Effective Communications Between Secondary Teachers and Teaching Assistants to Ensure Effective Classroom Practice

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.

ALL-PARTY PARLIAMENTARY GROUP ON DYSLEXIA AND OTHER SpLDs

The Cost of Dyslexia on our Education System: The next stage of ...

Yesterday we were on a online meeting for the APPG on Dyslexia and Other SpLDs. The following people delivered talks and presentations: Welcome from Sharon Hodgson MP, Chair, APPG for Dyslexia and other SpLDs

Why there is a societal cost of dyslexia from Helen Boden, CEO, British Dyslexia Association

Exclusions and SEND from Simone Vibert, Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England

Dyslexia support in prisons from Lesley Clarke, Novus

SEND and youth offending from Peter Kyle MP, Shadow Minster for Victims and Youth Justice

Dyslexia and the workplace from Wes Baker, Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust

It was an interesting meeting and there were opportunities to ask questions or make additional comments. At least this time we didn’t need to travel all the way to London for the meeting.

OUR GARDEN OFFICE

I am so glad we invested in this Garden Office over 3 years ago. We also have an office in the attic, so we have plenty of space to spread out in these difficult times. It was built by a local joiner and local builder (Ian and Tom Bennett) put the base down first.

SCHOOLS BOOKED IN FOR SEPTEMBER

We already have some schools who have taken the time to plan ahead for September and book several dates for the full academic year. Sara and I are starting to feel more optimistic about the future, we just need to sit tight and wait for the lock down to end/ease. In the meantime we are here for advice, Sara has some more webinars planned and is organising online tuition.

www.literacysolutions.co.uk

EMBRACE NEURODIVERSITY

I watched this documentary years ago. Basically Bill Gates and Steve Jobs struggled with dyslexia, but they amongst others with neurodiversity developed the computers/mobile phones and the software we take for granted today. Before them there was Alan Turing, the father of computing, who also helped with the enigma code in the 2nd World War; he was apparently autistic.

So in these strange times it will be the geeks/the scientists who will either develop a vaccine or other effective therapies to ultimately find a solution to defeat COVID-19 and other emerging pathogens.

LITERACY SOLUTIONS THE STORY SO FAR

It must have been 2007 or 2008 when Sara was approached by the Head Teacher from Sir John Thursby to become a Dyslexia Specialist and embark on a comprehensive course run by Edge Hill University. The government initiative at the time was for many people to become qualified dyslexia assessors and specialist teachers across the country; the qualified people would not only work for their school but would also support other local schools.

Dyslexia is apparently the most common SEN, affecting about 1 in 10 people.

When Sara had nearly completed her course, the 2009 banking crisis happened, and then the 2010 general election meant a change of government, and hence a change in government policy. So whilst Sara did complete her qualification, the job she was supposed to have disappeared.

Fortunately a sabbatical at the University of Edge Hill had been agreed, and Sara actually became a visiting lecturer to help others complete the specialist dyslexia course.

By 2012 Sara was becoming frustrated at not been able to use her qualification and skills benefit as many children as possible, so after some thought and planning she took the decision to become an independent dyslexia assessor and also offer specialist support, so Sara became self-employed in 2013 and Literacy Solutions was born.

Sara had also approached the University of Chester and became a part time visiting lecturer for the Ma Dyslexia Course.

By 2015 Sara was becoming very busy and came home saying she needed to employ someone, possibly part time to help her with administration. This is where the initiative of The Bespoke Administration Services or Business Butler came from. So I became Sara’s office manager.

So 5 years ago I began working for Sara and at the time I knew very little about dyslexia, marketing and my typing skills weren’t brilliant. I have learnt a great deal over the past 5 years about dyslexia and other SpLDS, and I have also developed many other skills.

Sara now has a number of local schools that she works for on a regular basis

LOW CARBON MEETING

I have just been to another Low Carbon meeting. Today’s was on Zoom and delivered by Carol Ann Smith and Shaun McCarthy from Action Sustainability. Basically it is about getting businesses, schools, universities and everyone globally to be more sustainable, and ultimately tackle climate change. It was agreed than even with the current corona virus crisis, climate change is the biggest global issue; we need international collaboration to tackle the problem. The implications of climate change will be far more serious than the affects of corona virus.

Dyslexia testing Lancashire – dyslexia teacher – Irlen Testing provided by Sara Graham Dyslexia Consultant of Literacy Solutions