I was having a relaxing bank holiday Monday until I read a newspaper article about the use of teaching assistants supporting children with special educational needs. The article made me rage for several reasons.
Firstly it suggested that SEN children who received the most TA support made less academic progress than similar pupils who received little or no TA support. In this regard the author cites a study of 48 statemented pupils in mainstream primary schools and found that they had fewer interactions with teachers and peers and almost constant and lower quality support from a TA. I can’t deny these findings but I think it is important to note that in some cases not having TA support can be equally detrimental. As you will read later on in this blog, a sole reliance on a teacher (no matter how qualified or experienced) can also have a negative outcome.
Secondly it suggested that parental expectations of securing teaching assistant support should be managed though the new £30 million pound scheme of independent supporters who would warn parents against relying upon TA’s. The author does not specify exactly what the support should be except to say that those working in the best interests of the child need to help parents understand that quality of support is more important than the quantity. It is notable to read that the author is positive about the up and coming SEN reforms as he says it will emphasise high quality teaching in managing special educational needs.
High quality teaching is not a panacea; it will not remove the need for teaching assistants to support some of our SEN children. Without them children can languish, suffer and drop out of school. This is what happened to my two children who were denied TA support in mainstream school and who had to struggle alone in a class of 30. No matter how experienced that teacher was, he/she couldn’t manage my children’s needs in such a large class and the effect was that they both developed health problems and dropped out of school.
For my son, his schooling didn’t get much better when he moved to a special school. Whilst classes were smaller (13 in a group headed by a teacher and supported by a teaching assistant) he still struggled to access learning. He needed more support but never received any and this, I believe, had a major impact on his health which led to significant periods of time out of education. This is the worst sort of outcome for a SEN child; exclusion from the education system because of lack of support!
It is important, for balance sake at least, that we think about children like my son who are denied individual TA support and who have to get by with a class teacher and generalised support. Whilst improved training of the teacher may have helped it would not have solved everything. My son also needed social, emotional and mental health support which should have been provided by a suitably qualified support worker, teaching assistant or mentor.
I am not demanding a full time TA glued to my son’s side but a team of people that can support him as and when the need arises. It is not unreasonable for me to expect this and to suggest that my expectations need managing is downright patronising! I don’t need an independent supporter telling me what I should expect from the education system. If I am going to place my children into the state education system then I expect them to have both quality and quantity of support that’s needed for them to access learning.
To pitch quality above quantity is nothing short than an attempt at cost cutting which invariable puts our SEN children at risk.