Here in Durham we’ve had on going issues regarding the Teaching Assistants with may facing huge paycuts and loss of jobs. Many Schools are closed due to strikes – today is our third day in two weeks with another three strikes planned over the next two weeks. I do fully support the Teaching Assistants however School closes are difficult for a child like Toby to cope with…probably why he’s been up since 3am – yawn! 

You can read a report from The Guardian with more info – here

I do fully support the TA’s and here’s a letter that I have written to the council as a Special Needs Parent.

To whom it may concern,

I’m sure you have had lots letters from lots of parents regarding the Teaching Assistant dispute. However I wish to communicate some of my personal thoughts on the issue as a parent of a child with special needs who relies heavily on Teaching Assistants and Support Staff. Sadly it is children with special needs who are suffering the most because of this.

Let me paint you a picture. I have a child who is 5 years old, completely non-verbal (who has never spoken a word in his life) with severe Autism and whom in the past has been described as having a ‘severe mental impairment’. This child is still in nappies, doesn’t sleep well, has no awareness of danger, needs constant supervision and can become violent to himself and others when distressed. Professionals have admitted that they don’t know what to do with him, at the age of 5 he has a Social Worker, risk assessments and we receive respite care due to the challenges of having this child at home. This child has been in specialist full-time education since the age of three.

Earlier this year, this child was discharged from Speech and Language Therapy (probably something to do with budget cuts but we wont even go there!) as Specialist Speech and Language Therapists claimed this child was getting ‘all of the specialist input he needed at School’. Let’s just remember that this child has never spoken a word in his life and hasn’t really grasped any other form of alternative communication. Let me tell you who is delivering this ‘specialist input’ it’s Teaching Assistants and support staff. Let me tell you that these members of staff have been trained in PECS, intensive interaction therapy, Makaton, as well as many other areas to support these children. These people are specialists. These specialists also have Team Teach training in order to safely restrain pupils when needed, are regularly hit, kicked and bitten due to the nature of the children that they work with. These specialists also have extensive First aid and medical training and daily support pupils with high medical needs.

As well as all of the above these specialists also create and maintain a specialist learning environments, often buying resources out of their own pocket and making things at home. They are also constantly trying to think outside the box and try new approaches to support some of the most challenging pupils who struggle to access the world around them. I find my son exhausting and challenging and these people deal with a class of these children day in day out and do it with a smile on their face. Trust me these people are specialists.

Although I am primarily writing about my experiences of Teaching Assistants in a special school, I would also like to say that I believe Teaching Assistants in mainstream schools and colleges are also specialists. These members of staff support pupils with SEN or those who require extra support, running nurture groups, specialist interventions and providing one to one support. This is on top of other responsibilities, teaching small groups, dealing with behavioural issues, prepping resources and supporting the class teacher. These people are also specialists.

I do completely support the strikes that are happening at the moment as prior to having my children, I worked as a Teaching Assistant and know how hard they work. However having a child who thrives off routine, being out of school causes us lost of problems at home. My child has been up since 3am this morning and he kicks, scratches, bites and smears when stressed as he can not communicate his frustrations verbally. This child loves School. He loves the structure and routine but he also loves going because he knows that these people genuinely care about him, I think it’s time that the council genuinely cared about them. My child needs specialist provision, input and support and I believe that the council needs to value and pay these Teaching Assistants as the Specialists that they are. Sadly I have heard stories of many Teaching Assistants who have years worth of experience say that due to the cuts they can no longer afford to stay in the role. This will result in schools employing staff without the extensive knowledge and experience that my son needs – my child can not afford to to not have a specialist.

I strongly believe that it is time for the council to value and pay these Teaching Assistants as the specialists that they are.