Professional development for teaching assistants: essential but elusive
A new EEF guidance report (2021) highlights the positive impact of effective professional development on teachers’ classroom practice and subsequent pupil outcomes. This is supported by the government’s recent Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy (2019), which introduced an Early Career Framework and specialist NPQs for teachers, to create a culture of ongoing professional development. While this commitment to CPD or teaching staff is welcome and much needed, it overlooks a substantial body of educational professionals, who have a significant role in teaching and learning within classrooms. What about professional development for teaching assistants?
The Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants Guidance Report (EEF, 2018) draws together the findings from an extensive body of research into the work of teaching assistants and emphasises why quality CPD is just as crucial for these staff. Teaching assistants tend to adopt two specific roles in schools: support in classrooms and delivery of structured interventions. While supporting in lessons, TAs need to be fully prepared for their role, understanding the pedagogy being used, and require extensive training (5-30 hours) to deliver interventions effectively.
What are the benefits of CPD for teaching assistants?
In my role as Suffolk TA Network Coordinator, I champion the professional development needs of my members through a comprehensive termly training and networking programme, tailored directly to their needs and those of the pupils they work with. However, this experience has also exposed me to the barriers that exist. In 2021, I commissioned an independent report to assess the impact of the Network over its first six months (Allman, 2021). One of the key conclusions of this report was that training opportunities had allowed members to develop new skills, with one member commenting; “At last, good quality training to support my role that I haven’t had to find myself!”. Prior to the Network, teaching assistants tended to only find out about training through their line manager and seemed to have little ownership over their own professional learning.
Why aren’t TAs prioritised for professional development?
Even with an increased awareness of relevant professional development opportunities, various logistical obstacles still remain. Teaching assistants are frequently only employed for the hours pupils are in school, leaving precious little time to factor in CPD. Creative solutions may be found by schools, such as withdrawing teaching assistants from the classroom to attend courses, offering time in lieu for training hours or ‘inviting’ TAs to participate in whole-school CPD on a voluntary basis. None of these options offer an ideal scenario, either leaving pupils unsupported or creating divides between TAs who may be perceived as more ‘committed’ because they volunteer outside of their contracted hours, and those who, quite fairly, can’t or won’t.
What needs to happen?
Teaching assistants have been labelled the ‘unsung heroes of the pandemic’ (Moss et al, 2021) in a study, which has bought into sharp focus how integral their role is in schools. Despite this positive picture, I receive regular reports of a crisis in the recruitment of teaching assistants across the country. I believe that now is the perfect time for the government to create a TA Recruitment and Retention Strategy, committing to an evidence-informed professional development pathway, beginning with an Early Career Framework to provide a strong foundation to effective practice. In order for this to have real impact, a clear career structure and accompanying appropriate pay scale is essential. As a network, we have begun to explore this journey and will continue to spread our message until this vision is achieved.
This guest blog was written by Abi Joachim, Coordinator of the Suffolk TA Network. Find out more about their work here. Looking for whole-school CPD for every educator in your school? Check out our CPD bundles!
Abi Joachim, Suffolk TA Network Coordinator
Abi has worked as a teaching assistant, and later HLTA, for over twenty years. In 2020, she received Opportunity Area funding to establish and run the Suffolk TA Network. The Network promotes and supports the work of TAs across Suffolk through a range of training and networking opportunities. If you are interested in the work of the Suffolk TA Network or developing your own TA network, contact email@example.com. Follow Suffolk TA Network on Twitter @SuffolkTan.