Why We Need Teaching Assistants

14/08/2014 16:51 | Updated 22 May 2015

Why we need teaching assistants

It's another of those 'face-palm' moments. The Government is considering the idea that schools should get rid of teaching assistants.

There are 232,000 teaching assistants in the UK, you see, and apparently they cost £4billion a year.

So we should just sack them all and save the country a lot of money. The teachers can simply work harder. We all know teachers are lazy, right? And all teaching assistants really do is crowd-control and paintbrush-washing, right? They're just unqualified mums who help out, right?


Er. No. Teaching assistants are the glue that holds schools together. It's a bit like saying 'let's get rid of nurses, we only need doctors'. We should probably keep quiet about that though – it's probably next on the agenda. Pretend I didn't say that.


Teaching assistants (TAs) are sometimes referred to as a 'mums' army' because so many of them are mums themselves. But if you think that means they're unqualified, think again.

Many of them have highly specialised training in caring for children with special needs – physical, mental and behavioural. Many have years of experience in teaching children to read, write and socialise.

TAs help children with special needs stay in mainstream schools. They are also an invaluable part of special schools themselves, providing extra one-to-one care for some of those children who need it most.

My daughter is about to start school in September. In her reception class, there will be two teaching assistants as well as the class teacher. That's three members of staff for 30 pupils.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that the children will get more attention, care and teaching with three members of staff than they would with one. Even a four-year-old could figure that out. But apparently our Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, is struggling to grasp this.

Simone Bennett, headteacher of Christ Church C.E. Primary School in Skipton, North Yorkshire, (which has been rated as 'outstanding' by Ofsted) says: "There's no doubt that he's absolutely lost the plot on this one. Teaching assistants are a huge part of what we offer here and are incredibly skilled. We've invested massively in their training around early intervention and support – things which make a huge difference to the outcomes for children.

"If you follow Mr Gove's argument to its logical conclusion, the inevitability is that children will miss out. Hopefully, common sense will prevail."

But hang on a minute. If we got rid of teaching assistants, it has been suggested, schools could simply hire more teachers instead. Yes. Perhaps. Except that wouldn't save any money. And teachers cost a lot more than teaching assistants. The salary of £17,000 for a TA that has been bandied around isn't actually what most TAs get paid. They're often part-time and flexible, with hours that vary. Which casts a lot of doubt on that £4 billion figure we started with.

Opponents of teaching assistants say schools could get better 'value for money' by cutting the number of TAs and increasing class sizes. They've clearly never been taught in a class of more than 30 six-year-olds, by one teacher tearing her hair out while little Jonny tortures the class goldfish, Sarah has a toilet emergency and Neville sets fire to the curtains.

Value for money? More like a recipe for a nervous breakdown and a class full of children learning nothing but how to start a riot. One starts to wonder whether the boffins at the Department for Education have ever actually set foot in a state school.

Catherine, a teaching assistant in a community special school in Yorkshire, says: "I am a TA who has been asked to 'nurture' the kids. Many have low self-esteem, and can't manage their own feelings, never mind understand them.

"It's my job to help them to function in society better, behave better, understand themselves better and ultimately learn better.


If a teacher loses the TAs then who will support the emotional needs of a child? It will and does impact on their future. Learning is not all academia. It is a short part of their overall lives. They have to survive in the outside world for a long time.


"TAs are also another set of eyes for a teacher, to pick up on the kids who are not paying attention, to get them back on focus. With 30 kids in a class, a teacher would have to spend most of their time dealing with behaviour issues.

"Also, what would happen to the many high functioning special needs kids with one-to-one support in a mainstream school? Would they have to move into a special school as the teacher can't spend all their time with them in a class of 30?

"A TA's role can't be withdrawn now - it's part of the make-up of a classroom, like an interactive whiteboard and a teacher."

It's unclear exactly how the Government would remove teaching assistants, given that schools have control of how they spend their budgets. Cut their budgets, presumably, and force them to make redundancies.

After all, what about that £4 billion? That £4 billion that apparently pays for these 232,000 talented, dedicated people who help look after the needs of all our children. Well, let's put it into context.

There are 7.2 million children in our state schools. The total education budget is almost £100 billion a year. The NHS computer system that was scrapped because it didn't work, cost £12 billion. In the grand scheme of things, £4 billion isn't really very much. And even if that is the true figure, don't you think it's worth it?

The petition against the removal of teaching assistants can be found here

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