CPD Week examines how to make sure that all members of staff, particularly support staff, receive professional learning opportunitiespdf-1884477

CPD Week Info Sheet – Working with small groups.pdf

Fairness is not an attitude. It’s a professional skill that must be developed and exercised.
Brit Hume

In some schools the race for a slice of the professional learning pie sees key sectors of the workforce missing out, with significant consequences. Typically on the bottom of the pile are part-time workers and support staff. This e-bulletin we take a look at the reasons for ensuring that all members of staff receive professional learning opportunities and at ways of making this happen.

Professional learning for support staff
If the broad goal of schools is to equip young people with the education, skills and attitudes they need for a fruitful and happy life in which they can enjoy and achieve, contribute and thrive, the people with whom they interact each day need to have the skills to help make this happen. When it comes to learning support, all those who have contact with young people should play their part. All school staff, from teachers and teaching assistants through to site managers and catering employees, contribute to the overall outcomes of young people. Yet if you did an audit of your school’s allocation of professional learning resources, how fairly would they be distributed across the entire school workforce?

It’s important to acknowledge that fairness does not necessarily mean treating everyone equally when it comes to professional learning. There may be some whose needs are greater at any moment than others’. But the overall picture should be one in which all members of staff, regardless of their role on the school’s workforce, are as equipped as they can be to perform their job to the best of their ability.

If you want to explore ways of including support staff more fully in your school’s professional learning, these ideas will help:

  • Improving the emotional literacy of your entire school is always going to be an aim, but unless every member of staff is included in this, the message that is modelled to pupils will be inconsistent and unhelpful. Support staff are fantastic resources for schools to utilise when developing emotional literacy, but not if they are not trained to support emotional literacy in young people.
  • Working effectively with small groups is a skill which tends not to be inherent. Make sure all support staff who are expected to do this as part of their work are fully trained, so that maximum benefit is gleaned from the exercise.
  • Assessment for learning, support for children with English as an additional language and SEN support are all areas in which support staff typically appreciate targeted training.
  • Cross-curricular approaches, such as the social and emotional aspects of learning, are dependent upon a consistent message from all members of staff. Make sure that support staff are included in all relevant training.
  • Talking to support staff about what currently works effectively for them regarding professional and personal learning, and what might usefully change, can help. Typical challenges are funding and ensuring that training takes place in contracted hours or, where possible, outside those hours when participants can be paid (remembering that those working part-time often have additional responsibilities outside school, such as caring for families or other jobs). Ensuring that your school has clear lines of management and systems of appraisal for every member of staff will mean that no-one gets left behind or left out of these discussions.
  • Exploring ways of cascading learning through your school’s structure of support staff can facilitate staff learning from each other. Are there cost-effective measures that can be adopted? Coaching, mentoring, modelling, observation, work shadowing and so on are all possibilities. Through this approach, you can group support staff for specific professional learning purposes and share all learning throughout your school.
  • SENCOs are superb resources for the training of support staff. Explore ways of delivering short, regular training sessions on supporting those with special educational needs. It helps to encourage a sense of equality in these sessions so that the flow of learning is two-way. Support staff often report feeling under-utilised in terms of the skills and knowledge they attain over time working with key individuals. Harness that as much as possible.
  • Specialist input may benefit your school, particularly if it has any specific needs. Look at possibilities for specialising. Could this be a role adopted by a member of your support staff? Is this something that could be facilitated through collaboration with a neighbouring school?
  • Inclusion, of all staff members, should be kept at the top of your school’s professional learning agenda.

Find out more

  • FAQs for TAs: Practical Advice and Working Solutions for Teaching Assistants published by Routledge, ISBN 9780415411059.
  • This information sheet explores some of the features of working with small groups with which support staff should be familiar.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 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.