Are your TAs valuable and valued members of the school’s curriculum support team, or more of a liability? With SENCOs having to delegate more and rely on assistants to maintain a professional standard, this issue of SENCO Week looks at recruiting and deploying TAs

Support for SENCOs
It’s essential to have in mind the duties which will be assigned to a new TA before you advertise the post and embark on interviews. In primary settings the role is likely to be one of general support to a teacher (or teachers), possibly with some small group work and ‘hearing readers’. In a secondary school or college there is more likely to be a better-defined learning/curriculum support role, providing in-class support and/or helping to deliver various catch-up programmes. In any sort of setting, pupils with statements may be allocated certain amounts of individual support and this will usually be provided by a TA.

If newly appointed TAs are to play a real part in supporting pupils with SEN, there are a number of important qualities she or he will need. A kindly disposition and plenty of patience are good attributes, but are not enough on their own. The best TAs also have knowledge of the curriculum, an understanding of how children develop and the barriers that may prevent them from learning, as well as a measure of assertiveness and good interpersonal skills.

A growing number of people are applying for TA posts these days, including individuals who see it as a route into ITT programmes, so hopefully you will have a good field from which to choose. You could also approach people you know, for example, volunteer helpers who have impressed you by their activities in the classroom, or in an after-school club. Are there parents or grandparents who have helped with school trips or the school play, and proven to be efficient as well as capable of getting on well with the children and their teachers?

Use the interview to assess how well each applicant is ‘in tune’ with the needs of children, teachers and the school as a whole, and how knowledgeable they are about different strategies for meeting those needs. Personality is all-important. There are inherent qualities essential to being a good TA; if these are in place, everything else can be learned. The list below might be a good starting point, but you will undoubtedly have your own ideas as well; ask colleagues for their thoughts about the essential attributes for a good TA.

A good TA will:• be literate and numerate• care about all children (including the difficult ones)• be hard-working and self-motivating• be able to use their own initiative• take an interest in individual children• keep up-to-date with educational developments• be keen to learn• accept advice and act upon it• evaluate their own effectiveness and be willing to try new approaches when necessary• have good communication skills • have good interpersonal skills

• be able to keep information confidential.

These points can help you formulate questions in the interview, giving the applicant opportunities to explain how they could exemplify various qualities. The applicant’s answers to questions like ‘How will you encourage pupils to be independent learners?’ or ‘What might you do to keep a child focused on a task when he has limited concentration and motivation?’ will tell you a lot about their approach to supporting pupils and enable them to draw on previous experience where appropriate.

Being able to get on with other adults is just as important as getting on with the children and young people, but this is a feature of the TA role which can be overlooked at interview (and impossible to address later on). Look for indications that an applicant can work as part of team, discuss issues, negotiate and ask for help.

It can also be a good idea to give applicants a short written task as they arrive, to be completed before the interview. This allows you to get an impression of their written communication skills as well as their level of understanding about a particular difficulty, eg ‘Jason has difficulties in remembering instructions given to the class. How would you help him in such a way that he doesn’t come to rely on you repeating everything and remembering things for him?’

Listing specific tasks that will form the TA’s role will be a useful part of the recruitment process – both as an indication of expectations and an audit of previous experience and competence.

TA tasks:

• 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 to model or demonstrate skill to class • relay and interpret instructions; help with reading• listen to readers • 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 an individual child with personal organisation, etc • check pupils’ understanding • help to maintain discipline (at individual and 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 and plenary • encourage cooperation with others • encourage and help with correct recording of homework tasks • reward progress and effort • observe and assess identified pupils and report back to teacher • create displays, word-banks and visual timetable • liaise with parents and write or manage IEPs• attend review meetings

• deliver catch-up programmes to small groups

SEN NEWS

Living Paintings is a national charity that provides a free library service for schools with pupils who are visually impaired. Over the past 20 years the charity has built up a large range of albums, topical packs, study packs and children’s books for blind and partially-sighted children – all available for loan from the Living Paintings Library, and every aspect of this service is free and sent directly through the post.

Using standard children’s picture books, raised images of the main characters are added, and exciting audio commentary which describe what’s happening in the pictures from each page. The books are interleaved with a clear Braille sheet in Grade 1 or 2 so that the child can share the book with sighted friends and family.

Teacher resource packs feature audio commentary, often with music, written teacher notes and colour pictures of the original items to enable everyone to participate.
There are packs on art, music, science, history, architecture, space, sport, literary characters and wildlife.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 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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