This final section of SENCO Week’s three-part review of recruiting and managing teaching assistants looks at the teacher/SENCO/TA relationship and offers ideas for joint training sessions

Support for SENCOs

Establishing a positive and mutually respectful relationship between a class or subject teacher and a teaching assistant or support teacher, is the key to successful working.

Sometimes, this happens quite naturally, with each individual instinctively knowing what to do and how to fit in with each other’s way of working. At other times however, there can be a tension between teacher and TA and in the worst cases, each one feels undermined by the other − sometimes to the extent that any possible benefits of joint working are outweighed by the stress incurred! (In my experience, there can be particular problems where a young and relatively inexperienced teacher is paired with an older TA who is inflexible and determined to ‘do it my way’.) As SENCO, you have an important role to play here. By running a training session/staff meeting about teacher/TA partnerships, you can help to establish a way of working that is professional and while being flexible, is also shaped by an agreed code of practice embodying expectations and responsibilities on both sides. One possible way of beginning a discussion about class support is to flag up the positives and potential negatives − with teachers and TAs working together to suggest ways of avoiding the negatives. You could cut out some of the statements below and distribute for discussion.

In-class support:

  • enables the TA to support more than one pupil but can mean that s/he is spread too thinly and can lose focus: the support is not sufficiently targeted to address individual pupils’ learning needs
  • avoids pupils missing classwork/coursework but if the work set by the teacher is not appropriately differentiated, the lesson content may be ‘over their heads’ and activities too difficult for them to succeed with
  • can avoid stigma associated with ‘support’ but (if the delivery is not sensitive) can result in individual pupils feeling that their difficulties are highlighted; some (older) pupils may resent the attentions of a TA ‘in full view’ of their peers
  • the classroom environment can be noisy and distracting, preventing pupils from concentrating
  • can result in the TA listening passively to the teacher for long periods of time − not being productive
  • needs to be planned − otherwise the TA is not always well placed to support pupils; s/he may be unfamiliar with subject-specific material, for example
  • works best when the teacher and TA work as a team − each supporting the other (sometimes allowing the teacher to work with a ‘focus group’ of less/more able pupils while the TA supervises the main group)
  • works less effectively when the TA is seen as ‘just’ an extra pair of hands or solely as someone to ‘sit on pupils’ when they are off-task.

Points put forward can be used to reach a consensus about what leads to effective support in the classroom and how possible negatives can be overcome. Suggestions might include:

  • knowing what the lesson objectives are: what do pupils have to know, be able to do? (If this requires some subject knowledge on the TA’s behalf, how will this be achieved?)
  • being clear about the TA’s own specific objectives in every lesson (How will this be communicated?)
  • TAs understanding the learning needs of pupils they support, and how to help them overcome barriers to achievement

With teachers and TAs in their respective ‘working pairs’, the session might conclude with them agreeing on how lesson-planning and other information will be shared; how behaviour will be managed (by whom?); what the TA will be doing during teacher-led sessions (eg assessing pupils’ responses; prompting; facilitating; recording) and how and when the TA will provide feed back (eg objectives achieved, behaviour observed, suitability of tasks/pace for individuals, any misconceptions). Increasingly, schools are devising a format for conveying information to TAs about each lesson that they will support, naming particular pupils to be targeted and indicating some specific responsibilities for the TA. Such a pro forma might include the lesson objective and a tick list of possible tasks for the TA , such as those listed below. (If you can provide a template for teachers to use, with cut-and-paste options, you can really save them time and help them to be better prepared for managing TA support − this may well be an outcome from a joint training session.)

  • Prepare materials for the lesson eg record sheets for pupils to use, modified activity sheets for SEN pupils.
  • Provide alternative starter activity for small group.
  • Help teacher model/demonstrate skill to class.
  • Relay/interpret instructions; help with reading.
  • Encourage listening and concentration skills.
  • Give subject-specific key words and correct spellings.
  • Help pupils to write or word-process their work.
  • Provide notes/writing frames for pupils.
  • Help pupils organise thoughts and answers.
  • Help to maintain discipline (individual/class level).
  • Provide feedback to the teacher on pupil progress.
  • Prepare materials for the lesson eg record sheets for pupils to use, modified activity sheets for SEN pupils.
  • Provide alternative starter activity for small group.
  • Help teacher model/demonstrate skill to class.
  • Relay/interpret instructions; help with reading.
  • Encourage listening and concentration skills.
  • Give subject-specific key words and correct spellings.
  • Help pupils to write or word-process their work.
  • Provide notes/writing frames for pupils.
  • Help pupils organise thoughts and answers.
  • Help to maintain discipline (individual/class level).
  • Provide feedback to the teacher on pupil progress.
  • Help pupils with practical work.
  • Supervise work on the computer.
  • Encourage pupil participation in discussion/plenary.
  • Encourage cooperation with others.
  • Encourage/help with correct recording of homework tasks.
  • Observe/assess identified pupils and report back to teacher.
  • Create displays/wordbanks/visual timetable. Help pupils with practical work.
  • Supervise work on the computer.
  • Encourage pupil participation in discussion/plenary.
  • Encourage cooperation with others.
  • Encourage/help with correct recording of homework tasks.
  • Observe/assess identified pupils and report back to teacher.
  • Create displays/wordbanks/visual timetable.

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SEN News

If, as SENCO and/or inclusion coordinator, you are also responsible for G&T provision in school, you will be interested to know that gifted and talented learners continue to be a priority for 2008, with the government determined to ensure that every school recognises and provides for its most able students.

As part of this drive, gifted and talented data will be incorporated in league tables from this summer. Information will be collected from every secondary school, showing the proportion of pupils achieving level seven or eight (two or three levels above what is expected) in Key Stage 3 SATs for English, maths and science. This information will be published school by school in national league tables early in 2009.

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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.

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