By the time the request for LLE applicants to apply to facilitate the ‘Making Best use of Teaching Assistants’ sprung into my inbox I had long since recognised that this was an area in our school that required our focus. It was one of those development areas that, as a school leader, buzzed lazily around you when walking the school, looking at learning or even observing staff behaviour and morale. Every now and then it had stung me and I had salved the pain with the all-encompassing notion that we had other issues to deal with before looking at the way in which we deployed, viewed and empowered our very talented teaching assistants. Even when the EEF guidance document hit my desk , as it did that of every head teacher in the country, I looked at it, read it and thought ‘That will be a superb resource to use WHEN that pops up as an agenda item.’
As it turns out, rather like my thoughts after having my eyes lazered after years of inconvenient and expensive glasses wearing, it was something I really do wish I’d grasped so much earlier. The shift in the school in so many ways has shown it was worthy of a much earlier time slot in our development journey.
So I applied, making it clear that our school in a deprived area (70+ PP) was at the end of the rail track… No, literally the end of the line – in a charismatic, shabby chic (ish) seaside town called Cleethorpes was on the journey. We had invested heavily into TA training, undertaking the very painful journey of upskilling TAs and losing those unable or unwilling to keep pace.
We were no experts, we did have some plus points, our Same Day intervention (SDI) team were making a huge impact on the progress of the children. Our work ethos and every second counts was paying dividends. Our TAs largely saw themselves as a force to be reckoned with… time for the rest of us to catch up!
So I was accepted and the meetings began. The research became serious and I was becoming very excited about working with the other facilitators to set out a series of opportunities to reflect, plan and improve on the vast army of oh-so-willing TAs in our schools. I was of course also incredibly excited about any improvement I could make to the provision in my own school.
So I intended to write a little about the journey we are on, in an attempt to lure you into a similar process of self-reflection in this much discussed area: leadership to Improve the impact of our Teaching Assistants.
We put a ‘Reflect to Improve’ team in straight away, led by a teacher whom I had observed had a very forward thinking attitude to the deployment of TAs, in the classroom and for intervention. The SENDco was in the team, but it quickly became clear that the area for development was not in the IEP delivery – it was in the whole school ethos. We also had two TAs, a very experienced , excellent educator, and a new to our team member who we hoped would breathe fresh air into any long-held views.
An action plan was constructed. We made the plan transparent and involved everyone. Audits of practice, views, resources and timetabling were completed, discussed, debated and reflected upon. Excitement mounted! We welcomed more ideas, opinions and reflections from a previously quiet TA team. The teachers and SLT were challenged in previous misconceptions. We noticed in the whole school training, to which they had always previously been invited, they now contributed more, asked questions, debating how they could use the ideas and strategies of Roz Ferrera, Isabella Wallace, Pie Corbett, and the countless other training sessions we had sought to embed.
I came across conversations in corners, not the moaning eye rolling type, but the ‘which sentence should we teach?’ type.
As plans were reviewed ideas were vocalised and I eeked out some budget, or if not, agonised over other ways to make things happen. The SDIs all were paid to attend planning meetings after school. The TAs all met with their teachers on a Monday morning to talk plans.
TAs wanted to look at learning so the Learning Studies now included everyone, looking at work in books, looking at learning in class and discussing progress. Professional dialogue was building. The Reflect team championed their cause and soon everyone had target relating to ‘Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants’ in their Performance Management. The focus of staff meeting and TA meeting became this and the team led on that.
I actually just handed the snowball to a few well-chosen people and they had rolled it around to create a positive avalanche.
The difference was seen in classes: the way the teachers were freed to teach, as well as the connections between the children and the TAs. The learning is better and the team is together. Socially things have developed. We have long since been a happy team, but now the TAs all come along on staff nights out: 40+ regularly sign out for tea and the pub, or a fiery after school Indian. The TAs report that they feel more relevant and more needed. They are afforded the same respect the teachers do; we train, we discuss, we seek their ideas. Their timetables are not disregarded due to an incident, if it was important enough to be timetabled, it is important enough to not be disturbed.
So our journey continues. They are separating from us this term and looking at learning in their own teams (they have asked for learning walks focusing just on the TA skills). The visits to other schools have continued for further rich collaboration and networking.
It’s not perfect, nothing is. There are inconsistencies and still some resistance in areas, but this is a journey that I am pleased to be on. To be honest I have done very little… It’s self-motivating once the majority see the benefits.
SIGN UP: Join Claire, Diane Heritage and Alex Quigley on the ‘Leading TAs for Maximum Impact’ training programme at Huntington Research School, in York. Find out more and sign up