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“The Unsung Heroes of the Pandemic?” National Teaching Assistant Day

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September 16th is National Teaching Assistant Day. This past year, teaching assistants across the country have made incredible contributions to the progress and wellbeing of students. Teaching assistants will be absolutely vital in the year ahead as classrooms focus on ‘catch up’ programmes, intervention groups and 1:1 pastoral care to support all students getting back on track.

Personally, I have so many fantastic memories of working with amazing teaching assistants from my time as a primary teacher: From Mrs Smith coaching the nativity play wise men into nailing their chorus harmony line; and sailing back into class after supporting a group of low achieving boys in finally understanding equivalent fractions… To Mr McDonald being firm but fair and having my back when managing the behaviour of tricky classes.

Teaching assistants are often dedicated, friendly and passionate professionals. Our recent blog highlights the key skills and strategies that help make a great teaching assistant. This week as part of national teaching assistant day, we are celebrating the teaching assistants who go above and beyond for their students…

 

…Are TAs the Unsung Heroes of the Pandemic?

At Prospero, we view all the TAs that we work with as superheroes. We place excellent TAs in primary, secondary, SEN schools and provide opportunities for graduate TAs.

Recently, a study by the MPTA outlined several key reasons why TAs have a strong case for being named the real “unsung heroes of the pandemic.” Strangely, teachers and teaching assistants weren’t officially recognised as ‘key workers’ last year. Nonetheless, here are just a few key reasons why we should celebrate the fantastic work of our TAs this week:

Without them, many schools may have been forced to close for longer

During peak pandemic disruption, nearly half of the UK’s Teaching Assistants covered teacher absences enabling schools to remain open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. Many TAs supported vulnerable children in school and covered whole classes or student bubbles by themselves. Our schools could not have functioned without the dedication of these teaching assistants.

TA targetted intervention provided vital support to the students who needed it most

Many classes faced disruption during the pandemic. Teachers may have been required to teach a whole bubble of children including children from different year groups and classes. A year 6 teacher friend of mine had to cover foundation stage for three weeks due to teacher shortages. As a result of the disruption, schools had difficulty maintaining differentiated support. Teaching assistants who delivered this targeted support for students with support plans were an essential intervention.

TAs put themselves at risk and were ‘on the front line’ throughout the pandemic

As always, TAs delivered crucial pastoral and learning support during the pandemic. TAs had a responsibility to disinfect and sanitise equipment and shared areas before lessons. Despite risking exposing themselves to the virus, many went above and beyond to ensure classrooms were as safe as possible for students and families. This also meant that the spread of the virus was minimised as much as possible while school’s remained open.

TAs played an important role in supporting home learning

Of the TAs surveyed by the MPTA, 40% reported being asked to do something they had not been trained for. This included covering lessons, assisting with teaching online and checking and marking student work submitted online. Not to mention the additional liaising with families, preparation of home learning packs and support provision. These tasks kept teaching teams very busy last year. Without the dedication of TAs, the workload would have soon become unmanageable.

All in all, it’s pretty clear that teaching assistants are essential for the successful running of schools and support provision for students.

Celebrate the TAs in your school

If you are working in a school, and you are lucky enough to work with a teaching assistant, why not show your appreciation in the classroom. Use this day as an opportunity to thank them for all their efforts.

You could also talk with them about some of the issues raised during the pandemic. Perhaps aim to include more ‘teacher assistant voice’ in your school community. For example:

  • How valued do TAs feel their contribution to the school has been in the past year?
  • What was the experience of a TA during the pandemic compared to ‘normal times’?
  • What challenges in terms of pastoral care for students have arisen as a result of the pandemic?
  • Do your TAs have ideas on ways your school could better support students in settling back into school?

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