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.
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