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Teachers and Teaching Assistants

Miranda has written a response to our recently published white paper on decision-making in the primary teacher/teaching assistant relationship. 

Teachers and Teaching Assistants, whose pulling the strings?

Protocol Education’s newly released report on the process of decision-making between teachers and teaching assistants provides an apparently flattering mirror of our children’s experience in the primary classroom. The evolution of the teacher and the teaching assistant's relationship shows that we are, ourselves, practicing the self-management that we preach to our children.

As we all know, like the back of our hands, the new primary curriculum is all about reflective learning. Our children are on a ‘learning journey’ where they can read the sign posts and make joint decisions (with their teacher/teaching assistant) about which route to take next in fulfilment of their goals and potential. In the classroom, positive attitudes to learning are considered with the equivalent importance of the acquisition of knowledge itself. And according to this report, teaching assistants are doing it for themselves, just like their learners. So far so good. 

Teaching assistants are taking ownership of their decisions about children’s progress against learning objectives; they are setting the direction and pace of a group’s learning using their own skills; and overwhelmingly, it seems, they are responsible for managing the parent/school relationship, at least in the early parts of the school year. However, unlike our children whose enquiry-based and reflective ways of working are freshly scaffolded and backed up by bouncy new-born research about what works, we are given the distinct impression that teaching assistants may be walking tall, but they are walking alone.

The old QTS definition of the teacher’s duties in relation to her teaching assistant : “Teachers should deploy support staff effectively.  – is now, apparently, irrelevant or at least in need of a new translation, if anyone is interested in making sense of it anyway.  The report’s response to the robust swinging of the power balance towards the teaching assistant is to issue recommendations around team-building and ‘managerial training,’ and (that old chestnut) a skills audit’…well, this made me smile just a little. The report does not concern itself with why this important classroom relationship might have shifted on its tectronic plates.  

But for us out there in the front line, it’s pretty clear that ‘joint decision making’ between teachers and teaching assistants  is born out of hard times. Anyone at the chalk face knows that teaching assistants, who traditionally have their roots in the local area, and greater loyalty to a workplace (rather than to a pay packet or career ladder), make the natural choice as ambassadors for a school and fixers in moments when the academic and the personal become entangled. Their relationship with parents has always been strong and empowered. But if this relationship has evolved to become exclusive, it is only because qualified teachers are no longer in the driving seat.

Look no further than the monstrous pressure on teachers to get results at all costs; meaning that they are frequently to be found cowering in the corner, bringing on their borderline pupils rather than floating with the intent of challenging and supporting all. The average actual working hours of primary teachers are around 60 per week, according to a 2014 survey by the Department for Education – up ten hours a week from average working hours over the past decade. Many of the 1,000 respondents cited Ofsted and form-filling as the reasons for the spike.

 If a teaching assistant has h taken the wheel (albeit with dual control) it is because the beleaguered teacher is in the backseat with her head down, frantically calling out a few instructions from under a mountain of paper.

Would you like to share your thoughts on the relationship between teachers and teaching assistants? Contact Megan ( for more information.

Tags: Miranda, Manchester, NQT, supply, teaching assistants

Category: Australian Teachers

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