Support staff and teachers

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Rights and conditions
02 November 2016
The working relationships between education support staff and teachers are vitally important for successful schools.

Such relationships need to be worked at and developed to ensure that both teachers and support staff fully benefit from them and in turn that the pupils do too.

Successful relationships

One of the important points to remember is that for a successful working relationship to take place there has to be commitment and understanding on both sides.

If you are a teaching assistant, the teacher of your class should keep you fully informed about the intention of the lesson, the way he or she has planned it and what he or she hopes the outcomes will be. That way you will be able to enhance the lesson by building on the objectives that have been set.

Behaviour is another area where you need to be kept fully informed. If there was an accident involving pupils in the class, you must know what is expected of you and likewise if there is a disruptive pupil, any action must fit in with the school's behaviour and discipline policy. If there have been previous difficulties with a certain pupil, your teacher should tell you about this so you are aware and can react accordingly if there are further problems.

Teachers do sometimes have different teaching styles and if you are working in a number of classes with various teachers, you may have to regularly adapt to differing methods of teaching. Again, keeping a clear line of communication open always helps with this.

Guidance for support staff and their roles has been published by the Workforce Agreement Monitoring Group (WAMG), of which ATL is part. It can be found in: WAMG note 5, WAMG note 6 and WAMG note 22.

Top tips

There is no doubt that the increased numbers of support staff within schools have resulted in substantial benefits for both pupils and teachers alike. To ensure the pupils at your school reap the benefits, here are some key things for teachers and support staff to keep in mind in order to build and maintain successful working relationships:

1. Keep each other fully informed about everything that affects the other's role. Teachers and teaching assistants need to make time to talk before and after lessons to ensure there is an opportunity to exchange information and share concerns.

2. Don't be afraid to ask each other for advice. Teachers should be aware that their individual style of teaching may differ from some of their teaching colleagues and should not make assumptions that teaching assistants will automatically understand the objectives of their lessons.

3. New teachers in particular should build on the teaching assistant's relationships with the pupils. They may have been working with a class, or a specific pupil, for some time and have consequently built up a good understanding of the pupil's abilities and learning needs.

4. Many teaching assistants work closely with pupils with special educational needs and have become integral to a school's SEN provision. Teachers will find that an experienced teaching assistant's knowledge of SEN can be extremely helpful and support staff could work closely with teachers to suggest areas of support which will be most beneficial for individual pupils.

5. If they are taking a whole class, teachers will not always find it possible to identify immediately if a pupil is falling behind or not understanding the work whereas teaching assistants working with individual pupils or groups of pupils are ideally placed to recognise such circumstances and address them accordingly. Many teachers will rely on a teaching assistant's judgement during a lesson and both parties will feedback afterwards and work on plans to address learning issues. Teachers often appreciate having a colleague to bounce ideas off and when a teacher/support staff relationship is working at its most effective this can happen on a regular basis.

Higher level teaching assistants

Guidance on higher level teaching assistant (HLTA) posts, designed to help schools plan their workforce, has been published by WAMG. It can be found in: WAMG note 5, WAMG note 9, WAMG note 12 and WAMG note 17.

The guidance recognises that, while accountability for overall learning outcomes rests with the teacher, support staff make a significant contribution to raising standards in schools.

Higher level teaching assistants (HLTAs) have greater complexity and autonomy than other classroom support roles. They may undertake the more demanding elements of 'specified work' under the direction and supervision of a teacher, or guide the work of other adults supporting teaching and learning in the classroom, for example.

HLTAs may have multiple roles, and headteachers will consult with individuals when drawing up roles and timetables. The guidance also confirms that cover supervision is not an HLTA role.

Other key points set out in the guidance

HLTAs working with whole classes should not mean any reduction in the support for pupils from a teacher.

HLTA training and assessment programmes are not age or subject specific, so further training may be necessary for particular roles depending on the previous skills, expertise and experience of the individual.

Supervision arrangements for HLTAs should include time for teachers and support staff to discuss planning and pupil progress within contracted hours.

Grading, pay and conditions of support staff should reflect the level of work they are undertaking.

HLTAs should not solely be used for whole class supervision and should not be employed on a series of contracts, only being paid at a higher rate for the hours they are working with whole classes.

See also