I spend a lot of time explaining to parents and carers that the support of a teaching assistant is only a small part of the provision for their child. However, today I was reminded of the crucial importance of selecting the right support staff.
Support staff are the lifeblood of any faculty or department – providing daily assistance and support for students, delivering programs of intervention, assisting with personal care and therapy programmes and generally providing vulnerable students with a ‘critical friend’.
I have done a lot of interviewing as part of my governor role this year – for head of maths, head of PE, second of science and numerous other jobs. I have no doubt that a thorough selection process results in the best choice for the school and the candidates – some of whom are great with the kids but not so good at interviews, and others who shine during the interviews but are not so good with the kids.
I ensure all potential staff – and that includes teaching assistants – are seen working with a small group of students, undertake a written task, have a tour with ‘listening students’ (the students always love this – showing candidates round and asking key questions – surreptitiously!) and then the formal interviews.
As part of the interview process I always get the headteacher to introduce the school – it is very important for candidates to see that inclusion and SEN are a whole school priority. I also get an LA official to complete the interview panel.
We must not demean the support role in terms of selection process. All members of staff at a school need to be valued – from day one.
Good members of staff ensure quality provision, and it’s even better if you can get a balanced mix of young staff looking for experience and longer serving staff, all of whom are truly committed to the ideals of inclusive education.