Making the most of of a Key Resource

Teaching-Assistant-Job-Description-–-What-do-Teaching-Assistants-doIt struck me recently how valuable some support staff are to the basic operations of school and I considered for brief moment what life would be life with a reduce amount of supports staff in school if budget cuts and funding changes force schools to rationalise resources yet further. We have all read the Sutton Trust impact report about how Support TA are high cost and relatively low impact but also I am sure we all know those individuals who make a key difference to children.

I think the key difference in support staff who truly make a difference is their depth of subject knowledge and an individual’s ability to become a professional learner in a similar way to teachers. This is big ask from people who are sometimes below the living wage, on short term contracts with very little support. I did an analysis of our Trust schools to investigate what proportions of their budget were spent on support staff and how they were being managed. The figures really struck me as a real worry, they ranged from £1100 to £550 per child. Clearly this is a very rough and ready analysis and certain schools require a higher proportion of support staff to support their schools. But the most striking factor was not how much was spent but rather how many schools managed or developed their support staff in any rigorous way. We are spending huge proportions of our allocated money on support staff and we are not developing or exploiting this resource effectively.

This is not to say that schools have not tried or don’t have the will or inclination to develop staff, it comes down to capacity. Therefore we must work differently and look to develop staff within to be able to do this and if the proportion of spending for support staff is high we need to build this into our planning. We will need to train support staff line managers and give them the skills to help lead and support others. Granted this will cost more but if we are helping people to become more effective, then a balance will be struck and a great impact will ensure best value is achieved.

We also reviewed the range of qualifications, experience and skills that our support staff have and many as expected had not achieved GCSE Maths and English as an equivalent qualification. This does need to be addressed, we can’t have people supporting children without the relevant subject knowledge for all year groups in school. A GCSE doesn’t not guarantee subject knowledge either but it does give us a bench mark. I know of a school who tested all their support with a year 6 SATs paper and found many found it extremely challenging. Therefore we need to put support in place to allow staff to develop further. It’s a real shame the National Standards for Support Staff have been delayed as I think all staff and leaders would find this very useful, not in a punitive way but a standars which we will be able to work towards.

As schools we need to find ways to up skill staff in a flexible and repeatable manner without placing further burdens on teachers. One of the key challenges is making learning flexible enough for staff to revisit or learn at time that suits them. Support staff are often mission critical and needed during the day so releasing them for training is impractical and the cost of sending individuals on a course prohibitive. I have come across an amazing tool called Youteachme ( This site allows schools to post 3.5 minute videos to model subject knowledge and teaching. Whilst it primarily designed for flipped learning with children, the theory about flipped learning (self-directed and self-accessed learning) could be a real solution to support staff. Support staff would be able to access a range of concept and subject knowledge videos that suit them and at a time that suits them. Due to the videos being 3.5 minutes long it’s short and focused, if staff accessed just one video a day over a period of time we could develop a quick and effective way of improving subject knowledge and develop a learning community were further questions could be explored with subject leaders. We are going to trial this approach with within our group of schools. As the learning community grows the most powerful tool will be sharing these videos across schools increasing the access and diversity for support staff and reducing the pressure to create videos.

The solutions are out there we just need to be creative and develop systems to ensure we are able to exploit the talent that we have.


The solutions are out there we just need to be creative and develop systems to ensure we are able to exploit the talent that we have.

Are We Attachment Aware?

attachmentRecently, as a Trust, we attended a HMI update about Looked-after children and how their performance was significantly behind that of their peers and I was struck by how significant the gaps were and how this widens throughout secondary school. It spurred me to on to review what we were doing as a Trust and whether we were failing in our duties to ensure that all children in care were secondary ready.

The first thing that struck me was the low numbers of children we had within our schools, although we are a small MAT, there were extremely small numbers in school. I saw a lot of synergy here with schools who struggle to with small numbers of Pupil Premium children and how this can challenge schools to deliver rich and effective support for children. We now have a revised policy and procedure which includes a governor champion who must send a report back to the Trust every term and a refocused designated teacher practices for working with Looked-after children.

It also made me think that we have a duty as schools to work more closely together to ensure provision is effective and training is pertinent to the people involved. Through joint practice development we should make our designated teachers more effective and help them with the sharing of resources.

I also thought that as a group of schools we should look for opportunities to provide enrichment where children can come together to learn and to double check that we are prioritising our enrichment activities for Looked-after children. I was horrified when I reviewed access to these by Looked-after children across our trust to see that none of them had taken this up. So what were we doing wrong? Had we unwittingly created barriers for these children or had we failed to engage the carers in these opportunities?

I read a piece of research which stated that if carers acted as educational tutors with high quality support from schools, children would make three times the amount of progress. This brings another imperative for us as a partnership, to make sure we are bringing the carers of Looked-after children together, and providing extra support to them to ensure they are able to understand their children’s needs and have the skills to support them. Small numbers shouldn’t be a barrier if we coordinated support, together we would be able to provide a better provision for our children.

I also found a fantastic website ( about attachment awareness and how schools can download a review tool to identify areas to develop the school. There are many children, not just Looked-after children, who have attachment difficulties and we could use this tool to improve our educational provision for all children.

Children Looked After Policy DSAT CLA governor JD AAS_AUDIT_Attachment_Aware_Schools

Dealing with the challenge of the perception of our profession

Last week I visited the Inspiring Leadership Conference in Birmingham and was really taken with a talk by Alastair Campbell.  He has written a new book call Winners which is  a summary of what made successful people great winnersA member of the audience asked him a question about how the profession could take responsibility and ownership of the development of education policy from the government.  His reply was quite profound in that he set out two steps:

1.  Work with the government and not attack every policy look for the positives and stop over emphasizing the negatives

2.  Be innovative, invite people in and give credible robust alternatives.

This stuck me as a very interesting policy and maybe this was something I could attribute to the declining number of people applying for teacher training.  We may all deep down in our heart agreed that we are a negative profession and may come across as arguably the most moaning public service.  Now I am not saying that we don’t have some fair points and the that the last few years have been an exceptional time of change. But if we don’t start celebrating our profession and point out what is good and exciting about this job more than what our barriers and concerns are, how are we ever going to convince the next generation?

Maybe we need to start at home and remind staff why this is a fabulous job!  I genuinely believe it is, it’s a really honor to work with children and privilege that we must never take for granted.  It should also be about reminding ourselves what excites us in the role and look for opportunities to do this.  I believe its senior leaders responsibility to ensure that our staff have opportunities to pursue their interests and activities that “turn them on in the job.”  It reminded me of the Fish Philosophy

If teachers can celebrate what is good about their job to anyone who will listen maybe we can turn the tide and maybe if Headteachers can shout from the roof tops what’s great about their school we can turn the tide of DFE opinion.

Teacher recruitment is actually my biggest concern now as a leader in a multi academy trust.  We are desperately short of staff both for places within our SCITT and when we advertise for staff.  I have a fear that Headteachers may be recruiting staff for whats right now instead of what teachers are right for our children, because the choices are have a teacher or not.  I believe we are storing a time bomb of inadequate staff who will ultimately affect the standards of education and the level of resource required to achieve an acceptable outcome.

There is much to be done by senior leaders to retain staff, shielding the staff from the storm and propaganda must become central to our roles as leaders.  We need to ensure efficiency of tasks and prudent in the delivery these to teachers

The benfits of training teachers

I completed a learning walk within one of our trust school’s the other day and I was really pleased with the quality of the teaching, level of engagement with children and how open staff were to developing practice.  The SLT and I started to discuss the journey we had taken to develop this culture within school and one of the key elements that we identified as being one of the big driving forces was how many Schools Direct trainees we had employed and been involved within their training.

Schools Direct and School Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) has had an enormous impact on the attraction of high quality teachers to our schools and the development of talent.  Our engagement in these programmes has ensured that we give the time and resources needed to make sure people can fulfil their potential.  It also meant that our experienced teachers took full responsibility for the student’s development because they were going to be their year group partners of the future and therefore as such must have the skills needs to be successful and add value to the team.

The teachers we employed through these schemes have certainly done that and have added great value to our schools in a myriad of ways.  Not only have they felt part of the team since day one as they were immersed in school practice but also learn the underlying expectations and key practice we are trying to achieve.  This has ensured that new teacher development has been integral into our school development and has changed the culture for others.  Staff are much more receptive to joint practice development and take responsibility to share knowledge and skills at all levels.  In fact I would go as far to say that it has had a direct impact on increasing professionalism within our school.  Mercifully the students are never used for cover and have become a tool to support learning and improve long term outcomes for our schools. Experience teachers have increased their expectations of themselves and view their roles in a new light.

One of the most exciting developments is the partnerships with new SCITT providers such as Inspiring Leaders Teacher Training who involve schools throughout the process from the selection of the students they take to the design of the course.  This has allowed rapid personalization and response to the needs of the trainees, no longer do they suffer a set unadaptable course that doesn’t meet their learning needs.  Each cohort has a course adapted to their needs to ensure they achieve the very highest outcomes linked to the national teaching standards.  This is clearly evident in schools as the quality of learning by children with Schools Direct NQTs is much more effective than their counterparts.

The support Inspiring Leaders Teacher Training gives each student if very impressive.  There is a very much a family atmosphere within the course, with tutors providing real support and guidance by working together in genuine partnership giving coaching support where needed and challenge about quality outcomes.  I think the future of the professional is looking really bright and incredibly exciting.  It also lays the challenge down for people like me to match their levels of enthusiasm and drive!