ON FRIDAY (Feb 18), the Education Minister, Jeremy Miles MS, announced a series of measures to boost the status and work conditions of Wales’s teaching assistants.

Mr Miles said: “Teaching assistants are an integral part of our education workforce, providing vital support to our children and young people day-in, day-out. 

“They have a crucial role to play in helping tackle the impact of poverty on educational attainment and in realising our collective ambitions for Curriculum for Wales.

“Teaching assistants have long highlighted concerns in relation to their roles in schools ranging from access to training, deployment, and terms and conditions. 

“As part of my commitment to support the vital work of our teaching assistants, work is progressing to respond to these concerns with our social partners, including the education trade unions, WLGA and local authorities.

A Task and Finish Group, which also includes teaching assistants and headteacher representation, has identified several key areas for attention:

• deployment of teaching assistants;
• access to training and professional development;
• standardisation of roles; and
• pay, as a long term consideration for local authorities based on outcomes achieved above.

Mr Miles said he was “encouraged” progress was being made and looked forward to working with the Welsh Government’s partners over the coming months to deliver improvements.

DEVELOPING CAREERS

A new Teaching Assistant Professional Learning Steering Group is developing further resources for leaders and Governors on the deployment of teaching assistants. 

The professional learning package, developed in conjunction with headteachers, teaching assistants and regional staff, will be available to leaders and Governors for both live and remote synchronous learning.

The Welsh Government will also fund a comparative research project to look at the deployment of teaching assistants in other education systems, to inform future developments in guidance.

Since 2017, the Welsh Government in partnership with the Regional Consortia has supported the development of a Teaching Assistants Learning Pathway (TALP) in order to increase the number of Higher Level Teaching Assistant candidates, provide training for all new teaching assistants, and offer opportunities to gain level 2 qualifications in certain core subjects.

More recently, since its establishment, the Steering Group has also now been identifying gaps in provision of professional development and training to teaching assistants themselves with the aim of ensuring equality of access to targeted, high quality and consistent training.

From September 2022, teaching assistants will have access to a new National Professional Learning Entitlement to support the delivery of the Curriculum for Wales, which will be easily accessible via Hwb. 

The Entitlement will improve access to the national professional learning offer for school leaders, teachers, and teaching assistants. 

An important part of this professional learning offer will be to ensure that headteachers, teachers and teaching assistants can develop alongside each other, to increase the shared development of ideas and understanding.

Other areas that are currently being explored include setting minimum qualification requirements for teaching assistants and developing further a flexible career pathway for teaching assistants.

The Task and Finish Group will now begin to look at standardising teaching assistants’ roles and will determine whether, and if so how, a standard set of job descriptions can be implemented across Wales.

Mr Miles accepted that the last challenge was complex but hoped the Welsh Government could take steps to ensure greater clarity and consistency in how schools deployed teaching assistants.

STANDARDISATION AND CONSISTENCY

The existence of different pay structures across Wales means the Welsh Government does not have the ability to set pay and conditions for teaching assistants. Their pay remains the responsibility of local authorities and/or schools, with individual authorities having different approaches within their local pay frameworks to reflect local considerations. 

However, Mr Miles said, the work on deployment and standardisation of roles might bring greater coherence to support pay discussions, to work towards greater consistency between local authority areas and to support local authorities to ensure teaching assistants are properly rewarded.

Jeremy Miles continued: “The well-being of the education workforce is of critical importance. I have commissioned Education Support (a specialist provider of well-being resources and support for the education workforce) to explore and develop a bespoke package of well-being support for teaching assistants. 

“The package will be developed in conjunction with teaching assistants taking account of their experiences and specific support requirements. I hope to be in a position to roll-out this support in schools in the near future.”

The Education Minister will write to all Wales’s School Governing Bodies and recommend they assign the role of ‘Teaching Assistant Champion’ to one of their members, with a responsibility to ensure that the perspective and input of teaching assistants is sought and included when key decisions are being made within the school, and to lead on the Governing Body in relation to teaching assistant deployment, training, and wellbeing. 

Doing so will provide for the representation of teaching assistants within Governing Bodies. 
Mr Miles said that step: “[W]ould represent an important and welcome step.”

UNION WELCOMES MINISTER’S INITIATIVE

Teaching assistants across Wales praised Friday’s statement from the Education Minister as the biggest commitment government has ever made to improve their employment conditions.Typically, Wales’s thousands of – mainly female – teaching assistants are very poorly paid and lack any career development and training.

UNISON, the largest union representing teaching assistants (TAs), welcomed the commitment from the Welsh Government to recognise and value the vital roles TAs play in supporting pupils and ensuring the success of schools across the country.

The trade union has been working closely with the Welsh government to secure improvements.

Many teaching assistants go above and beyond the call of duty on a daily basis and are often not given the credit for the key work they do. Now the Welsh government will take action to identify and improve access to a range of high-quality training and UNISON says it will allow teaching assistants to develop and further their careers in this profession.

Teaching assistant Jo Jones said: “We are often the first face children see when they arrive at school and the last before they finish their day.

“It is excellent news that gaps in the provision of professional development and training for teaching assistants have been recognised and that the aim is now of ensuring equality of access to targeted, high quality and consistent training for teaching assistants. 

“It is also reassuring that other areas such as deployment, standardisation of roles, pay, well-being and governing body representation is also being addressed.”

Helen Huelin, UNISON Cymru/Wales organiser, said: “Teaching assistants are an integral part of the school workforce and work incredibly hard to support children and young people across Wales to achieve their educational aspirations.

“We are pleased that the Welsh government is providing funding for improved access to good quality, professional development and training opportunities for teaching assistants through the new National Professional Learning Entitlement which will support them to continue to provide the highest quality learning experience in our schools.

“This is a long overdue piece of work that will raise the profile of teaching assistants and recognise the value and contribution they make in schools across Wales.”