'A good learning support assistant will offer the tools to help the child to succeed.'
A good assistant won't be a barrier to the child working with other children, and all good ones are aware that the more success the child achieves, the less reliant the child will be on their support.
What should you expect from your child's teaching assistant (TA or LSA)?
The role of a teaching assistant
Support assistants are taking on increasingly important roles within the classroom, but they are not a replacement for a trained teacher who should maintain overall responsibility for the teaching and learning of all children in their care.
Often they will assist a child with organisation, helping them to become more self-reliant over time. Typically they will help a child achieve behavioural objectives in and out of lessons.
Traditionally, a teaching assistant (TA) assists the teacher, and a learning support assistant (LSA) provides support, sometimes quite specialised, to an individual child or group. However, the roles and titles have become blurred and are interchangeable. Higher level teaching assistants (HLTAs) are qualified personnel who may take on added responsibilities. I
In Scotland the term auxiliary may be used for supporting children with special educational needs. Other terms used include curriculum assistant and classroom assistant.
Most work towards nationally recognised qualifications. A teaching/learning support assistant works alongside pupils on agreed targets and, given adequate training and support, may help the child with the acquisition of new skills. As well as offering in-class support an LSA or TA may be involved with assessment and record keeping, lesson planning and preparation and the modification of teaching and learning materials to meet specific needs.
Teaching/learning support assistants can support pupils of all ages, but their input depends on a number of factors. These include the age of the pupil, the nature of the difficulty and the context in which they are being educated. Their role is far-reaching and varied.
A bridge not a barrier
In most cases the aim of extra support is to give a child access to the mainstream curriculum (though possibly not the whole programme of study). Work shouldn't be too different from that undertaken by the rest of the class, but may be adapted to take account of learning need. The assistant acts as a bridge, helping with what they need to do to get from where they are currently to where they want to be. An assistant may ensure different learning styles are adopted, perhaps kinaesthetic, visual, practical, or act as a scribe or amanuensis to help the child achieve the learning objectives.
It's easy for a child to cling to their support, but while a good assistant will offer social and emotional support, they will at the same time encourage a child to develop friendship groups and rely less on the help and support of others in doing so.
Helping a child develop independence in all aspects of life is a key part of the role, and this includes allowing a child to make mistakes and to look for ways to solve problems rather than just being told the right answers or solutions. Rather than taking over when a child is struggling to achieve something, they will offer the tools to help the child to succeed.
Less is more
The success of TA/LSA support is dependent on close liaison between the teaching staff and the whole school's determination that the pupil be a fully included member from the outset.
What must be avoided is the situation where an assistant is 'glued' to the side of a pupil, in the mistaken belief that this is the only way of giving adequate support.
Nothing could be further from the truth, as this leads only to dependency, reduced interaction between the teacher and the pupil and their peers, and lowered self-esteem. Effective support will enable the pupil to develop the skills necessary to become an independent learner, competent, confident and valued within the school and the wider community.
A teaching assistant in action
Kathryn Lees, supports pupils with visual impairment. Here she offers invaluable insight into her role as a TA.
Good support for the pupil with visual impairment does not remain the same throughout their school career; it constantly evolves to meet the demands of the curriculum and to take into account the developing skills and independence of the pupil.
In nursery, a TA may help to foster the child's natural curiosity, by encouraging them to explore the environment safely, developing language and reasoning.
They may help the pupil with practical tasks such as learning to put on, button and unbutton their coat and change into their PE kit.
Once a child moves into the Foundation Stage the role will be to assist in developing the new skills, which are required to access the curriculum.
Depending on the type of visual impairment and what adaptations are necessary, I will produce reading books and class material in large print or Braille.
Planning with the class teacher and, possibly, a specialist teacher for pupils with visual impairment will have identified how to prepare these in the most appropriate way, and I allocate time to produce them to a high standard. Once they are available the pupil can take part in the class activities along with the other members of the class. Good support at this stage may mean working with the child on the additional curriculum, ie Braille, reinforcing new skills that have previously been taught by the class or specialist teacher.
In the next few years in primary school a touch-typing programme might be introduced, using a screen-reading program such as Jaws or Supernova. I may help the pupil to practise these skills, which can prove invaluable in the years to come, both in terms of speed and presentation of work. The teacher will give me the class's work well in advance so that I can prepare it in a suitable format and return it before the relevant lesson. This ensures that pupils with visual impairment receive their work at the same time as their peers. This introduces more formality and structure into the system and reduces the need for in-class support. Developing this independence now will smooth the transition to high school.
At high school the emphasis will be on the preparation of the vast range of curriculum materials. Again, I will prepare these in advance after close consultation with the teacher. Materials might include tactile maps, diagrams, graphs and charts. I may also be involved in pre-teaching, revision and study skills sessions if these have been identified as a priority, and may act as a scribe or a reader in examinations (with the permission of the examinations board).
I may also help the pupil to access the Internet and, at A level, act as a research assistant!
Kathryn Lees is a teaching assistant working for Harrow Sensory and Communication Team (VI), in north London. Her post is centrally funded so she can work in different schools and is deployed where her particular skills are most needed. Kathryn is a Braillist, and she uses technology to produce many of the materials needed for pupils. Kathryn is a major source of support to new TAs, especially during their induction period. She can be seen and heard on a DVD produced by the DCSF as part of the induction pack for TAs.
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