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Working in a private school Drug abuse by parents Issue 32 • Autumn Term 1  2010

Violence at school Taking it seriously when pupils hurt TAs

Would you like support to develop your career? Are you looking for a single source of information on roles, national occupational standards, qualification options and progression routes for support staff? The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) can help you through all stages of your career − from introductory training to specialist development opportunities. For more information, visit


Too important to lose …

Part of the job?


TAs are being punched,kicked and bitten – what can be done?

Under pressure


Raised blood pressure may have no symptoms, but can indicate serious risk

Private not necessarily posh


The job of a TA in a fee-paying school is not that different from one in the public sector

Make an apple book


Autumn is the perfect time for our latest craft project

Learning about learning disability


First in our new series

Parents who abuse drugs


What a TA can do to support children whose parents are drug abusers

Craft club


An opportunity to pass on your skills with knitting needles and other crafts

Accentuate the positive 31 The new school year is a great time to create a good feeling in your playground







TA Talk




Children’s books


Children’s health


Ask Sue


Welcome back. I hope you had a good summer, and that you’re enjoying the new term at school. You know that as a teaching assistant you make a big difference to the children you work with, enabling them to learn and thrive. Now parents, teachers and heads are speaking out about the crucial role TAs play in schools. Learning Support’s petition to protect teaching assistant jobs from government spending cuts has already attracted more than 2,500 signatures – though it was launched just a couple of weeks before the end of the summer term. When we heard that the new government had suddenly axed the grant to local authorities for HLTA and Support Work in Schools training, the alarm bells rang. It was a measly £14 million – but the cut showed that ministers urgently need educating about the importance of teaching assistants. The ridiculous proposal to “phase out” TA posts, from the so-called Reform think tank, could only have been made by someone who has no idea what goes on in today’s schools. Luckily another think tank, Policy Exchange, said to be favoured by David Cameron, takes a different view and is calling for better training for teaching assistants. The public sector unions are fighting job and pay cuts on all fronts, so it will be up to us – TAs and their supporters – to spread the word. Teaching assistants are not optional extras, they are skilled education professionals. If the government imposes budget cuts on schools that force them to lose a significant number of teaching assistant jobs, the education, and life chances, of hundreds of thousands of children will be damaged. Please write to your MP, sign the online petition, join the Facebook group (see page 5) and ask your friends to do the same. Teaching assistants are much too important to lose!

Frances Rickford Editor Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010  3


Training money cut Local authorities will receive no money for training higher level teaching assistants (HLTAs) this year. The government cancelled the Support Staff Training and Qualifications grant in July without any publicity. It means TAs will only be able to get HLTA assessments if schools pay, or if local authorities find other sources of funding. Other TA training will continue if it is funded directly by local authorities or

Schools get new rules on discipline

schools. The grant was also used to fund the Support Work in Schools qualification. The decision was criticised as shortsighted and mean by unions, parents and education professionals. ■■ The Training and Development Agency for Schools has an enquiry line to advise support staff about training and the funding available. The number is 0845 600 2944 or email supportstaff@

Schools will be able to impose same-day detentions on children from this month. The government is ending the rule requiring schools to give 24 hours written notice for detentions. School staff will also be able to search pupils without their consent for “any item which could cause disorder” such as phones, iPods, cigarettes and fireworks. Currently they only have the power to search a pupil without consent if they believe they are carrying a weapon.

Healthy food is unaffordable for many working parents

Working families missing out Ofsted has warned that healthy food is out of reach for many low-income families. In a report on school food, the inspection body found that brothers and sisters in some families took it in turns to have school lunches because their parents could not afford lunches for all their children.

Although children whose parents receive income support and some other benefits can get free school meals, children in low-income working families are missing out. The new government has decided to scrap a scheme that would have extended free school meals to low income families who are not on benefits.

■■ Do you think this is a good idea? Join the discussion at www.



Children as young as five are contacting Childline because their parents are drinking or using drugs, says the charity. Nearly 1,500 children under 11 called the helpline about their parents’ alcohol or drug problems last year.

CHILDREN WANT SAFER SCHOOL JOURNEYS Over 2,500 children have written letters to the Prime Minister, asking the government to make it easier for them to walk or cycle to school

4  Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010

safely. Prompted by the transport charity Sustrans, the children – aged between seven and 11- put forward ideas including more cycle paths, better crossings and car-free zones around schools.


New qualifications for school support staff have been launched by the awarding body NCFE. The qualifications, to be offered by colleges, training providers and schools, are: ●● Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools, ●● Supporting the Wider Curriculum in Schools, ●● Cover Supervision and Specialist Support for Teaching and Learning in Schools. They will replace the existing NCFE qualifications.


Our campaign for TAs is gathering momentum A national campaign to defend teaching assistant jobs from government cuts is gathering pace. The campaign – Teaching Assistants Are Too Good To Lose – was launched by Learning Support in July. Some 2,500 people, including many parents and teachers, have already signed an online petition, and the campaign’s Facebook page has more than 1,500 fans. Learning Support launched the campaign after the government quietly cancelled this year’s budget for training higher level teaching assistants (HLTAs). The grant cost £14 million and was distributed to local authorities by the Training and Development Agency for Schools. The work of the new Schools Support Staff Negotiating Body (SSSNB), set up to regulate support staff pay and conditions, has also been halted. The SSSNB chair received a letter after the election from the Department for Education saying the government was going to review it. At a meeting in July officials said government ministers had still not made a decision on the future of the SSSNB. One right-wing policy think tank, Reform, says the government should phase out all teaching assistant posts to save money. But another Conservative think tank, Policy Exchange, has recognised the important role teaching assistants play in schools. In a report on special educational needs, it called for a review of the way teaching assistants are used and more and better training for them.

A headteachers’ leader has warned that cutting teaching assistant jobs means cutting inclusion. Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, told Learning Support it was “extremely disappointing” that the government had cancelled the funding for Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) and Support Work in Schools (SWiS) training. “Training is the key to empowering teaching assistants. It’s the way to ensure they have the right skills and aptitudes to work effectively with pupils.” If forthcoming budget cuts are as deep as he fears, he said, schools will have to lose staff. “But these are not excess staff – they are there to give children the right support to enable them to thrive. “Those who say we don’t need teaching assistants should spend some time in schools, and see what these people do. They would have to take their hats off to them.” Many parents have also signed up to the campaign, which has been taken up on the influential Mumsnet website. One typical parent commented: “I have signed up. As the mother of an autistic and dyspraxic child in a mainstream school, I can honestly say if it wasn’t for the outstanding contribution of his experienced and supportive TA, my dear son would not be attending school today.” ■■ To sign the online petition and join the Facebook group please follow the links from Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010  5


Early years bureaucracy probe

Bill to create academies is now law


The government has ordered a review of the Early Years and Foundation Stage (EYFS). Children’s minister Sarah Teather said she wants it to be less bureaucratic and more focused on young children’s learning and development. Many people have criticised the “toddler targets” or learning goals in the EYFS. The review will be carried out by Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of the charity Action for Children. It will look at whether young children’s development should be formally assessed at a certain age and what the assessment should cover. The EYFS was introduced by the last government as part of an attempt to improve standards across all early years settings.

Two-year pay curb

A new law allowing schools, including primaries, to become academies without consulting staff or parents has been passed. The Academies Bill was rushed through parliament before the summer recess against fierce opposition from unions. Academies are state schools that are directly funded by the government. They do not have to follow the national curriculum or stick to national pay scales for staff. By late June only 153 schools had applied to become academies, prompting critics to accuse Education Secretary Michael Gove of exaggerating the demand.

Public sector workers earning less than £24,000 a year will get a flat-rate pay increase of £250 over two years under the government’s emergency budget. All other public sector workers, including teachers, are to have their pay frozen for the next two years. The budget also warned of 25% cuts across government over the next four years, with only the NHS and international development protected. Education faces cuts of up to 20%. Civil servants are now busy looking for where the axe can fall. A spending review in October is expected to provide details.


A £235m database with the records of all England’s 11 million children has been switched off because the new government believes the Contactpoint system was “disproportionate”.


Hundreds of school building projects

have been cancelled by the government. Over 700 schools have had their hopes dashed, sometimes after years of preparation. They were part of the previous government’s Building Schools for the Future programme,

which included building new schools and ­refurbishing existing ones.


Children are still disappearing from education because no-one knows where they are. No local authority in an Ofsted survey was confident that it knew about all the children in its area, yet authorities are legally responsible for safeguarding them. Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010  7

Need help with challenging behaviour issues? To find inspiring videos, features and quick tips to support you in your role, visit the dedicated TA area online at


Cuts: the children will suffer Learning Support 23 High Street Bishop’s Castle SY9 5BE ISSN 1747-1990 © Brightday Publishing 2010 Editor Frances Rickford 01588 638567 Production Alan Slingsby at Cover picture Hannah Cumming Business manager Trevor Chalkley trevor.chalkley@ Subscriptions and advertising enquiries 01588 638567 We send a new book (children’s or TA professional development) to the writer of every letter we publish, and a £30 prize for the top letter

How depressing to read that some think tank is telling the government to get rid of TAs (Facing the Future, LS31) They should spend a few weeks in my school and see how much everybody depends on the teaching assistants here. I can’t believe the government will actually try to sack all TAs but it looks as if schools are going to be forced to make staff cuts, and support staff will probably be the first to go. It will be

Pets are a pain I don’t think TAs should be forced to take pets home during the holidays. In my last school I had to take the guinea pig home every holiday. It was impossible to refuse, but it was a real nuisance. Not only because I live in a tiny flat, but also because I couldn’t go away without finding someone else to come in and feed it. And the children soon lost interest in it anyway. Thank goodness at my new school they don’t have classroom pets. Sinead O’Higgins Ipswich

Thanks for help Wow! I love your Web World feature. I spend hours searching the web

children who suffer most of course, and not only children who are directly supported by TAs. I just wish it could be the TAs who voted Tory who get the chop first. Mary Donaldson Liverpool Mary Donaldson wins our regular £30 of book tokens prize for the best letter for useful resources and now we’ve got Sal McKeown doing it for us. Thanks Sal, and thanks Learning Support. Please keep it up! Brenda Storey St Albans

I’m in agony I was very interested to read your article on feet. My feet are so painful and after reading about plantar fasciitis I will be booking an appointment with my GP. I always feel like I’m waddling about like a duck because my feet are in constant agony. Name and address supplied

Email your letter to editor@, fax it to us on 0871 733 5474 or post it to Letters, Learning Support, 23 High Street, Bishops Castle, SY9 5BE Don’t forget to provide a full postal address (we won’t publish it but we need to know that letters are genuine) and indicate clearly that your letter is for publication. Letters may be edited for reasons of space.

Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010  9


Many teaching assistants are kicked, bitten and hair-pulled on a daily basis by the pupils they support

Assault part of the job?

I work with a reception pupil who has extreme behaviour problems, and emotional problems too. I am being assaulted by this pupil every day. I have bruises and marks on my arms. I work with lots of pupils with behavioural problems and seem to have success in this field. However this one pupil is really bringing me down. I just don’t have the energy anymore. I have a family and they are not getting the best of me. Do you think it’s fair for me to ask for a change?


ike the TA who posted this plea for help to an online forum, dozens if not hundreds of teaching assistants are hit, kicked, bitten or pinched every day while they are at work. In just one city, Bradford, more than 700 attacks on TAs and other support staff were recorded by primary schools between January 2009 and July 2010 – that’s about three attacks every school day in a town of about half a million people. And those are only the attacks that were reported and officially noted by the school. Many more go unreported or unrecorded. Unfortunately Bradford seems to be far from unusual. Last year the trade union Unison reported the results of a survey showing that nearly one in four teaching assistants had been physically attacked at school and that nearly half had been subjected to threats or abuse.

First aid required Of 30 teaching assistants who responded to a small survey by Learning Support, 22 said they had experienced violence at school in the previous year. For eight of those TAs, the attack warranted some sort of first aid or other treatment. And it’s not just staff who are experiencing violence and abuse. Pupils are also at risk of being attacked in class or in the playground, and it is often the TA, learning support assistant or playground supervisor’s job to protect them. Last year, there were 7,000-fixed term exclusions from primary school after a pupil attacked an 10  Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010

adult and nearly 10,000 after another child was attacked. So is it “part of the job” if you are a teaching assistant or learning support assistant to be assaulted by pupils on a regular basis? Or could more be done to protect adults and children from violence?

‘Nothing is being done’ The trade unions believe it is not inevitable, and want schools and local authorities to take the problem much more seriously. The Bradford figures were collected by the GMB union’s local convener, Ray Alderman. “You don’t go to work to be kicked and bitten, yet nothing is being done to tackle this problem,” he said. GMB wants all councils, and schools where they do not report to councils, to publish all the figures for physical and verbal attacks on staff. “We want to see schools and education authorities making concrete


plans with pupils, parents staff and all other agencies to deal with this epidemic. Society as a whole will benefit if this hidden problem is brought out into the open and dealt with,” said Neil Derrick, GMB senior officer in the union’s Yorkshire region. It is an employer’s legal duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees as well as other people who might be affected by their business (such as pupils!). The Health and Safety Executive says that “Your employer must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this”. This includes assessing all risks, telling you about the risks, telling you how you are protected from the risks and instructing and training you in how to deal with them. All very well in theory, but what can schools, and school staff, do in practice to protect themselves and other pupils from being hurt?

Special needs

‘You don’t go to work to be kicked and bitten, yet nothing is being done to tackle this problem’

Children with some special needs – such as emotional and behavioural difficulties or autism – are more likely to be aggressive than others. Schools need to make risk assessments for these children, and make sure the staff working with them are fully aware of the risks and are trained in how to handle them. In Learning Support’s survey nearly everyone who had been attacked reported the incident to someone in authority at school, but fewer than half replied that action had been taken as a result. Only one in three had received any training in how to deal with potentially violent situations. Staff have the legal power, and sometimes the duty, to use force when necessary to restrain or control pupils. The new government, like the previous one, wants to be seen as tough on bad behaviour in schools. Guidance published before the election says schools should never try to stop staff using force through “no contact” policies. “The power to use force helps ensure pupil and school safety, and the risk with a no-contact policy is that it might place a member of staff in breach of their duty of care towards a pupil, or prevent them taking an action needed to prevent a pupil causing injury to others,” it said. But for many teaching assistants, the idea of using force on a child is fraught with difficulty. If you are not used to restraining or physically controlling children how are you supposed to know what to do? You may be concerned that you could make the situation worse, or harm the child. And you could find yourself facing an allegation of abuse, perhaps even ending up in court. ■■ In our next issue we will be looking in depth at the tricky issue of using force to control or restrain children, and hearing from teaching assistants who have been trained in “positive handling” techniques designed to head off explosive situations, and deal effectively with them when they do arise. Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010  11

Looking for a way to get children walking to school? Working towards Eco, Sustainable or Healthy School status? The Walk Once a Week (WoW) scheme is part of the Walk to School campaign, run by national charity Living Streets and is: • A proven means of increasing levels of walking to school

• A cost-effective, easy-to-administer scheme, from only £2.30 per child per year • A popular scheme which rewards children who walk with fun, collectable badges

To find out more, visit Or email


Raised blood pressure can indicate the risk of serious disease says Joy Ogden




ife as a TA is busy, interesting and rewarding, but it can be physically and emotionally demanding. If you feel below par and go to your GP for a check-up, the chances are you will be given a test for blood pressure. Why? Measuring blood pressure can show if the heart is having to work too hard to push blood through the arteries and so gives an indication of our chances of developing serious diseases. The heart pumps blood through a network of arteries, veins and capillaries, first to nourish the body’s cells with oxygen and nutrients and then to carry away waste products. Blood pressure is a measure of the force the blood applies to the artery walls as it is pumped through them. Consistently high blood pressure (hypertension), raises your risk of major illnesses, including heart disease, stroke and kidney damage. The risk is greater still if you have high cholesterol and smoke. Blood pressure is expressed as two numbers - for


example 120/80 mmHg (120 over 80 millimetres of mercury). The first number – systolic blood pressure – is the pressure during a heart beat. The second – diastolic blood pressure – is the pressure between heartbeats. Low blood pressure (hypotension) is usually defined as lower than 90/60 mmHg and is unlikely to mean there is anything wrong. It can lower your chance of getting major diseases. Temporarily high blood pressure is not generally a cause for concern – it can rise because you are stressed about having it checked. But if your test score is 140/90 or more, your GP will probably want to monitor your blood pressure for a few weeks before suggesting treatment such as antihypertensive medicine and might suggest other tests to check out your cholesterol and blood sugar levels. In more than nine out of ten people with high blood pressure, there is no clear cause. But it can be linked to obesity, smoking, diet and lack of exercise.

In most people with high blood

Self-help for reducing or preventing hypertension

pressure, there is no clear cause.

●● Lose excess weight

But it can be linked to obesity,

●● Take regular aerobic exercise like walking

smoking, and lack of exercise.

●● Reduce sugar and salt and eat plenty of fruit and vegetables ●● Stop smoking ●● Cut down alcohol ●● Cut down on high-caffeine drinks like coffee and cola

This article is for information only and should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010  13



private I

f you have never worked in a private school you might assume that the children are all privileged, super-clever and impeccably behaved – and that as a result teachers and support staff have a much easier life. But while TAs might notice differences between state schools and the fee-paying sector, their roles and responsibilities are generally very similar “Prep” schools often take children from as young as three and do not select them on academic grounds. Prep is short for preparatory – their original role was to prepare pupils for entry to public (fee-paying) schools at 11 or 13. According to David Hanson, chief executive of the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS), they may have a greater proportion of pupils with mild learning difficulties, for example, dyslexia, because parents feel they will get better care and attention in a prep school. Jane Merriman, headteacher at Belmont Grosvenor prep school in Harrogate, Yorkshire says it is a myth

Working in a fee-paying school is not that different from a job in the public sector, Janet Murray discovers

‘Given half a chance, all children will push the boundaries … having TAs who know many of the children in the school can be a bonus when it comes to maintaining behavioural standards’ that children at prep schools do not misbehave. “Given half a chance, all children will push the boundaries. Having TAs who know many of the children in the school can be a bonus when it comes to maintaining behavioural standards.” Belmont Grosvenor currently employs a teaching assistant for each year group, which consists of one class of around 20 children. The TA’s main role is to support the whole class, but, depending on specific needs, they might support individual students on a one-to-one basis. TAs might also be asked to work with the most able children. “We aim to meet the needs of every single child, regardless of their ability – which is exactly the same philosophy you’d find in most state schools,” says 14  Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010

Jane Merriman. Carola Timney, headteacher of St. Joseph’s Convent Preparatory School in Gravesend, Kent also has TAs attached to year groups (typically around 20 children), who work under the guidance of the SENCO and can give children one-to-one support where appropriate. It is unusual for the school to have a child with significant learning difficulties, but some pupils, often those with mild difficulties with reading and writing, do have individual education plans (IEPs). According to Jane Merriman, the biggest challenge for TAs new to the independent sector is getting used to working in a small school. Parents can seem more demanding too – not surprising when they pay around £2,400 a term. While some prep school parents are wealthy, others work long PATRICK OLNER

Putting on a performance: Fulham Prep School (above) winning BBC 3 Children’s Choir of The Year. St Joseph’s Convent Preparatory School in Gravesend offers ballet classes to nursery, reception and key stage 1 pupils

hours or make sacrifices in other areas to fund their child’s education. “You do get parents asking specific questions about how their child is doing and what level they are at, but there are parents like that at every school, so I haven’t found it a big problem,” says Jackie Peach, who was a TA in a special school and now works at St. Joseph’s. There are many ‘plus points’ to working in a small school. Because prep schools are generally smaller than state primaries, TAs may have more opportunities to work with children across the age and ability range. “Because the school is so small, my TAs tend to know all of the children, which means I can swap them between year groups if someone is absent,” says Carola Timney. “I try not to do it too often, but it’s great to know you can call on trusted members of staff, known by all the children, when needed.” At Belmont Grosvenor School, TAs take care of lunchtime supervision and some are also involved in running before and after-school clubs. Bev Dillon, a TA at the school, says: “I’ve been at the school for eight years now, so I’ve seen some children go right from three months old to the top of the school. In a small school, you’re involved in everything from plays and parents evenings to Christmas fairs, so you get to know the children so well.” Prep schools are likely to expect the same level of qualifications and experience as state primary schools. While headteachers will obviously vary in their approach, Carola Timney and Jane Merriman agree that a level 3 qualification (or at least evidence that the applicant is working towards one) is desirable, but not essential if an applicant has the right kind of experience for the job. Salaries are comparable, and sometimes slightly higher than in the state sector. But prep schools are businesses and because their continuing existence

‘In a small school, if the phone rings you answer it. If you see something needs doing, you do it … but I’m looking for someone who is committed to giving every child the best possible education’ depends on the number of students on roll, some may offer shorter contracts than state schools. “What I’m most interested in is getting the right match between the TA, the children and the teacher they might be working with,” says Carola Timney. “Experience is important too. Even if an applicant hasn’t worked as a TA before, experience working with children, even if it’s just helping out at their child’s school, is important.” Merriman says she looks for TAs who are proactive and can think on their feet. “In a small school, if the phone rings you answer it. If you see something needs doing, you do it. But, above all, I’m looking for someone who is committed to giving every child the best possible education.” Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010  15

Page Label CRAFT

Apple boo Autumn is approaching, and it’s the time for harvest and apple-picking, writes Clare Beaton Bring a few of the many apple varieties with all their lovely different colours into the classroom to look at, then eat! Then you can recycle old paperback books – the more yellowed the better – into a row of autumn fruit. What you will need old paperback books


thick and thin card

paper towel


glue and sticky tape


paper clips

Carefully remove cover from book. Cut the template of half an apple from thick card. Keep a flat bottom so the apple will stand up. Place the template on the closed book, with the straight “core” side along the book’s spine edge and draw around the curve in pencil. Keeping a few pages together, cut out along the line. Continue in this way till the whole book is cut out. Trim any rough edges. Dilute paint and dab along the edge of the book with paper towel. The colour should slowly seep into the paper. Don’t let the book get too wet or when it dries it will be wrinkly. Open the apple-shaped book, and using the template cut out the leaf and stalk. Paint both sides and attach to the top of the apple with sticky tape. Cover one of the outside pages of the book with glue and close it together with the other outside page to make your round apple. Secure with a paper clip until the glue is dry. 16  Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010


Try a pear or a pineapple as well! Leaf and stalk template Trace onto the card and cut out. Paint both sides and leave to dry.

See Clare Beaton’s craft and activity books at Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010  17


Jill Morgan introduces a new series on supporting children with learning disabilities


e have all come across children who are said to have a learning disability, or learning difficulty, but what exactly does this mean? Learning disability is an umbrella term for a range of difficulties related to learning. They can include difficulty with reading, writing, maths, comprehension, speaking, memory or reasoning. Some people prefer the term learning difficulties, but this is most often used in connection with conditions such as dyslexia or specific learning difficulties. Other phrases used include developmental disabilities or intellectual disabilities – they mean general impairment of intellectual functioning. The legal definition of special educational needs (SEN) is that children with SEN have “learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn or access education than most children of the same age”. The British Institute of Learning Disabilities is a charity working to improve the quality of life of people with learning disabilities. You can find factsheets about learning disabilities in the knowledge bank section on their website (

Label is not the person The BILD website reminds us that the term learning disability is a label, and that “a label describes one aspect of a person, but does not capture the whole person”. In the UK and other countries it is generally agreed that a learning disability involves three things: ●● Intellectual impairment ●● Social or adaptive dysfunction ●● Early onset (from early childhood) of both of these. In the past, learning disabilities were diagnosed by IQ tests. Someone with an IQ of between 50 and 70 would be classified as having mild learning disabilities, while an IQ of 35 to 50 would denote moderate learning disabilities, and so on through severe (IQ 20-25) and profound disabilities (IQ below 20). IQ tests are still used, but they only measure certain types of intelligence. Since Howard Gardner proposed his theory of multiple intelligences in the 1980s we have recognised that there are many ways in which we can show intelligence or ability. He suggested eight types of intelligence and said we can show intelligence through, for example, music, maths or social skills. But learning disabilities do involve some level of intellectual impairment – lower cognitive functioning 18  Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010


about learning

than you would expect at a particular age and stage of development. This means that any type of intelligence can be affected. The importance of social functioning as a measure of a person’s abilities is increasingly recognised. You will know that some children are naturally more social and gregarious than others. But social functioning is more than social skills or sociability. It is also the ability to take care of the practical necessities of life, like eating, toileting and washing, and

Since Howard Gardner proposed his theory of multiple intelligences in the 1980s we have recognised that there are many ways in which we can show intelligence or ability – he suggested eight types of intelligence


HOW MANY? How many people have learning disabilities? It is difficult to pinpoint the exact number of people in the UK who have learning disabilities. This is partly because many people with mild learning disabilities – the largest proportion – go unidentified. They may struggle in school but never be referred for support. Those with severe or profound learning disabilities are easier to identify and they and their families normally receive extra support from health and education services. This is not a large group (less than 1% of the population) but for each family where a child has severe disabilities the effect is profound, far-reaching and life-long. Overall the incidence of learning disabilities is thought to be 1 to 2%, and only a small proportion of these people will have severe/ profound disabilities. But many children whose difficulties are not severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of learning disabilities at all, share some of the characteristics of children with learning disabilities and so have many of the same support needs.

ning disabilities

the ability to pick up on social cues and use social norms or “rules”, which include the ability to communicate with others. People with learning disabilities have impairments in these areas.

Cause hard to pin down Such difficulties are likely to be evident before a child starts school, but the demands of formal schooling bring them to the fore. The cause of learning disability is hard to pin down. About 10% of children who have severe or profound learning disabilities acquire them as a result of insufficient oxygen to the brain before or during their birth. Another 10% have been affected by difficulties soon after birth. Chromosomal abnormalities are believed to be the cause in 40% of cases. This still leaves a large proportion with no obvious cause.

NEXT ISSUE Understanding dyslexia

Learning disabilities are not a disease that can be cured, but there is a great deal we can all do to enhance opportunities for learning if we are better informed and can learn to recognise the needs of people with learning disabilities. Visit resources for more information

The cause of learning disability is hard to pin down. About 10% of children who have severe or profound learning disabilities acquire them as a result of insufficient oxygen to the brain before or during their birth Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010  19


Sal McKeown explores the internet to find ideas and resources for classroom displays


ou have lots of options if you are looking online for help with displays. Trainer David Smawfield has a complete handbook online. Many of the ideas and materials in it are based on professional development sessions he has run. They cover the basic Why, Where and How of displays. And there are plenty of tips (below) on how to make displays look more professional with colour, arrows and labelling, borders, double mounting work and symmetry.

Learning Support’s displays supremo Linda Hartley has a collaborative site at I like the word walls examples. The first – classroom displays to rescue tired words – involves pinning a plastic shoe tidy at child height and filling the pockets with synonyms for different adjectives. This encourages pupils to find new words instead of using tired old vocabulary. Another example is a classroom display (below) used in a multi-age speech and language unit to help children write stories.

It features pictures and prompt cards on a board under the headings Who? Where? When? What happens next? A board like this is not necessarily a beautiful display, but children can mix and match the words and use 20  Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010

Find it

online the prompts in different ways. Some will just sequence cards and stick to a basic story, while others will practise and rehearse, elaborating to produce a more complex narrative. The usefulwiki site also has good sections on lettering and on making a banner in Microsoft Publisher so that it prints over several pages. Linda recommends that busy teachers might prefer to buy ready made large letters from Classroom Capers. This company’s site is well worth a look even if you are just window-shopping. There are cut-outs of speech bubbles in different shapes, hand prints, borders, rainbows, frames and musical shapes – all ideas that can be adapted and reproduced using basic craft materials. Finally, because everyone likes a freebie, let’s look at School Links. This has a great display section with everything from days of the week to a classroom rules poster. I particularly liked their science posters covering topics from liquids and solids to teeth and plant growth. The materials are simple but would take a long time to make, yet here they are, easily downloadable as PDFs and well worth a look.

For links to all the web sites please visit www. resources


5 IDEAS ●● The rain forest. A classic choice for year 4, so try something a little different, like suspending green net fabric filled with ribbon vines, paper creepers and brightly painted birds and animals. ●● A selection of aeroplane, hot air balloon or bird models – suspend them with clear nylon fishing line (cheaper than art supplies!)

HANG care with

Be careful not to create distractions when making a ceiling display says Linda Hartley


eiling displays should be carefully positioned and designed for a specific reason. It is tempting, especially if you have a classroom with a high ceiling, to look for ways of using this ‘wasted’ space. But filling it with dangling text and coloured streamers can make the classroom over-stimulating. Most classrooms have spaces appropriate for a ceiling display. Keep them away from quiet work areas and check sight lines from a child’s perspective. Our brains are programmed to notice

movement at the edge of our vision, so a glimpse of something moving will distract all pupils and be almost impossible to ignore for children with learning difficulties like ADHD or ASD. Think about health and safety. Using sugar paper to lower the entrance to a classroom to make a cave for Stig of the Dump can look magical. But it can be a trip hazard for visiting adults like cleaners and a fire risk, especially if it restricts access to a fire exit. Check the height of mobiles. Unwary adults can have painful accidents. And be sure to use the proper equipment when you put up high displays. School staff are often injured by falls from tables or chairs. Once you have a safe and non-distracting spot, plan your display. Be sure you have a good reason for suspending it. Hanging number lines or vocabulary mobiles can be useful but not very exciting. Ask yourself if there is a better way.

●● Food chain, water cycle and similar mobiles can be placed near related displays. ●● Props for role-play areas – a giant’s leg and foot hanging over a Jack and the Beanstalk play area, for example, a pirate flag or a huge shark over a Treasure Island display. ●● Snowflakes can be fun to make and add interest to winter displays. There are many templates available online Use fishing line to suspend them but be careful about heights, as sharp edges can cause cuts.

Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010  21


It can be very hard to identify a child with a parent who abuses drugs, Sally Gillen discovers


etween 200,000 and 300,000 children in England and Wales have a parent with a drug problem. That’s at least one child in 50. Some of these children are well looked after and loved. Parenting and drug use are not always incompatible, says Scott Haines, a family development worker at the drugs charity Addaction. Jane Powell, who trains social workers to spot signs of drug misuse, agrees. “People can use drugs and parent quite adequately. But if their main relationship is with drugs, their relationship with their child will become secondary.” Life can be chaotic for such children. They are often left to fend for themselves and to look after younger brothers and sisters. Parents may spend a lot of money on drugs, leaving children without basic necessities. They will probably offer little emotional warmth or stimulation. It is hard to identify a child with a parent who misuses drugs unless the parent arrives at school visibly under the influence. But there can be telltale signs. Children may frequently be late for school, be hungry, dirty and tired. But these are also signs of possible neglect – not necessarily parental drug addiction. “It is very, very difficult to pick out specific things that would definitely be caused by parental drug misuse. It is also quite easy to jump to the wrong conclusion,” says Jane Powell. Mood swings, drowsiness, hyperactivity, dilated or pinprick pupils, marks on arms and weight loss are signs that a

parent could be using drugs, she says. A parent in and out of prison would also make her ask questions. “I would also be worried about a child who seems very knowledgeable about drugs but, even then, it could be that they have an elder sibling who is taking them. Children often have no compunction at all about using drugs in front of a younger sibling.” Scott Haines says parents may take drugs during the day. “Look out for differences in behaviour between when they drop children off in the morning and when they collect them in the afternoon.” He says the key is to gather evidence that allows you to “put the pieces together”. That can be difficult and daunting. And, if you live near to a child you are concerned about, you may be especially worried about getting it wrong. In the end, it is not your job to prove that a parent is using drugs. Any “niggling concern” about a child should be discussed with the person responsible for child protection in your school, says Martin Barnes, chief executive of charity Drugscope. “Drug use does feature in a lot of child protection cases,” he says. “In up to 70 per cent of cases it is at least a factor.” Serious case reviews – carried out when a child is harmed or has died – often show that people working with children had information about their circumstances that they did not share with others. Jane Powell’s advice is simple: “Put yourself in the position of the child and trust yourself.”

It is not your job to prove that a parent is using drugs. Concern about a child should be discussed with the person responsible for child protection in your school

22  Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010


SUPPORT “Don’t ignore it but don’t overreact if you think a parent may be using drugs,” Jane Powell advises. ●● Schools can be a safe haven for children whose parents have a drug problem, offering a structure not provided at home. ●● Many problem drug users can switch quickly from stability to chaos, so constant vigilance and extra support where needed are important. ●● Bear that in mind that hyperactivity or insecurity in primary age children may be signs of a problem.

Parents who use

●● Children may seek a trusting relationship with an adult working in their school, who will be especially important to them. You may be the only adult in a child’s life who is reliable. ●● Encourage children to take part in extra-curricular activities.

DRUGS INFORMATION Hidden Harm: responding to the needs of children of problem drug users uk/publications/drugs/acmd1/ hidden-harm For more information and a list of common street drugs and their effects, visit www.learningsupport. Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010  23



champions T

eaching assistants have always been that they can make soup or knit a teddy’s a crafty lot. They often take the lead scarf can be a big confidence-booster. in teaching children the practical And, as TAs well know, sitting together skills of making things with their hands. as you make finger puppets or dinosaurs Children learn a lot from craft activican create an atmosphere of trust in ties. They develop manual strength and which children can open up and talk dexterity; they learn how to manipulate about whatever is on their mind. materials and use tools like scissors and A national organisation, Craft Club, needles; they find out how materials champions craft in schools, in the hope respond to different treatments; and they of reviving craft learning among young practice design skills. people. ‘Teaching assistants play a When we recycle The Crafts packaging or put Council, which vital role in bringing craft common objects set up Craft Club, clubs alive, as they are able to says: “Craft Club like cotton reels to coordinate clubs in schools will offer advice, a different use, we help teach children resources and and use their experience of to respect the earth’s support to inspire teaching when interacting resources. And, of teachers, teaching course, craft ability assistants, pupils with children’ is an important life and volunteers to skill, even in our electronic age. set up clubs during lunchtimes or after Craft activities also teach children that hours in their school or venue. you do not need expensive toys or gadgets ”Teaching assistants play a vital role to enjoy yourself – it is good fun making alongside volunteers in bringing craft clubs things for yourself or friends and family. alive, as they are able to coordinate clubs Craft also has benefits for children’s in schools and use their experience of mental health and self esteem. Learning teaching when interacting with children.” 24  Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010

PASS IT ON … Craft Club has kicked off (or should it be cast on) with KNIT 1, PASS IT ON, a campaign to encourage those who can knit to pass on their skills to someone else. Knitting gives a sense of achievement and boosts coordination, dexterity, maths and handwriting, according to the club. Knit 1, Pass it On is supported by the UK Handknitting Association and experienced knitters from the Women’s Institute and elsewhere. Craft Club is running three regional training days this autumn for people who want to get involved. So you do not have to be an expert knitter to set up your own club – craft clubs can help adults as well as pupils learn new skills. ■■ If you are interested in learning craft skills, or passing them on, register online at


Emotional and physical upheaval can result as children grow up sooner than ever, says Caroline Roberts


Make sure children have sufficient privacy when changing for PE


puberty C

hildren, particularly girls, are hitting puberty earlier and the effects are more likely to be seen in primary school. A recent Danish study found that the average age of onset is now 9.7 years – a year earlier than 15 years ago. Some children start showing signs when they are as young as eight. The likely cause is improved nutrition and rising levels of obesity – early puberty is more common in overweight

LOOK FOR … ●● a sudden growth spurt ●● appearance of body hair ●● acne ●● a more ‘adult’ body odour ●● breast development ●● the start of menstruation.

Puberty is a sensitive issue. If you are concerned about a child it is best to mention it to the school nurse or health advisor rather than broach the subject yourself. ●● A child who has a sudden growth spurt may no longer fit classroom furniture so make adjustments where necessary.

●● Make sure they have sufficient children. Other theories include environprivacy when changing for PE. mental pollution, eating lots of meat and ●● Watch out for teasing and make even too much television. it clear that personal comments Starting puberty before their friends are unacceptable. is often difficult for children and they are not always well prepared. Most schools talk about puberty hormone testosterone can result in in year 5 but this may be too late and aggressive behaviour.” parents are not always comfortable It can be hard to tell whether behavdiscussing the issue. This iour problems are related Watch out for to hormonal changes or means some children can be confused and upset by the to other factors, says Nicky teasing and changes. Thomas, school health make it clear The effects are not only advisor with Ealing Primary physical. “Children can suffer that personal Care Trust in London. “With quite a lot of emotional girls, watch out for anything comments are that seems to be cyclical upheaval as the hormones that are normally around at unacceptable and refer them to the school puberty are hitting a younger nurse. Often an explanation brain,” says Professor Peter Hindmarsh of about what’s happening will help.” the Institute of Child Health. Early developers may also become a “Their concentration may be affected target for teasing or bullying, and their and, in boys, rising levels of the male confidence can take a nose dive. Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010  25


Get chatting Meet teaching assistants and other learning support staff in the TeA Set, Learning Support’s new online forum. Open to all, it’s the place to bring your joys and headaches, and give and get advice and support from teaching assistants across the UK. (It’s completely free, and there are no pesky ads to annoy you either.) www.learningsuppor 26  Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010


Give yourself a

pat on the back Every day TAs are helping children to develop enquiring minds, says Sue Ross


he best lessons happen when the children do the learning. It may sound obvious, but sometimes it is hard to stand back and let them just get on with it. My favourite lesson is science. What a fantastic subject, so tactile, and the activities used to support the learning are so varied. In the past, we have lit up displays, acted out the water cycle and measured our shadows, all in small groups. In the most worrying experiment the kids were given a mixture of flour and water and told to work out how to separate it. They were offered a range of equipment, including sieves, filters, glass beakers and candles. I spent a frantic half hour repeating safety rules and imagining all sorts of catastrophes as every group decided they had to have candles and glass beakers. Fortunately the school was not burnt down and a lot of learning took place. I visit many schools and see a lot of

good practice from TAs. We are still at the frontline, supporting children, teachers and schools, even though we are sometimes undervalued by those who do not understand how vital our role is. They do not see the science lessons where we keep children safe while encouraging them to develop enquiring minds. They do not understand the need for children to explore their environment and test out their ideas. Many years ago education meant being taught; these days we have realised the value of independent learning. Yet, despite its name, it does not happen without a prod or two. Children need some well-timed open questions, they need praise and encouragement to keep going, and they need to be kept safe. TAs do all of this and more. So give yourselves a pat on the back. You’re doing a grand job.

Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010  27


For some adults, series reading books for children such as Beast Quest and Rainbow Magic are an offence to literature and should be avoided at any cost. Others find that their closely controlled structure and vocabulary hold children’s interest and build reading confidence. So, assuming series books are here to stay, what new ones are around for emerging readers? Nichola Gale investigates

Fairy Bears – Dizzy Julie Sykes Macmillan Paperback £0.99 Target age 5-8 The Fairy Bears live in the Magical Crystal Caves at the bottom of Firefly Meadow. A cross between miniature, fluffy Brownies with wings, environmentalists and cuddly lucky charms for little girls in need, a Fairy Bear promises “to work hard to care for the world and all its plants, animals and children”. Dizzy Bear is

Squad – a cross between the A Team, Charlie’s Angels and Batman – are “crime-busting super-monsters” with the motto “If you can’t take the slime, don’t do the crime!” With their newest recruit Plog adorned in gold lamé shorts and bucket boots, they take on their toughest battle to date against the Fearsome Fists. Will brute strength save the day or is teamwork the key to success? Full of all-action humour, this series has the bonus of free collector cards with every book.


magic desperate to move up to senior class in school but to do so she has to complete a challenge which makes SATS look like a breeze. With their pastel coloured covers and cutesy characters, this series has “pink, girly girls” in its sights, but its overlying message – that helping others is good – is very positive.

Slime Squad – The Fearsome Fists Steve Cole Random House Paperback £4.99 Target age 5-8 Slime and snot are always a good bet. Combine them with hundreds of minimonsters who live on a rubbish heap and eat fly’s legs in seagull-poo sauce and you are on to a winning formula. The Slime

28  Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home – Chester’s Story Sarah Hawkins Random House Paperback £4.99 Target age 5-8 Animal lovers have had a good year in children’s books. It is hard to pass a bookshelf for younger readers without a pull on heartstrings by the appealing gaze of a lovable cat or dog and nobody does this better than Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Published to celebrate the home’s 150th anniversary, this

is a six-book series, each part based on a real-life dog it has cared for. Their adventures may be tamer than some of their imaginary counterparts – Chester, for example, is a puppy who rescues his young owner from a dark cellar – but the stories are better because of it. All royalties from the sale of the books go to Battersea, doubtless followed by many of the books’ young dog-doting readers.

a rabbit whose powers of escape make her unpopular with her dad but then save the day. At a pet show, Harriet’s other talent of turning triple back flips brings her to the attention of the producer of hit TV show Superpets. But as the star of the furry equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent, Harriet finds fame brings more problems that she ever thought possible. Narrated by Harriet herself, this is a fun-filled read.

Pocket Cats – Paw Power

Glitterwings Academy – Flying High

Kitty Wells David Fickling Books Paperback £4.99 Target age 5-8 Some children can only dream of having a pet. Nine-year-old Maddy has always longed for a cat but, because of her brother’s allergies, will never own one. But then she finds three tiny, ceramic cats at an antiques market. Whether through magic or wishful thinking each cat has a special power and comes alive when problems need solving. In Paw Power, it is the turn of Greykin to turn into a real cat, so tiny he can fit in Maddy’s pocket. But is he big enough to take on the school bully, and will his magic give Maddy the confidence she so desperately needs? Mixing enchantment with real life, this series is aimed at slightly more proficient readers with a love of make-believe.

Stunt Bunny – Showbiz Sensation Tamsyn Murphy Simon and Schuster Paperback £4.99 Target age 5-8 Rabbits star in many a picture book, but are usually ousted in favour other animals in chapter books. An exception is Harriet Houdini,

Titania Woods Bloomsbury Paperback £3.99 Target age 5-8 Twink is excited about starting her first term at Glitterwings Academy, a cross between Malory Towers and Hogwarts. But being a fairy does not mean she is immune to the concerns of human schoolgirls. Will she make any friends? Will she be any good at the lessons? And what will happen when she is the only fairy unable to fly? Previously in hardback, this is traditional writing with a sparkly edge.

So, what next after Beast Quest? One contender is this series, just out in paperback. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Beasts (RSPCB) is a rescue centre for rare and endangered species. When arch-criminal The Baron dragon-naps a Firebelly, it is down to resident werewolf Ulf to track down the missing dragon before The Baron enters it in the ultimate battle of the beasts … A fantastical adventure with a touch of whodunnit and a sprinkling of humour and gore (the dragon autopsy is not for the fainthearted). Well worth a read.

Adam Blade Orchard Books Paperback £5.99 Target age 8-12

had a good year in children’s books. It is hard to pass a bookshelf for younger readers without a pull on heartstrings by the lovable cat or dog

The Beastly Boys Simon & Schuster Paperback £5.99 Target age 9-12

The Chronicles of Avantia – First Hero

Animal lovers have

appealing gaze of a

Beastly Business – Werewolf versus Dragon

Fifteenyear-old Tanner has become the Chosen Rider of Firepos the flame bird, having lost both parents in a war that threatens to destroy everything he has left. Spurred on by vengeance and destiny, Tanner must face deadly beasts and engage in mortal combat in a battle of good versus evil. With more text and a darker content than the Beast Quest books, this is aimed at readers of eight upwards. The Chronicles of Avantia are an excellent introduction to fantasy despite being a manufactured series.

Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010  29


I can’t get on with my

teacher Sue Ross, former teaching assistant, now a TA assessor, gives her advice on some of the problems any TA can face


I don’t seem to get on with my teacher this year. She is new to school, just qualified and I could be doing a lot to help her but instead spend most of my time photocopying or clearing things away. Last week I took a whiteboard pen off a child who was scribbling with it. I later noticed she had given it back to him. This upset me as I feel it undermines me in the class. The behaviour of some of the children is also a bit of a concern, but she doesn’t seem to worry about it. Agnes

separate your feelings and opinions from the facts. Once you are clear about what is actually happening you can discuss it with the teacher. Ask what her behaviour expectations are and explain that you want to know so you can be consistent as she is in charge of the classroom. Explain that you are willing to support her in any way you can and then outline your past training and experience. I hope you’ll be able to get together regularly. Good working relationships take time but are essential to create a positive learning environment for the children.



Have you spoken to the teacher? Maybe she is unclear about how to direct you in the classroom, or perhaps she feels uncomfortable asking you to do things for her. Perhaps you need to make time to get together and have a talk about what she expects your role to be. Negative behaviour can affect children’s learning, and needs to be addressed. Take a step back, and try to

I’ve recently been asked to support a statemented child in KS2. The problem is that the child’s mum is also a TA here at the school and she keeps stopping me in the corridor to ask about her son. I have also heard her speaking sharply to him when she thinks he has not been working hard for me. Louise


Good working relationships take time but are essential to create a positive learning environment for the children 30  Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010

I can see that this could be a problem. You need a productive and friendly relationship with his mum, but you also need to have boundaries in place to protect the relationship you are building with the pupil. The child’s mother may be feeling embarrassed and anxious about his having support. I’d be inclined to chat with the head or the SENCO. A timetable change could ensure you and she don’t work in the same areas as each other, removing the risk of Mum overhearing you and the pupil. You could also mention your concerns to the teacher. If Mum then waylays you for a progress update, you could suggest that she sees you with the teacher at a specified time to suit you all. As a TA herself, she should really be aware of the correct procedure to follow to inquire about her child’s progress; she may just need a gentle reminder.


Find out who the new children are, introduce yourself to them and try to learn their names. If you are the new person then you will have a lot of introducing to do.

The new school year is an opportunity to create a positive atmosphere in the playground, says Shelly Newstead


new school year can see many changes in the playground. If everybody has benefited from some time off there will be more energy on the playground – from adults and children! Children will be in a new year group and new children will have arrived. Lunchtime supervisors may have changed too and some schools may have new equipment to play with. Change can be unsettling whether you are four or 64 and being new in a busy playground can feel odd. If several people are feeling odd it can give the playground an unsettled feel. All the playgrounds that I have been on have a feeling. Some feel happy and

Once more with

FEELING energetic and some feel chaotic and scary! Others feel as if they are in limbo. Some feel downright miserable. This is a great time for lunchtime supervisors to be proactive to create a “positive feel” on the playground. Here are some ideas: Find out who the new children are,

Tell the children about any ‘do’s and don’ts’ straight away so they do not learn the rules by being told off introduce yourself to them and try to learn their names. If you are the new person then you will have a lot of introducing to do. Make sure that all children know the routines – how they get into lunch, where the toilets are, what happens at the end of break, for instance.

Tell the children about any “do’s and don’ts” straight away so they do not learn the rules by being told off. New adult colleagues also need to know the practical stuff, like where things are stored and what happens when. And take time to tell them how the playground “works”. Established staff may take important information for granted: part of the playground needs more supervision, for instance, or year 4 children cannot all fit into the dining hall at the same time. If you are the new colleague, make sure that you ask a lot of questions, even if they may seem daft. But avoid swapping gossip about individual children – it’s a new year, so each child deserves the chance of a fresh start. If you take time now to get the playground dynamics right, you will be reaping the benefits for the rest of the year.

Learning Support  Autumn Term [1] 2010  31


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