Guerrillamum's Blog


Is the Coalition targeting SEN provision?

Question:  What is in just about every state primary school in Britain and is fundamental to improving education? Got it yet? It isn’t a high-tech gadget, a new learning system or syllabus but the Teaching Assistant. At the bottom of the Education pay scale, Teaching Assistants (TAs) are often mums who want a term time job so they can look after and be with their own children in the holidays. They may not be high-tech but they are excellent value for money.

Our two children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) have benefited hugely from some excellent work from their TAs. This has ranged from the coded reminder to go to the toilet, or the one to one support to help someone with poor spatial awareness to take on board the complexities of geometry.  They have turned failure into positive outcomes.  They have also helped our children deal with bullying and to integrate into their classes and make friends – please don’t tell me that most children are picked on at some time, and that this isn’t relevant to education.  No child can succeed whilst being bullied/ostracised or dealing with the emotions that this generates.  It is not positive and is in no way character building.

As well as these individualised tasks they support teachers in a whole class setting, give help to other children in the class and assist in enforcing standards of behaviour. When called upon, TAs with higher level training can be left in charge of classes and can deliver lessons on a limited basis.

The Education Minister has told us that he is keen to drive up standards in schools (for my thoughts on what he has done so far please see the previous blogs). If one accepts that TAs are a valuable tool for delivering better outcomes it is reasonable to think that the Minister would be looking to improve their training and status. Sadly this hasn’t happened and in fact the Government has removed the entire budget for higher level Teaching Assistant training (please see Phil Beale in The Guardian on this subject http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/aug/10/education-policies-misguided).

Whilst this has the prospect to minimise their effectiveness in a whole class setting it will be felt most by those children with Special Educational Needs who cannot do without their support. I am tired of hearing from the Government ‘we need successful outcomes for all children not just those with Special Needs’ because that’s something we all want. What is often not recognised is that some children need more help to get to those successful outcomes, and without specialist help from suitably trained TAs they may not get there.

I started this blog with a question and I am going to finish with some more questions which need asking. Is this stealthy move on TA training the thin end of the wedge of a policy to drastically reduce spending on SEN?  We have recently seen public sector workers and benefit claimants vilified in the Press by government ministers.  Is SEN the Educational equivalent of ‘generous public sector pensions’ or ‘benefits cheats’?  Has SEN become a target for Coalition cuts?

Let’s hope not for all our sakes!

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