Monday, 3 June 2013

Are teaching assistants useful?

This sounds like the start of a stand-up comedy sketch. The education minister tells us that learning by rote is the key to success and we need to go back to O levels. Well I took O levels and I'll tell you what I remember about the one I took in history. Bismark had a foreign and domestic policy and I can also remember the year 1870. That's the sum total of my memory of history O level. I have just looked  up 1870 and there was a Franco-Prussian war in 1870 - 1871 but I couldn't tell you anything else about it. With the sole exception of multiplication tables, my rote learning is not a key to success, it is a key to forgetting.

There are some really important things we learn at school but mostly they are by example. Think back to your school days. Do you remember a syllabus that inspired you to further study or which changed your outlook on life, or do you remember teachers who put you on the right path?

This morning I was listening to Radio 5 and they were taking calls on the role of teaching assistants. Are teaching assistants to be phased out or do they serve a useful purpose? I heard that numbers of teaching assistants had tripled since 1992 when Tony Blair became prime minister. I also heard that there is hardly a classroom without a teaching assistant so any study on the effectiveness of teaching assistants would be difficult to carry out but they had been, according to one caller, and phasing out was appropriate.

This caller felt that the money directed towards increasing the number of teaching assistants could be used in better ways and some head teachers were now refusing to employ them. If this is the case then this is a huge scandal. Tony Blair told us that there was nothing more important than education and most of the money goes into salaries. If we have been moving in the wrong direction then it has cost us dearly not just financially but more importantly we have failed our children. Someone should be responsible.

My feeling is that pupils may be inspired by teaching assistants as well as teachers. My memories of the moments when I was inspired at school do not come from a teacher in front of a class but from the times when a teacher had a moment to speak with me as an individual which was not very often. One to one or small group assistance has a much greater possibility of becoming inspirational and teaching assistants have a greater opportunity of fitting that bill.

If I am wrong and money should have been going to pay extra teachers then we really do deserve an apology.

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