Schools

Teaching Assistants Day: Recognising the vital role TAs play

29 September 2023

Teaching assistants, often referred to as TAs in the education system, support teachers with their work and help pupils with reading, writing, and learning activities in schools. TAs make up over a quarter of the workforce in schools, with a population of 281,100 full-time teaching assistants across the UK, as at last academic year.

From preschools to universities, TAs contribute significantly to the outcomes of young people and the overall quality of education. Their duties vary according to the education level they work in but generally include helping pupils with topics they’re struggling with, assisting SEND pupils who need extra support to complete tasks, helping teachers to plan learning activities, conducting assessments as well as supporting teachers in managing class behaviour.

National TA Day

Teacher recruitment agency, Teaching Personnel, introduced National Teaching Assistants’ Day in 2012 to celebrate and highlight the vital work teaching assistants do in our classrooms daily. Since then, the UK has marked National Teaching Assistants’ Day on 29 September with schools across the country celebrating their own TAs and nominating their favourites for the Teaching Assistant of the Year award.

The TA Experience

Action Tutoring’s marketing manager, Kellie Coyle recounts her experience as a TA in a primary school in Luton, north of London after completing university in Birmingham.

“I became a TA to help me decide whether or not I wanted to go into the teaching profession and commit to teacher training. I decided I didn’t, but loved the experience nonetheless.”

Kellie’s best part about being a TA was working in small intervention groups outside of the classroom.

“It was great to observe my groups enjoying the subject a bit more as a result of being able to go at their own pace and to see their confidence increase.”

However, the support needed in the primary school was more than Kellie had imagined.

“My least favourite part was seeing that many pupils in the classroom needed this kind of support, and not being able to give them all that extra attention.”

Supporting pupils

The Challenges

Despite their impact, teaching assistants in the UK face a unique set of challenges. There is a crisis for teaching assistant recruitment and retention as a survey found that three-quarters had thought about leaving in the past year.

With the cost of living crisis, many TAs are struggling financially and being compelled to change jobs or take second jobs to supplement their income. This finding is captured in a new report by National Foundation for Educational Research. Teachers and school leaders in the report highlighted how the crisis is leading TAs to quit in favour of better-paid jobs in other sectors such as hospitality and retail as they offer either increased pay or more working hours. Since the pandemic, while most roles offer hybrid, remote, and other flexible working conditions, TAs don’t have the option of working from home.

Additionally, limited opportunities for professional development often leave them feeling undervalued and overlooked. Furthermore, the emotional toll of working with young people facing a myriad of challenges, from poverty to mental health issues, can be overwhelming. Many teaching assistants form deep bonds with their students and carry the weight of their struggles long after the school day ends.

Effective deployment of TAs

An Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) guidance report released in 2021, Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants, found that the typical methods of deploying TA did not yield positive results in terms of pupil attainment.

The report recommended more investment in the professional development of TAs to deliver more structured interventions to complement high-quality teaching and tutoring support in schools.

While it’s abundantly clear that TAs make meaningful contributions to their schools, it’s imperative to recognise that the key to enhancing pupil outcomes hinges on how they are deployed and upskilled to deliver interventions.

A nation’s gratitude

TA Day is a chance to shine a well-deserved spotlight on them and for schools, parents, and pupils to show their gratitude for the dedication and hard work of TAs.

As you reflect on the education journey of your own child or your own learning experience, remember the teaching assistants who played pivotal roles in shaping your path. Take a moment to appreciate their support, guidance, and the positive impact they’ve made on countless lives.

“My message to TAs as we celebrate this day is thank you for being that positive, friendly, crucial pillar of support for so many pupils – they will always remember you.”

Kellie

‘Thank You’ notes that melted our hearts last term

15 September 2023

One of the reasons why working with children is fulfilling is that you get to see them grow, learn and develop every single time. The endless energy, creativity and playfulness they exude always brings joy and excitement.

However, working with children isn’t all rosy. Sometimes we have to manage their energy, brutal honesty, and humour. But these challenges are outweighed by the rewards of watching pupils grow in subject knowledge and confidence.

At the end of each term or school programme, a heart-warming moment for many of our volunteers and staff is when pupils share inspiring and engaging thank-you notes of appreciation.

Here are ten of the remarkable notes of gratitude from pupils who were supported by our volunteers and programme team last term:

1. What a blast!

Thank you note from pupil

2. Experience the magic 24/7

Thank you note from pupil

3. Who wouldn’t like a PS5 as a reward?

Thank you note from pupil

4. Missing Kitty

Thank you note from pupil

A tell-all with express permission

Thank you note from pupil

6. Cheers to behavioural change!

Thank you note from pupil

7. They who laughs last, laughs best?

Thank you note from pupil

8. Choosing to learn over biscuits

Thank you note from pupil

9. The heart emoji keeps filling up

Thank you note from pupil

10. Football rivalry knows no boundaries!

Thank you note from pupil

Another amazing year together ahead

These words of appreciation and witnessing a pupil progress from strength to strength are why we do what we do. To all of our volunteer tutors, we want to say thank you for your selflessness and dedication. You make a real difference in the lives of children, and we are so grateful for your service.

With the 2023-24 new academic year starting in earnest, we look forward to another great year of supporting pupils together and some fun thank you notes.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer tutor, find out more in the link below.

Our evidence submission: Tackling persistent absence and support for disadvantaged pupils

25 May 2023

Since the onset of Covid-19, a significant challenge for schools and other education support organisations has been persistent pupil absence. When students frequently miss school or display a pattern of irregular attendance, it can have far-reaching consequences on their academic progress, personal development, and future prospects.

In March, Action Tutoring submitted written evidence to Parliament’s Education Committee inquiry into persistent absence and support for disadvantaged pupils. The parliamentary inquiry was aimed at examining the issue of severe absences, the factors causing it and to assess the likely effectiveness of the Department of Education’s (DfE) proposed reforms on attendance, particularly for disadvantaged pupils.

As an education charity and accredited tuition provider, our submission focused on pupil engagement in tutoring sessions – pre and post-pandemic, reasons for low school attendance, the impact of tutoring programmes for disadvantaged pupils, and ways to increase attendance and engagement in schools.

Tutoring attendance and engagement

The attendance figures for Action Tutoring programmes are slightly lower than before the outbreak, mirroring national patterns. Our data showed that the Pupil Premium cohort – children receiving Free School Meals who formed 72% of our beneficiaries – had lower attendance figures.

For primary schools in the autumn of 2022, attendance at Action Tutoring sessions was 82% for Pupil Premium pupils and 86% for non-Pupil Premium pupils. 

In secondary schools for the same term, attendance was 66% for Pupil Premium pupils and 72% for non-Pupil Premium pupils. 

Tutoring sessions for both primary and secondary take place outside the regular school hours.

The severity of persistent absence

Persistent pupil absence goes beyond occasional absences due to an illness or family emergency. It involves students who are consistently absent without valid reasons and hence miss a substantial number of school days, often exceeding the accepted threshold.

According to the Department for Education (DfE), a pupil is identified as a persistent absentee if they miss 10% or more of their possible sessions. Nationally, over 1.7 million pupils (24.2% of all pupils) missed 10% or more of their school sessions in Autumn 2022-23, up from 23.5% the previous year. This compares to 922,566 absentee pupils before the pandemic.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) School Absence Tracker has shown that the number of children who are severely absent remains at crisis levels and the situation worsens among pupils eligible for Free School Meals(FSM). In the 2021/22 academic year, the severe absence rate for pupils eligible for FSM was more than triple the rate for children not eligible for FSM.

Causes of persistent pupil absence

In our evidence submission, we mentioned that some of the causes of persistent absence may include:

  • poor mental health
  • illness including long-term illness or fear of infecting vulnerable family members with an illness
  • chaotic home lives or factors such as additional caring responsibilities
  • post-Covid fear of finding learning difficult, being demoralised, or feeling left behind 
  • lacking the confidence to engage in the classroom
Pupils in classroom
Pupils in classroom. Credit: Pexels/Yan Krukau

What needs to change

Tackling persistent pupil absence requires a multi-faceted approach involving collaboration between schools, families, and communities. As a tutoring organisation that provides additional academic help to pupils, below are some strategies we believe can help improve attendance and engagement with the young people we support.

  • Sharing drinks and snacks during tutoring sessions to reduce hunger
  • Letters and text reminders to parents and parent information sessions about the tutoring and its benefits
  • Incentives for pupils such as vouchers or free tickets to the end-of-year prom if they attend the majority of their tutoring sessions
  • Pizza parties at the end of the programme
  • Award ceremony or presentation of certificates in assembly at the end of the programme
  • Reminders earlier in the school about their tutoring session and/or picking them up from their last lesson into tutoring sessions
  • Integrate attendance into the positive behaviour management system such as gaining points for their ‘house’ through attendance

New DfE’s solutions to tackle persistent absence

Last week, the DfE published a notice on new plans to drive up attendance rates and attainment in schools.

  • Expand the Attendance Hubs programme with nine new lead hub schools to support up to 600 primary, secondary, and alternative provision schools
  • Expand the presence of Attendance Mentors in areas of the country with the highest levels of pupil absence from September

The proposed solutions are to build on the existing attendance strategy which includes guidance for schools, attendance data dashboard and the work of the Attendance Action Alliance.

Collaborative approach

Persistent pupil absence poses a significant challenge to schools and the well-being of students. If the issue is not addressed, the nation risks creating a lost generation which may give rise to a surge of problems in the future.

By implementing a collaborative approach that addresses the underlying causes, provides support, and fosters a positive school environment, we can begin to tackle this issue effectively to help every child to reach their full potential.