After delays and debacle, new professional standards for TAs are here

10 June 2016 by Rob Webster

What do you reckon was the most read story on the Schools Week website in 2015? (No peeking!)

‘Something to do with academies?’ Nope. ‘Free schools, then?’ Not even close. ‘Is it Ofsted-related?’ Still cold. ‘I know: something a bit farcical involving the Dept. for Education’. Getting warmer….

The most popular story last year, by some way, was this

If the DfE was hoping the slow and quiet death of the professional standards for teaching assistants would pass unnoticed, it hadn’t bargained on the vigilance and tenacity of award-winning reporter, Sophie Scott, who found this scoop lurking in the creases of Hansard last October.

Following the second delay to the publication of the TA standards, Labour MP Kevin Brennan asked the DfE for an update. Responding on behalf of his line manager, schools minister Nick Gibb wrote back. After considering all the review’s documentation, he said, “the secretary of state has [therefore] decided not to publish the draft standards”. Back then, I blogged my disappointment and approval of Schools Week’s decision to publish (with its trademark dedication to transparency) a leaked copy of the draft standards online. So the standards were out there, complete with DfE badging, but they had no official endorsement. It was an ending of sorts... but it wasn’t closure.

In the months that followed, a group of professionals interested in promoting the work of TAs, and who believed in the need for and value of the  standards, asked ministers for permission to publish them. The DfE obliged, subject to it being made clear that it was no longer involved in their production. Our coalition drew together some excellent people from Unison, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), the National Education Trust, the London Leadership Strategy, and Paula Bosanquet and I from Maximising TAs HQ. And today, we’re delighted to announce the ‘official’ launch of a new set of professional standards for teaching assistants. 

You can download the TA standards here.

Despite - perhaps even because of - the delays and debacle, I think we’ve ended up in a stronger position. Not least because the standards have now gained the backing the NAHT. This is to be welcomed, as it emphasises two things that our research and development has consistently shown: i) that the drive for whole school improvement is strengthened when leaders purposefully build in the contribution of TAs; and ii) this being the case, that making the best use of TAs is necessarily a leadership issue.

The TA standards are non-mandatory and non-statutory, and sit alongside the statutory standards for teachers. Their value is in helping schools to define the complementary role, purpose and contribution of TAs, relative to teachers. While the standards are not vastly different from those leaked to Schools Week, our rebooted version emphasises the essentialness of leadership in applying them successfully. Back in early 2015, the DfE’s signalled an intention to publish the TA standards on the same day as our Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants guidance report, co-written with the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF). As I wrote at the time:

“If the guidance encourages school leaders to use the freedoms they have to reform, rethink, repurpose and reenergise their TA workforce (in other words, to decide what TAs should do), then the new TA standards have an important role to play in helping to determine the skills, knowledge and experience required of those in the role (i.e. what TAs should be)”.

So finally, after 22 months (yes, it really was that long ago since the standards were commissioned), schools have a comprehensive set of evidence-informed frameworks, actionable recommendations and practical tools for transforming the way TAs are deployed and supported, and to help them thrive in their role.