAs themselves.
  • Work out how many targeted, personalised training opportunities each TA will get during the school year. The absolute minimum would be one, ideally more.
  • Fifty per cent of TAs are aged 45 or over, often with decades of valuable experience. Therefore peer-to-peer training and development is definitely worth considering, and is a great way of developing home-grown skills and expertise while deriving additional benefits for the staff members who are training others.
  • Professional dialogues are a known effective tool for encouraging development. Relatively easy to set up, these can be particularly useful between staff members of different roles and skill-sets. Mix things up a little!
  • Be sure to encourage risk in TAs through development activities. This helps to stretch boundaries and reveal new horizons.
  • Plan CPD opportunities that are not only personalised but also fit well with your school’s development plan.
  • Keep open the possibility of home-growing teachers from your TA pool. Sound development is the basis for this kind of transition, so positive experiences are crucial.

Above all else, ask your TAs what works for them. What are they confident about and what do they need support for? Use this information to feed into your reviews of progress for development at your school, and the returns will most likely be well worth it!

Find out more
The Training and Development Agency for Schools’ website is a great place to find out about professional standards linked to the work of a TA, which might be used as a basis for creating a programme of professional and personal learning.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2009

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.