Sara was asked to write this Blog to help support SENDCos
The relationship between teacher and TA in primary is often smooth, they work within the one classroom have defined roles and make it work well.
However, it is much more challenging in secondary and having worked with many secondary schools and many secondary SENCos. I have taken a look at the issues and suggested some ways to make it work!
What are the barriers to effective communication between teachers and TAs?
First and foremost the issue is the number of different teachers to communicate with and not having a single system to follow, some TAs will dutifully track teachers down and ask about the lesson plan, equally some teachers will send over lesson plans and have clear plans for the TA during the lesson, others perhaps don’t have the time, confidence or experience to do this.
A lack of clearly defined roles can lead to further issues, the main one being the “velcroed TA.” It is often the case that TA support is attached to certain pupils but in order to encourage independence the TA needs to leave them to get on and support other pupils, if the teacher doesn’t indicate this they can tend to sit with the “named pupil.”
Now let’s face it TAs are low paid and this leads to them (unlike teachers) not being willing to give up their lunch break, in fact many schools I work with have TAs on a contract where they get 30 minutes for lunch and then have duties, so they wouldn’t have time and they are usually only contracted until 10 or 15 minutes after school ends, if they are contracted to start at 8am, this is so they can help with breakfast clubs and it is therefore hard to get time with them.
What works well to encourage effective communication between teachers and TAs?
One model that works excellently, is the subject specialist TA, this works excellently in a school I work with. Each TA is attached to a department, they are line managed by the HOD largely, although they still have to answer to the SENCo for contributions to annual reviews, pupil passports being updated etc. They work within the department, they attend department meetings and develop subject knowledge. Communication between teachers and TAs flows naturally. It works best if they can have ownership over which department they support, for example being asked to support MFL would be my worst nightmare but one TA I know loves languages and thrives on it, even taking a night class to learn Spanish so she could support classes better.
Giving them an area to specialise in works well, take all the areas of need and ask the TA team what they are interested in. Once the specialisms are allocated the “specialist TA” for ASD would attend any training around ASD, likewise for ADHD, dyslexia etc etc. This works effectively in a school I work with, the TAs have a sense of purpose and ownership of their specialism.
Of course the issue with the above models is lack of TAs, only the big schools have enough TAs to accommodate these ideas? However the specialist SEND area can work with less TAs as they can still take an interest in one or maybe two specialist areas and the subject idea can be applied to faculties which the smaller schools often use for teaching staff anyway and there is usually less teachers as well as TAs. A grammar school I work with has only one TA and they are attached to a specific child, but they are the expert in that child’s needs and the SENCo refers teachers to the TA for advice.
It’s also important to play to their strengths, most TAs are good with children, that’s why they want to work with children. However some may be working in the role to accommodate their own childcare needs and may have excellent admin skills which can be utilised, equally others may not be as good at admin and they resent being asked to do it as much, as the SENCo and teachers feel frustration at the endless questions and mistakes.
Communication is key, building in routines that the TA is expected to follow reduces the need to have to tell them what you want them to do, for example I worked with an excellent TA and we split the group and after some whole class teaching from me (she set up her activities whilst I did this) and then we rotated the children in groups so there were some working independently, some working with me and some with her. Although some TAs don’t like this model they want to be directed and that also works, others get irritated by being directed as they feel they are being treated like one of the children so any new teacher/ TA relationship is benefited from a very brief (2 minute) conversation to establish their views. Sometimes it is a lack of confidence and they would love to take charge of a group but don’t feel they have the skills, “What’s the worst that can happen?” encourage them to leave their comfort zones and they may enjoy it!
Building in time on INSET days and paying the TAs to attend (if they aren’t contracted for INSET), have activities they can learn from and ensure that time is built in for them to speak with teaching staff- this is made a whole lot easier if they work within one department but it works nevertheless.
Hold termly meetings after school (again they may need paying not least because they may have to pay someone to mind their children so they can attend), or get their duty covered so they can use lunchtime, where they have time to meet with teachers and this is directed time for teachers as part of the meeting schedule, even if this can be accommodated just once at the start of year it allows the teacher and TA to agree what works for both parties.
I know of one secondary teacher who emails the TA some tasks she would like preparing by the TA and then once a week instead of supporting the class, the TA prepares for this and the teacher plans for a lesson she can deliver without TA support. The TA loves it because she feels involved and is delivering something to a group that she has prepared independently (again comfort zones and confidence can be a barrier to this but start simple).
Overall TAs are a fantastic resource and if some time is invested in utilising them to the full they can support learning effectively, really contribute to the children’s learning and make the teacher’s life easier into the bargain.
So in summary, communication, playing to their strengths and giving them some ownership of the role are the key principles.