The End of Teaching Assistants?

The head master of Uplands Junior school believes that Teaching Assistants are surplus to his children’s learning requirements: his staff disagree. Consequently given the school’s managements all too evident inability to engage in constructive dialogue, members of the National Union of Teachers were forced to go on strike yesterday.

So why exactly does Uplands’ head master/management consultant, Dr Luckcock, think he is right and his staff so wrong? Well the simple answer is that he “read” a report from a pro-privatisation educational charity that kindly informed him that Teaching Assistants are old hat.

So the question remains: is Dr Luckcock right?

Well the report in question — which Luckcock is so enamoured with — was written for the Sutton Trust in early 2011; whose ensuing press release was picked-up and uncritically regurgitated by the corporate media as news! News which informed the British public that: “Hiring more teaching assistants is associated with ‘very small or no effects on attainment’.”

Going back to the Sutton Trust report, not the press release, it is true that the report concludes that: “Most studies have consistently found very small or no effects on attainment…”

The report then asks itself “How secure is the evidence?” And while the report comes to the decision that the evidence is strong, on closer examination it turns out that the evidence is not secure at all.

The evidence presented to support the Sutton Trust’s outlandish claim refers to just five academic reports, one of which is a review of 232 studies; that incidentally refers very positively to two of the other four reports cited by the Sutton report. This 2009 review article is titled “The Impact of Adult Support Staff on Pupils and Mainstream Schools,” and low and behold its results directly contradict the conclusions of the Sutton Trust’s report.

Here it is worth citing at length the executive summary of the said review article, which as stated on its first page concludes:

Literature suggests that trained and supported teaching assistants (TAs) can have a positive impact on the progress of individual or small groups of children, in the development of basic literacy skills. In addition, ‘sensitive’ TA support can facilitate pupil engagement in learning and social activities, with the class teacher and their peers; that is, sensitive TA support can both facilitate interaction, and also reflect an awareness of times when pupils need to undertake self-directed choices and actions. Evidence suggests that TAs can promote social and emotional adjustment in social situations…

The review suggests the deployment of the TA workforce has been successful in providing support for teachers on a number of levels and in delivering benefits to pupils. To enhance these impacts, it is necessary to ensure effective management and support for TAs, including effective training and clear career structure.

Such conclusions hardly provide a justification for the loss of the highly valued Teaching Assistants at Uplands or anywhere else for that matter.

Unfortunately, Uplands staff who were members of Unison and GMB were unable to partake in official strike action yesterday, but they are now in the process of being balloted on industrial action; which, no doubt,will lead to yet another successful strike.

When this strike takes place show your solidarity with the schools staff and pop down to their picket line to say hello: as such solidarity will make an indispensable gift in the struggles that lie ahead for all workers, and ultimately will contribute towards helping build the strength of rank and file organizations like the National Shop Stewards Network, that will enable us all to help make a fairer more just world for everyone.


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