Author: By Hilary Wilce
New research seems to show that children who spend a lot of time being
supported in the classroom by teaching assistants do no better than children
who don’t get any time with these helpers. These parents are worried that
their daughter, who is weak at maths, is being shunted off to a teaching
assistant for help in this subject, when what she really needs is help from
her teacher. Should they, they wonder, complain to her school?
My advice is: don’t just look at newspaper headlines, but look carefully at
your daughter’s situation. Is there evidence that she is falling behind in
maths? What do her books look like? Is her work carefully marked and clearly
commented on? What sense do you get of how good her teacher is, and how
skilled ? or not ? this particular teaching assistant appears to be. Talk to
other parents. Gather views. Stay alert and then, if you seriously think
there is a problem, make an appointment to talk to her teacher. Ask exactly
how much time your daughter spends with the teaching assistant, and how this
compares to other pupils. Explain you believe she struggles with maths and
needs more proper teaching to help her ? one problem with teaching
assistants appears to be that they are too swift to give children answers,
without helping them understand how to arrive at them. But don’t just jump
in with both feet. Teaching assistants, just like teachers, vary enormously,
and there are those who are terrific at their job.
Teaching assistants always support the children who are struggling, and who
aren’t going to make as much progress as other children. I wonder if the
researchers whose work has been in the newspapers took this into account.
Helen Garton, Essex
I am boiling at people putting teaching assistants down! I worked as a TA in
two primary schools for ten years and saw loads of mistakes being made by
teachers, especially in maths. I saw children being taught things that were
just wrong. As TAs, we were always told never to undermine a teacher, so I
had to bite my lip and say nothing. Not all teaching assistants are great,
but neither are all teachers. But having a good teacher and a good TA in the
classroom working together can be magic, and if that is what your daughter
has, she is lucky.
Mo Wilkinson, Kent
Teaching assistants are not teachers. They are not trained or paid as
teachers. If we want them to be teachers, we should train and pay them more,
but they were the Government’s way of doing education on the cheap and, in
many schools, their main use is to help keep order in the classroom and
occupy the worst-behaved pupils. That is not to denigrate what they do, but
having a lot of teaching assistants in schools is not the same as having an
adequate number of teachers. Finally we have someone coming out and showing
the results of this.
Graeme Jowell, Brighton
Next Week’s Quandary
We are a very musical family with two children under three. We have been told
that music is poorly taught in state schools and that we will have to put
the children into private schools if we want them to get a good musical
education, but we can’t afford this.
Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed, to
h.wilce@btinternet. com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose
replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th
Edition. Previous quandaries are online at www.hilarywilce.com. They can be
searched by topic.
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