I read the blog from Joe Baldwin “Together not Against. The Teacher / LSA Synergy” and can totally relate to his position.  I realise that this is an emotive subject, and one where feathers may be ruffled or opposing opinions are given.

The ‘them –v- us’ is not a new phenomenon, in fact I can’t remember a time in my career when that divide didn’t exist in some way. Sometimes this is due to the low esteem of the LSA, due perhaps to a lack of training as a ‘professional’.  (I should add here that I have line-managed teams of LSAs which I hope clarifies my opinions.)

For many years the role of classroom assistant was filled by well-meaning mums or people who liked to give something back. All of these are excellent credentials, and I realise that this is far from the reality in many cases, but in education now the stakes are higher than ever.  The learners are more complex and the support needed should be the right kind of support. It should be given with confidence and received with gratitude.

But the scenario described in Joe Baldwin’s penultimate paragraph is reminiscent of an adventurous attempt at whole-department cohesion, where I was asked to pull together a training session including both teachers and LSAs from the same staffroom.

In my experience, having teams who sit/work together in class and staffroom offer a much higher chance of solidarity. The best models I’ve seen in practice are where the LSA is from that industry (like a technician) or has previously taken the qualifications themselves (often seen in hair/beauty and construction for eg). They all know what’s expected from the learners.

In spite of this set up, in this instance the training I provided only seemed to aggravate the feeling that the contribution from the LSA was not valid or reliable. LSA staff were therefore deliberately boycotting the staffroom and creating a chasm which was running into the classroom.

Some teaching staff felt that the LSA was critical of their methods and the communication between them had completely broken down. Professionalism gave way to petty grievances and unmet needs – definitely not challenged at the root.

The LSA staff were under the impression that they were indispensable and this gave rise to feelings of injustice – they were routinely “in the dark” about what the lesson was actually about.

Teachers did not give LOs or lesson plan to LSA because:

  1. there wasn’t one, or
  2. didn’t see the point in the LSA having one, or
  3. had no plan for the LSA

But even more worrying, paradoxically, in a couple of cases the teacher was over-reliant on the LSA (which can cause just as much friction (“I’m not paid to do this….”)) and did not think this was in any way unreasonable.

The least experienced/the most needy
I observed classes where the LSA took small groups off to re-teach the section. A recent article in the TES slated the way that TAs (and therefore, I guess, LSAs) are deployed in this way.  And while I don’t agree with everything covered in the article, it does strike me that we occasionally tend to put learners who have the most need with the person who is the least qualified.

My Utopia is

  • LSAs in college are PTLLs trained – easily achieved in-house
  • It should be the teacher who works with small groups who need additional support in class, with the LSA on hand to provide guidance for other learners
  • LSAs trained and deployed in their own skill area
  • Cross college and small group support needs to be covered by knowledgeable/experts
  • Teaching staff should receive an induction to working with learning support
  • LSAs supporting specific SEN should be highly trained (to give the right kind of support)

Last point - a couple of years ago I was team-teaching (mentoring) in a class where the assumption was that I was an LSA.  At the time I wrote a blog The Plight of the LSA "You're Not My Teacher"  where I truly felt the heart of the problem - from any angle.

I’d welcome other thoughts!