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Teaching assistants: support in action (Wales)
Teaching assistants: support in action (Wales)

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4 Looking to the future

It would be a brave person who tries to predict the future in any area of work. However, in gathering resources for this unit we have been in a position to obtain a good sense of how teaching assistants are currently working in primary schools across the UK. We are also in touch with a large number of assistants studying courses with The Open University and note how they write about their day-to-day work. This provides us with an idea of how the role is developing and also how it might possibly develop in the future.

Doubtless, since The Open University first launched a specific advanced qualification for teaching assistants in 1995 (The Specialist Teacher Assistant Certificate), assistants have, increasingly, become involved in the work that teachers do. We would include here the following traditional teacher tasks:

  • planning for children’s learning
  • teaching lessons
  • evaluating and assessing learning
  • teaching whole classes
  • liaising with parents about children and their learning
  • managing and appraising staff.

Of course, not all teaching assistants do all of these things. Some do some of them as well as other kinds of schoolwork such as the preparation of learning resources, playtime supervision, running after-school clubs and collating school records. Such is the extensive range of tasks that assistants perform, some teaching assistants may feel that they don’t, as yet, do any of the items listed but that they are still deployed in other important ways in their school. Some teaching assistants, however, do all six of the duties listed, especially long-serving and senior teaching assistants.

At the time of writing this unit, the extent of teaching assistant involvement in qualified teachers’ work seems to us to be quite considerable. This can be regarded as a steady, albeit quietly implemented, development over time. It has mainly happened since the mid 1990s but many teaching assistants before then were (in fact, if not officially) taking on teaching responsibilities, especially those working with children deemed to have special educational needs.

What seems to be emerging, in schools where staff deployment is approached in a highly creative way, are new teaching assistant roles that can be linked to:

  • staff management responsibilities
  • qualification specialisms that teaching assistants can sometimes bring to their roles
  • teaching assistant enthusiasms, and thus knowledge, in a specific area of the curriculum.

In all three areas teaching assistants are taking on responsibilities that qualified teachers might do.