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New book offers practical help at last for Teaching Assistants

* 10 December 2003 *

New book offers practical help at last for Teaching Assistants

Guidelines for Teaching Assistants looking to develop their professional standing in the classroom have been developed in a new book by education experts at the University of Sussex.

The book - Becoming a Teaching Assistant (£14.99, Paul Chapman Publishing) - was written by Sussex School of Education Head Pat Drake, Education senior lecturer Dr Angela Jacklin and Research Fellows Dr Carol Robinson and Jo Thorp, after they conducted research into the experiences of TAs for the Department of Education and Skills.

The book is aimed at those TAs in schools who are looking for routes into higher education. "We found that many TAs don't want to be teachers, but they do want to take on a greater role in the classroom. For them, working towards an undergraduate qualification such as a Cert Ed or Dip Ed was valuable in developing their practice," says co-author Jo Thorp. "We also found, however, that there was very little guidance for them on this, so we produced the book."

The book's publication comes as the Government is aiming to use TAs to ease the burden on teachers. This has resulted in a drive to set professional standards for TAs and the creation of the Higher Level Teaching Assistant role, with pilot training schemes set for launch in April 2004.

The book uses four case studies to chart the varied progress of TAs into higher education. Around 96 per cent of TAs are women, who often start out as parents wanting to work around school hours or who volunteer as unpaid auxiliaries - unfortunately known until recently as the 'Mum's Army'.

But the Sussex Team's research also uncovered the need for a more professional, career-structured approach, so that TAs could tackle growing classroom challenges and gain real benefit from the experience. It also revealed that TAs often brought valuable real-life experience of other professions and practices into their learning experiences.

Jo says: "Very few of the TAs we talked to had had any professional development. A typical response would be: "It's the first time someone's watched me and talked to me about what I've been doing'."

Fellow researcher Carol adds: "The role of TAs is certainly becoming more demanding. A TA might go on to specialise in a curriculum area or key stage and help out with leading lessons under the guidance of a teacher." The approach taken in the book is to use the issues and concerns raised by TAs themselves, and to encourage TAs to explore possible professional routes critically.

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