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 (https://www.youteachme.co.uk/) 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.

TA_Poster_print

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.

From Coasting to Transitive Schools

IMG_3635I have been reading and listening to comments for the last two weeks about the definition and rationale about coasting schools.  To be honest I have mixed feelings and remain frustrated that we seem to be focussing on being told what to do again. I have written previously about taking responsibility and seeing the positive, this is another example where we as a profession can take the lead.

I would be staggered if any schools set out to be ‘coasting’ or were even happy with that description.  The teaching profession never stops striving to raise outcomes for children or adapting to the ever changing demands of education that are driven from government or those that society present to us. However we do need to raise outcomes, that is a fact and I am a strong believer that we, as a profession, know how to do this best.  So why is it that we don’t do this or exploit the freedoms that are given to us to do this?

I know that supporting schools to join a Multi- Academy Trust (MAT) is not the ‘done thing’ but when like-minded individuals come together, to truly work together then the outcomes are amazing.  I am sure that people reading this might say ‘but you don’t have to become a (MAT)’ but the freedoms within this and tight partnerships allow partnerships to go beyond school self-interest and personalities.  Although relationships are always the key drivers in any partnerships and need to be central to their development.

We choose to become a MAT.  We choose to decide the structures, the values, the philosophy, the focus for our partnership.   Schools have this chance to do this for themselves without waiting for a MAT to swoop down and “take them over” which often is not the case, it’s more likely to be ‘join our partnership and this is how we work’.  Autonomy is essential for all roles and institutions, the use of the phrase “earned autonomy” is now common place and if we are honest has always been the case; it’s just that if things aren’t going well people intervene quicker now.  But then isn’t that what children deserve?

I think Trusts like ours and others who have set up, have a responsibility to share what we have done, why and how we achieved it to allow other like-minded schools to come together and learn from our mistakes.  It shouldn’t just be schools joining existing MATs but new MATS forming with MATS in partnership with each other.  We have been incredibly fortunate with our partnership with the Flying High Trust in Cotgrave (http://flyinghightrust.co.uk/)and over the last three years knowledge sharing has been central to our development.  Without it we would have walked into so many more bear traps without knowing it.

As Headteachers, we need to redefine ourselves and our understanding of what partnership means, shared accountability has to be part of that.  Headteachers need to evolve a new skill and mind sets about their jobs.  This will be incredibly difficult because we have been looking over our shoulders for too long, but now could be the time, if we are brave enough take that leap of faith.