While professional development for teachers is improving and CPD is being given more priority in schools generally, the support given to the wider workforce may be lacking in comparison. To help address this situation, we provide ten top tips for improving the development on offer to teaching assistants in your school. We also examine the need to support the improvement of grammar skills in school staff, following useful research by the University of Exeter and the DCSF.

Quote of the Week

“Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.”

The Reverend Jesse Jackson

Practical tips

Including teaching assistants in CPD provision

Continuing professional development is now, thankfully, firmly in the sights of just about every member of a school’s team, and no longer the domain of teachers and school leaders only. This means that the role of professional learning leader has, in most schools, expanded to cover the development of teaching assistants and other classroom support staff, office staff, lunchtime and play supervisors, office staff and more.

For teaching assistants in particular, there are key areas of development which are likely to be highlighted during the next few years. The recent reviews of the national occupational standards for TAs and the professional standards for HLTAs have shown us that the following areas almost certainly need strengthening:

  • Assessment for learning
  • Delivery of sessions to individuals/small groups/whole classes including contributing to teachers’ planning and evaluation
  • Support for children with EAL
  • Pastoral/welfare support, including behaviour management
  • SEN support (including support for children’s physical needs and the administration of medication)

Covering every base in TA development isn’t easy for schools. Making sure that it is funded and takes place within contracted hours are not the only challenges involved in creating accessible, targeted development. If you’re seeking to improve your performance in this particular area of your role, these ideas will help:

  • Find out from your TAs what works now. What do they consider is going well and offers them the greatest progress? What priorities do they identify?
  • Aim to make sure that every TA has at least one effective training opportunity each year (ideally each term), which is tailored to specific needs.
  • Fully explore in-house development opportunities such as coaching and mentoring, modelling, work shadowing and so on.
  • Consider joining up with neighbouring schools to provide targeted support for TAs. Sharing expertise in this way can contribute towards mutually beneficial relationships between schools, and may lead to job swaps or shadowing.
  • Aim to maximise the potential of professional conversations as a development tool. Specialist support and collaborative learning can be greatly beneficial for pupils at little or no cost.
  • Make sure that your school has consistent line management and appraisal systems for every member of staff.
  • Work inclusively with the support staff in your school with regard to CPD.
  • Nurture the pursuit of additional qualifications and consider ways of growing your own supply of teachers from the support staff you have.
  • If your school is large enough, consider grouping TAs for specific learning purposes.
  • Tackle generic issues such as behaviour management in cost effective groups, using in-house or local authority expertise where possible.

Find out more…

Run these training sessions for teaching assistants − with particular focus on SEN

Explore the Skills for Schools award-winning website − a practical next-step journey-planning tool run by Unison

The Curee website is a great place to find extensive information on how to construct learning relationships, in particular how you set up co-coaching relationships which can be used to support the CPD of teaching assistants and others.

 Issues and Information

Getting grammar up to scratch

According to research by the University of Exeter and the DCSF, there is a need to improve teachers’ own skills of complex writing. The problem, the study tells us, is that English teachers who attended school when grammar was not part of the English curriculum, have “a lack of assurance in grammatical subject knowledge, leading to difficulties in addressing grammar meaningfully in the writing classroom. In particular, effective teaching requires a secure understanding not simply of grammatical terminology, but of applied linguistics and an awareness of the ways in which grammatical constructions are used in different texts for different communicative purposes.”

There’s no doubt that discipline in communication is important and strived for when schools teach children how to communicate verbally and in writing. Without singling out those who apparently struggle with grammar in the course of their work with children and colleagues, a specific focus on its correct use could be the subject of some regular whole school development, along with the purchase of some grammar reference guides for the staffroom. Building confidence in grammar skills is half of the battle, so anything which can achieve this is worth pursuing!

Find out more…

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2008

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