Primary education: listening and observing
Primary education: listening and observing

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Primary education: listening and observing

4 Learning lives in the primary school

In the video that you will watch in a moment, the following six people talk about how they came to be in their roles in a primary school and how they continue to learn 'on the job':

  • Vicky, a teaching assistant who is also training to be an occupational therapist
  • Tina, a higher level teaching assistant (HLTA), who began working in the primary school after her own children had started school
  • Jean, a pupil support assistant, who also began work in a school after being a full-time mum for many years
  • Hugh, a grandparent and retired police janitor, who helps with Primary 1 children, especially the younger children who sometimes require a bit more support
  • Lucy, a teaching assistant who used to work in a supply capacity in schools, often having to learn on the spot
  • Pam, a volunteer parent studying for a teaching assistant certificate and with a particular interest in special needs.

Activity 1 Different starting points for learning

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

As you watch and listen to these six people talk about their backgrounds and their learning lives, think about the questions that follow.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 2
Skip transcript: Video 2

Transcript: Video 2

So laying down flat on your backs with your arms outstretched on the mats. Some of them have coordination difficulties. Some of them have communication difficulties. Basically, the group is formed with model children as well so that children can learn from each other. And it's to develop their gross motor skills, which hopefully will have an impact on their learning. Excellent! And roll the other way! All across the mats! So we use the Play to Learn programme. And I take it a little bit further than that, using my occupational therapy skills. At the moment, I'm studying part time to become an occupational therapist. Stretch as high as you can! Stretch your legs out, Ryan! Oops! Where are you going? Excellent! That is fantastic. I left school at 16 and went and did A-levels, sort of sixth education. And then went to university for a few months to study law and Spanish. Found that wasn't for me. I didn't enjoy it at all. So then I went into NatWest Bank and worked my way up there. I became an in-house financial advisor and lasted about four years there until I really don't want to do this anymore. So I went to work for a specialist learning disabilities company that helped remediate learning difficulties through exercise. Unfortunately, I was made redundant there, so I came to Herbert Thompson as behaviour support. And then have decided to stay. Stop and freeze. I've decided to study occupational therapy. So I do that part time. Let me do this again.
You'll never guess what I did. I went off the ball onto the mat.
Wow, did you? You had a soft landing. That's it! So leaning backwards. Excellent. I haven't really done a teaching assistant course. But I think because I have worked with children through work experience at school and college and through my last job as well, I was taught a lot of safety techniques within my last role, which I've transferred here. And also school policies, being involved in PE lessons, things like that. You can also model what the teacher does, which will help you, then, to develop your own style of dealing with the children. You like this, don't you? Try leaning-- try turning around and facing forward. Are they? That's OK. We won't be long.
We're going to have some silent thinking time while we're on the carpet. If you want to close your eyes--
Well I've been working with children for the last 20 years starting off with preschool children. And then I decided I I wanted to sort of broaden my horizon and work within a school environment. So once my own children started school, I approached other schools. I sent a CV all around to schools in Windsor expressing my wanting to work in schools.
What else can you do with a ball, Harrison?
Glide. Well done, good boy. So you going to write that down? Yeah. I started off as a general TA in the mornings. And then after various courses, I've done the TA introduction course. I've done the NVQ level two, NVQ level 3, the maths literacy courses, and then on to HLTA. I also just recently finished my course on PSHE and got a certificate from the university for that. And I enjoy my job very much. I think the more courses you go on and the more qualifications you get on, I think it helps you to enhance and help children with their learning abilities, as well as my own learning abilities.
Quite hard to earn things. Because you're not get them for just doing good work. You're getting them for being kind.
Being honest.
Honest is very good. I came into it. I had been off work for several years to have my family. I've got two daughters. So I was a full time mum. Very lucky to be able to stay at home and be a full time mum until they were of age in secondary school, I felt I could go back to work in a part time role. Before I had the children, I worked in clerical, in an office. So I applied to work in the office at St Patrick's and was very lucky to get the job. After a while, I decided I loved working with the children and I soon realised at that point, the children-- I kind of got-- had a good relationship with the children. And a post came up for a pupil support assistant in the school. And I went to the head teacher and asked her would it be for me to still keep my role as clerical and do the pupil support assistant. And she thought, yeah, wouldn't see that as a problem. I had to go in training and do the additional support for learning part and learn all about what these children-- you know, are about what my role was going to be. And I worked in particular with one wee boy who had huge emotional and behavioural problems in class. And I really was with him the whole time. And then time moved on and this position came up to be full time and I had to make a decision. And I decided I definitely wanted to be doing the role as a pupil support assistant. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. I hear a lot of bickering. You know, in here that's not what we do. What we do, Vinny?
Well, me and Ethan are taking turns.
Take turns, but don't argue.
What insects should we start with-- I was a police janitor for 12 years. I retired through ill health. I was asked if I would like to volunteer to help with the children in St. Patrick's Primary. My PNC check through working with the police still covered me. Which meant I was allowed to come and work with the children. After a check, Miss Campbell requested if I would like to come and help with the primary ones with Miss Kelly, which I was more than happy to do. I know. Can you show me? Can you show me? Let me see. We've got to write... Before we started the lesson, I was requested to work with one of the children on a one-to-one to bring them on a bit. And good, OK? All right, Naomi. That's a bike. That's correct. So fill it in the one for bike, the bike one. That's it. Good boy. I'm helping a couple of the children who need-- who require extra help through no fault of themselves. They're the youngsters in a class. They have just turned five and joined when they were four. We have ones that have come in that were five, actually, when they come into Primary One, they are more advanced. Miss Kelly works with them. The ones who are younger, I tend to work with those to help her. And I'm bringing the ones through my group. He's coming on. He's getting there. His mind wanders. But most children's do. You're not watching my hand. Where's your alphabet? See? The feedback I get off of the children is great. I enjoy interacting with young children, which you get great back. You can see them coming on. And you see them when they come to you that they're learning while listening to you.
I've been a teaching assistant now for about four years. And I started working in the nursery and I secured a job through doing supply work, actually, which was really brilliant. I signed up with New Directions and they just would phone you up at sort of 7:00 in the morning and say, can you get halfway across Cardiff or into the valleys. And I would have to say yes I can make it or no I can't. And then you get to the school. And you're really thrown in the deep end, actually, doing supply. It's a real steep learning curve, you know. You don't know what to expect. They don't give you any information on the phone, what class you're going to be in, what the situation is. There was a couple of times where I would go to a school and I'd be working one on one with a child with quite a severe disability. And I don't have experience working with disabled children and I just had to learn on the spot. And I would be asked to do things like change a nappy of sort of a 10-year-old child. And I've got no experience with that. But you actually just had to get on with it. Ask all the questions that you needed to, get support from the staff. I think that's one thing I learned quite quickly was to ask when I wasn't sure, just to ask for support or ask for someone to come and show me what I needed to do.
I am a volunteer. I came straight into the classroom and I've been learning bits and pieces. It was mainly, to start with, to help support my son who's got a special needs statement. And along the way, I decided this is really what I want to do now. It made sense, spare time to come in here and also get background to his learning and how I may be able to help. So that's how I started out. Decided I liked it and thought this is the path for me. And decided to start a college course to support that. While I'm here, I'll get a qualification and enjoy myself along the way. The course I'm studying is a certificate in teaching assistance. It's level two. And its a new found qualification, what they call a QCF, which is a qualification certificate framework. I have learned how the curriculum has changed over the years. And having left school 30 years ago, it's sort of coming back to me slowly. And also I'm learning along the way with the children, maybe things I've forgotten, maybe new things. But I'm learning all the way. At the moment, I've just got my sights on the level two and the level three teaching assistant. But I'm going to see how it goes and see where it takes me and see what parts around that I can take. And maybe do some special needs courses alongside that.
Mrs Crawford, can you give us two numbers?
I think we should start at 19 down to 9.
End transcript: Video 2
Video 2
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).
  • What kinds of formal learning can you identify in the teaching assistants’ comments?
  • What kinds of informal learning can you identify?
  • What knowledge, skills and understanding have the teaching assistants developed through formal and informal learning?
  • How do the teaching assistants apply their learning to their current jobs in the schools?
  • How are they continuing to learn in their workplaces? What knowledge, skills and understanding are they developing in their current roles?
  • Linking to the reading you did earlier about Anne and the Learning Lives project, can you identify how each of the teaching assistants creates a ‘story’ about her or his learning?
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Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


The six people who work and volunteer in the primary school all had different starting points as learners. Some had formal academic qualifications or training when they began to work in the primary school – sometimes from quite different professions to primary school education. Others learned informally, at home or in the community. They draw on the skills and knowledge they developed in other walks of life and bring these to the primary school. Crucially, they all have an interest in children’s learning and development. They use this interest to reflect on their own learning, attitudes and behaviour as adults.

As they work alongside children and other professional adults, they develop skills in observation, sensitive listening, and knowing when and how much to intervene. They get to know children well, and this knowledge enables them to provide appropriate levels of support for children’s individual needs. They are developing knowledge of curriculum subjects like maths and literacy. They are also developing ‘soft’ skills for communication, team working and collaboration.

They can all describe their ‘story’ as adult learners, identifying where and how they learned and how they made decisions as learners. All this helps them to work in a productive and professional way with other adults and with children.


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