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What is dyspraxia? The magazine for teaching assistants Issue 34 • Spring Term 1  2011

All about cyberbullying HLTA funding

Accidents happen What to do about toilet troubles

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

from the editor

Recognition and reward

The magazine for teaching assistants

Career development 10 What are the prospects for professional development now that funds for TA training have been cut?

Working life 12 Read an extract from a TA’s story

Lethal fibres 13 Asbestos poses an unseen and serious danger in schools

Toilet trouble 14 ‘Accidents’ in class are far from rare. What are the implications for TAs?

Winter wonderland 16 Create a display of snowflakes – each one unique

Specific learning difficulties 18 What are dyscalculia and dyspraxia?

Hunting the vital spark 20 We find websites about electricity that excite, not bore

Cyberbullying 22 The whole school, especially TAs, needs to be involved to combat cyberbullying

Attention seeking 24

I doubt you became a teaching assistant because you wanted to clean up children who have wet or soiled themselves. But, as our cover feature shows, this has become an accepted part of the job for many TAs. Should it be? The unions say teaching assistants should not be made to perform toileting duties unwillingly, and rightly point out that it’s certainly not in children’s interests if the person looking after them is doing it under duress or with resentment or disgust. Once again, it’s partly a question of recognition and reward. A child who, for no fault of their own, is incontinent needs an adult’s help – and it’s up to the grown ups to make sure the child gets the help they need. But it is not fair, or sustainable, to pile complex and difficult responsibilities onto the role of people who are already putting in a great deal of effort for very modest pay without compensating them in some way. And, to be blunt, if teaching assistants were mostly men rather than women, it’s unlikely that anyone would expect them to absorb this work without extra money. Luckily many children can learn to manage their own needs as they get older, if the school gives them the opportunity. All children need decent, clean, private toilets, with toilet paper – and the opportunity to use them whenever they need to. Without these basics, there is a high risk of “accidents” as well as more serious health problems. But many children with chronic incontinence problems can also look after themselves as they get older with the right treatment, support, and suitable facilities. Incontinence is an important issue for staff and children. Sweeping it under the carpet – so to speak – is no solution.

Be positive and give praise where it’s due Update 4–7

Ask Sue


TA campaign

Children’s books


Displays 21

Man’s world


Children’s health

Playtime 31

9 25

Frances Rickford Editor Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011  3


TAs’ role in reading ‘crucial’ Highly skilled teaching assistants play a crucial role in teaching children to read, according to Ofsted. A report on schools most successful in teaching reading says they share a determination that every child will learn to read, combined with a rigorous approach to developing speaking and listening skills, and teaching reading, writing and spelling through systematic phonics. Teaching assistants were highly

trained and their roles were “almost interchangeable” with those of teachers in delivering the phonics teaching, said Ofsted. One child in five still leaves primary school without being able to read well enough, but some schools manage to teach almost all pupils to read. These include schools in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and with pupils from many different ethnic backgrounds and

languages. Ofsted investigated what made the difference and found staff training was a key factor. ”The schools were diligent in training teaching assistants as well as qualified teachers. This enabled them to contribute seamlessly to the teaching programme, especially when classes were split into groups.” Reading by Six: How the Best Schools Do It (Ofsted 2010)

Medical standards warning Support staff should only carry out medical procedures they are properly trained for and if their grading and pay reflects the responsibility involved, Unison has advised. In guidance to branches, the union warns that medical needs in schools are not being dealt with effectively. Results from a union survey highlight a range of medical support needs in schools including airway suctioning, tube feeding and catheterisation. Unison believes these medical requirements should be dealt with by clinical or condition-trained specialist staff with the right level of qualifications and pay. Unison says relying on volunteers or pressurising reluctant staff to take on medical duties is not a sustainable

strategy, and puts staff and children at risk. ”School inclusion policies come at a price – for example the employment of school nurses and specialist staff with a health care role,” it says. The guidance says local authorities and schools should set clear standards for medical care. Children with complex medical needs should have a regularly updated care plan. The union also says support staff should not generally be required to nappy-change incontinent pupils, though dealing with small children’s “accidents” has been accepted as part of the job. Managing medicines and providing medical support in schools and early years settings. Unison

news flashes 1 in 3 argue with children weekly

Most parents feel confident about caring for their children and nearly all find it rewarding, according to a government survey. But one in three say they argue with their child more than once a week, and two out of three say they find parenting frustrating most or some of the time. Parents of children with special educational needs find parenting

4  Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011

pressure on kids to be reviewed

less rewarding. They argue with their children more often, have more problems with their behaviour and experience more tension with their partners. Parental Opinion Survey 2010. DFE.

The government, prompted by concern about “sexy” underwear and other clothing targeted at children, has ordered a review of whether commercial pressures are undermining parents and forcing children to grow up too quickly. It will be conducted by Reg Bailey, chief executive of the Christian charity Mothers’ Union. It will report in May.

Government recognises role of school support staff The government has given its first indication that it recognises support staff have a role to play in schools. But many TAs will be disappointed that a new schools white paper says nothing about pay, training or professional development for support staff. There were signs, prompted by the scrapping of the national HLTA training budget and School Support Staff Negotiating Body, that the coalition government was trying to downplay the role of teaching assistants in preparation for school budget cuts. But the new white paper says: “Every member of school staff has an important role to play in ensuring that pupils and students get an excellent education – not only head teachers, teachers and teaching assistants, but also bursars, canteen staff, mentors, caretakers and

Christine McAnea: education a team game other support staff. ”In the best schools, well-deployed teaching assistants support teachers in achieving excellent results with pupils.” Unison’s head of education Christina McAnea was concerned that the white paper was so focused on teachers. “Education is a team game,” she said. “The successful education team

Union vows to keep high profile for staff A trade union has pledged to resist the return to the “invisibility days” for school support staff. Unison is to consult members on how to further its campaign for better pay and conditions for teaching assistants and other non-teaching school staff after education secretary Michael Gove announced the School Support Staff Negotiating Body is to be abolished. Unison’s national schools committee will ballot members on the options available – including industrial action, negotiating possibilities, and campaign priorities. “Work will continue to keep the profile of support staff high and to resist a return to the invisibility days.” Education secretary Michael Gove announced that the SSSNB will be abolished as soon as possible

because “it does not fit well with the government’s priorities for greater deregulation of the pay and conditions arrangements for the school workforce”. The SSSNB is similar to the Teachers Pay Review Body. It took four years to set up and was producing a national framework for the pay and conditions of about 500,000 support staff. The decision to scrap it means school support staff will continue to have pay and conditions determined at a local level by employers. Unison head of education Christina McAnea said: “This is a bitter blow to the mainly women, overwhelmingly low-paid, hard-working and loyal support staff in schools. “We are calling for an immediate equality impact assessment, as it is likely this move will hit women hard.”

includes classroom support staff, business managers, library and technical staff in schools and professional staff at the local authority. ”There is much reference to cutting bureaucracy for teachers with no reference to the skills remodelling agenda and the increasing role support staff play in schools.” The white paper outlines plans to change teacher training and to give heads more power over their budgets including how much they pay staff. Schools will lose some existing duties, such as working with other organisations. The national curriculum is to be reviewed again, focusing on core subjects. SATS tests are also to be reviewed.

funds pledge ‘misleading’ The education union ATL has said that government assurances about spending on schools before the comprehensive spending review were misleading. ATL leader Martin Freedman said Michael Gove had admitted that the terms of the pupil premium “are not those that the coalition government outlined to us before the CSR”. Schools’ spending would rise only because the pupil premium was included so schools that did not get the premium or got a lower level of the premium would suffer a loss of funding. Martin Freedman said if redundancies resulted, unions would find it hard to co-operate with the government’s programme.

Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011  5


SATS are to be put to the test The government has asked a panel of headteachers and experts to review the English system for testing pupils at key stage 2. Education secretary Michael Gove said he wanted schools to be “properly accountable for the progress of every child” but also wanted to avoid children being drilled or having a restricted education because of the testing regime. The panel is made up of six current or former primary heads, one secondary head and a former Ofsted director. It will be chaired by cross bench peer Lord Bew, and will produce its final report and recommendations in June. Last year some heads and teachers boycotted SATS tests because they believed they are unfair to schools and pupils.

What support are local authorities offering to teaching assistants who want to progress their careers?


The cast of the Gruffalo stage show in London are supporting a campaign to get children chatting. The Chatterbox challenge, organised by the charity ICAN, is a mass participation activity with singing, rhyming and craft activities to help children under five develop communication skills and also to raise money for ICAN’s work with children who have speech and language difficulties. Every year, about 1,000 children

take part and, to celebrate its tenth anniversary, this year’s Chatterbox Challenge includes a world record attempt at 11am on 1 March 2011 for the largest-ever game of head, shoulders, knees and toes. It will take place in multiple venues across the UK. Playgroups, primary schools and nurseries can request a free Chatterbox Challenge activity pack from the c­ harity’s website

TA jailed for sex with pupils

The judge at Liverpool Crown Court said that although he accepted Patel’s behaviour was out of character, the offences were so serious they justified an immediate prison sentence. Patel, a single mother of two, was also given a sexual offences prevention order banning her from working with children under 16 and being alone in the company of under-16s (apart from her own children).

news flashes Parenting ‘means more than money’

Good parenting in the first years of life is more important than family income to a child’s life chances, says a report. Frank Field, the government’s “poverty czar”, says there is overwhelming evidence that children’s experiences in the first five years are the most important and that funds and benefits should be weighted towards disadvantaged children in the early years. 6  Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011

A teaching assistant has been jailed for 16 months after admitting she had sex with two 15-year-old boy pupils. Hina Patel, 37, worked as a swimming teacher and classroom assistant at Birkdale High School, near Southport, Merseyside. She exchanged phone numbers with the boys in a one-to-one supervision session, and later invited them to her home.

Children’s minister Sarah Teather in class

Cuts hit museums, childcare Museums, Sure Start childcare, and the umbrella organisation for the children’s workforce are among the latest victims of government cuts. Eight local museums, including London’s Horniman and Geffrye Museums, and Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry will lose direct government funding from 2015. Other museums affected are the National Coal Mining Museum for England, the National Football Museum, the People’s History Museum and The Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums.

The government is looking for new sponsors for the museums, which are already facing a 15% cut in their budget over the next four years. The Horniman in south east London, which houses a world-renowned collection of objects from different cultures (inset), and the Geffrye Museum, showing what English middle class homes were like from 1600 to the present day, both have big schools programmes. Children’s minister Sarah Teather has announced that children’s centres in deprived areas would no longer have to provide full-time child care or hire staff with both qualified teacher and

early years professional status. She said from 2013 the most disadvantaged two-year-olds would receive 15 hours of free early education a week. The charity 4Children welcomed this, but said it was a mistake to end the requirement for children’s centres to provide full day care. “In many deprived areas children’s centres provide some of the only high quality, full-time, childcare. If we are going to help parents off welfare and into work, as the government says it wants to do, then childcare is vital.” The minister also announced that the Children’s Workforce Development Council, a quango which has been streamlining the children’s workforce, is to be axed.

Traveller children need support Children from Gypsy and Roma families have low attainment, are more likely to be said to have special educational needs, and are four times more likely to be excluded from school because of their behaviour, according to research commissioned by the last government.

Many Gypsy and Roma children do not transfer to secondary school and most of those who do leave by 14. Primary and secondary schools needed to work together to change this, said the researchers. Trust between schools, families and community groups had to be built.

Schools also needed to recognise that children who are unhappy at school are unlikely to attend or achieve. They needed funds for the right pastoral support such as specialist teaching assistants. Improving the outcomes for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Pupils: Final Report. DFE.

Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011  7

Don ’t cut TA jobs! campaign

More comments from our online petition against TA job cuts Learning Support 23 High Street Bishop’s Castle SY9 5BE ISSN 1747-1990 © Brightday Publishing 2011 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

children I dread to think how the cted if affe at our school would be of TAs m tea Our . TA jobs were cut e an vid pro and d nce erie is vastly exp teaching ting por sup in role l essentia less able staff, particularly with nagement. ma our students and behavi nce since erie exp rs yea I have eight and have leaving the armed forces . tus sta attained HLTA Any cuts in TA jobs wo uld be disastrous for our school . We are in a socially deprived area and the pupils are very disadvantaged . They are low ability on entering school and without the support of TAs their learning would take ma ny steps back. TAs give a lot of support to pupils and we need mo re, not less. Give schools more fundin g. hildren’s I know from my grandc are. school how important TAs their e iev ach They help children to at gre ate cre TAs s. targets in clas oy. enj en ldr chi the ich wh displays d, rea m They help by hearing the p hel and nce fide they boost their con y The . ths ma and ng with handwriti well. How organise school trips as do all this? ff sta ng chi tea the ld cou

Sign the petition against teaching assistant job cuts at

Behaviour would deterio rate. Lower ability children would be drastically affected – learning nee ds would be neglected – teacher wo uldn’t be able to spend one to one tim e with these pupils as do TAs. Pupil Self esteem and Independence would suffer. uld go. A lot Individual attention wo xed talking rela re mo l fee s of parent chers. Most to TAs rather than tea live in the ool sch of the TAs in our parents ore ref the , nity local commu their on re mo are we k thin tend to ome bec to level. We help the school rn! lea to ce pla a happy and fun Lack of teaching assista nts would make it almost impossible for teachers to offer individ ual support to children of lower abi lities/SEN. Teaching assistants play a vital role in helping to monitor chi ldren’s work and reporting back to tea ching staff. Not only that but the dai ly tasks of preparing work, like pho tocopying and collecting homework , would take up valuable teachi ng time if it was all left to the teache r. d one-to-one Many children who nee uld be ut, time and extra inp wo personal a er off We . deprived of this the t tha ch roa app ing and car e to give. tim e hav not do rs che tea

Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011  9

professional development

One of the first acts of the coalition government was to axe funds for the training and development of school support staff. Six months on, Caroline Roberts surveys the prospects for TAs who want to develop their careers

Looking for



oney for training school support staff used to be paid to local authorities by the Training and Development Agency (TDA). Most was used to fund teaching assistants on the higher-level teaching assistant (HLTA) programme. Some was also spent on induction and other continuing professional development (CPD). So what are the chances now of developing your career?

Share the cost

The TDA advises TAs who want to apply for the HLTA programme to go directly to the regional training provider for their area as local authorities will no longer be coordinating the process. For funding, you will have to apply to your headteacher or governing body for full funding or to share the cost; or even pay for it out of your own pocket. The three days of training on how to prepare your portfolio of evidence, plus the assessment itself, can total about £1,400 – a lot for the average TA to find from a meagre salary. Other forms of CPD are unlikely to be available because of the funding cut and the squeeze on local authority budgets. 10  Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011

Regional programme

Local authorities around the country are responding to the situation in a variety of ways. Devon and other authorities in the South West, for example, are looking into the possibility of devising a regional programme that meets all the HLTA standards. But this will only happen if there are the staff to deliver it. Barking and Dagenham in east London says it cannot run its TA induction programme this year due to lack of funds, although NVQ level 2 and 3 courses are running as usual. And, as in several other local authorities, Middlesbrough’s member

The three days of training on how to prepare your portfolio of evidence, plus the assessment itself, can total about £1,400 – a lot for the average TA on a meagre salary

of staff responsible for overseeing the professional development of TAs faces redundancy. In areas where there is no longer someone to coordinate TA training, schools will be left to their own devices when it comes to developing their support staff.

Not all bad news

It’s not all bad news, though. “Every head will say they value CPD highly but we may have to be a bit more creative in how we do it,” says Bob White, head of Lindfield Primary School in West Sussex. “Schools in our locality are looking at ways we can team up to provide in-house training for TAs. We could run our own courses on supporting maths in the classroom or on ICT, for example. “We know what our needs are and have the expertise within our staff, so we can make it more bespoke and there’s little cost involved.” But, given that HLTA status is recognition of what you can already do, rather than a training programme in which you develop further skills, will heads be willing to spend money on it? Yes, says Kath Perrin, a former primary head who is now a freelance consultant and trainer. “If I was a head

be realistic If a headteacher knows an HLTA role in the school is coming up they will be looking to develop people for sustainability and succession planning

now, I would want to make sure any member of staff taking on an extended role had their skills, knowledge and experience accredited.

Rigorous standards

“The HLTA programme involves a set of very rigorous standards so it offers heads, governors and parents a safeguard and a guarantee that that person is up to the job. “A head will know if there’s going to be an HLTA role coming up in the school and, if there is, they’ll be looking to develop people. That’s important for sustainability and succession planning

‘If I was a head now, I would want to make sure any member of staff taking on an extended role had their skills, knowledge and experience accredited’

as they’ve got someone waiting in the wings.”

Reflective professional

Patrick Marshall, head of Marriotts School, a secondary in Hertfordshire, agrees that HLTA status is much more than a pat on the head for TAs doing a good job. “All our HLTAs have become better by going through the process,” he says. “A programme like that automatically leads you to become a more reflective professional. You’re asking yourself what you do, how you do it and how you can do it better. Training does cost money, but support staff give a lot and they have a right to personal development and high quality CPD.” What are his criteria for funding an HLTA in the future? “From a cold-headed accountant’s view, you’re going to invest in that person so you have to think about what you’re going to get back. “You need to retain high quality staff, so you want to know how long they intend to stay. You also want to know how good they are at their job currently and whether they have a desire to develop in the school. How interested are they in becoming better at what they do?”

Victoria Hindshaw, a TA at Corpus Christi RC Primary School in Middlesbrough, was set to start the HLTA programme when she got a call telling her that no funding would be available. “I spoke to my head who said she would be more than willing to fund my HLTA as it would be an asset for the school. I’m well aware that there isn’t an HLTA post within the school, but if a post does come up or I do work that is relevant to the HLTA role, I’ll be paid for the hours I work. It’s a guarantee that she’s always got someone who can go through the planning and deliver lessons when teachers are out on courses.” So what advice does she have for other TAs thinking of approaching their head for funding? “You need to be realistic about your goals and what you’re going to be able to achieve from it,” she says. “You also need to have a good track record and be sure that you will pass, as the head is putting that money up and needs to know you’ll be able to do it. Apart from that, just go for it. They can only say ‘no’.”

‘You need to be realistic about your goals and what you’re going to be able to achieve from it. You also need to have a good track record and be sure you will pass’ Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011  11

TAs’ stories Celia Dillow worked as a teaching assistant in six schools in four towns and on two continents before she wrote a book of stories about the lives and work of teaching assistants, helped by a research grant from the Economic and Social Research Council. She wanted to tell teaching assistants’ stories, because she believes TAs matter. “The text concentrates on the TA as a person because her life, history, desires and experiences impact upon the TA that she becomes. And TAs affect the business of the classroom.” This is a short extract from one of the stories.

Working life T

he children breathe like dragons in the frosted morning, stamping their feet against the cold. The sunlight is crystal hard through the pointing pines, but the beauty of the morning is lost on Lois, who listens distractedly to the easy chatter at the school gate. The children file in and she waves goodbye and then moves reluctantly to the staff entrance, trying to keep her new, pinchy shoes off the grass. She had been overjoyed to be offered the TA position last term. It allowed her to keep other commitments, offered the chance to contribute to school life and to explore a new career by working with experienced others. She was positive and energetic and excited. But the reality was so hard. From her first day she had been playing “catch-up”, everyone else was too overstretched and busy to answer her questions. There was no induction course because, as a parent, she was treated as an insider. but it would have been nice to know where the staff hung their coats, left their bags and went to the loo. And there was no formal introduction or announcement about her, so most people thought she was there as a helpful mum. To be included on staff bulletins and circulars, and even the tea and biscuit rota, would have made her feel part of the team. Teamwork had been a key phrase during her interview. It was in the classroom that she felt completely at sea. For some hours each day she was the dedicated support for a charming autistic boy who needed some 12  Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011

She was positive and energetic and excited. But the reality was so hard. From her first day she had been playing ‘catch-up’

help with his handwriting and organisation skills. Sometimes she acted as a scribe for him during classwork periods. At other times she helped to reframe some of the confusion of the day and helped him to access the information that everyone else decoded so easily. She learned to read his atrocious writing and to understand the way that he processed information on the page. They developed a close working relationship but she realised that she lacked specialist knowledge and had no idea what resources were available. There was no time to ask anyone. She muddled through, drawing heavily on common sense and using the internet for ideas. She read all she could about the autism spectrum and gradually built up her skills and understanding. The rest of the time she worked with small groups in a variety of activities, and found, by inference and deduction, the things she needed to do. But not knowing what was going to happen next left her permanently disadvantaged, edgy and worried. She felt depressed and exhausted by her work and began to dread Monday mornings. She knew she was not doing a good job; she needed time to reflect on the aims and material for the day and to prepare what she was going to say and do. ■■ An extract from Supporting Stories: Being a Teaching Assistant, by Celia Dillow. Trentham Books, 2010. £18.99

your health

Asbestos poses an unseen danger in many schools, warns Joy Ogden


ou might think a classroom is one of the safer working environments. But in some, putting drawing pins in the ceiling or walls could release life-threatening quantities of asbestos fibres? Asbestos gives off very small fibres that are breathed in easily and remain in the lungs for many years. Cumulative exposure can lead to incurable illnesses such as mesothelioma and lung cancer, typically 30 to 40 years later. Few people develop the diseases, but there is no known risk-free minimum exposure and no-one knows who is vulnerable. Between 2001 and 2005, 103 TAs, school teachers, lecturers and nursery nurses died of mesothelioma. There are no statistics showing how many children have been exposed to asbestos and subsequently died. UNISON and the National Union of Teachers stress the risk is small but strongly recommend that members should not mount displays until asbestos insulating boards in ceilings or walls are removed or sealed, or it is categorically confirmed that no asbestos is present. Government must recognise that asbestos is a health hazard to children, staff and parents and act quickly to remove it safely, say the unions. And, in the meantime, it must ensure that schools have rigorous asbestos management systems. Because of its resistance to heat and chemicals, asbestos was widely used in building more than 14,000 schools between 1945 and 1975. Lagging pipes, loose packing in wall partitions and spray coating on steelwork are some examples. Although the use of most types of asbestos is now banned, it is still

Lethal fibres present in around 80 per cent of schools. Michael Lees has seen the devastating effects at first hand. His wife Gina was exposed to asbestos fibres during 30 years as a primary school teacher and died aged 51 from the resulting mesothelioma in 2000. He has investigated and supported the campaign for safe management and removal of asbestos from all schools ever since, becoming an acknowledged expert.

Ceiling tiles

He says: “In one school where Gina taught for six years, she put up displays of children’s work every single day, often with the teaching assistant’s help, standing on a chair to put drawing pins in the ceiling tiles. I even remember once she had to brush the debris off her clothes.” Tests prove that pushing just one drawing pin into an asbestos insulating

board, ceiling or wall releases 6,000 fibres. Staples are no better. But Michael Lees found that two former headteachers in a school where his wife had taught had no idea that any asbestos existed at all, “let alone that every ceiling and radiator contained asbestos”. Because of this, staff and children had inadvertently damaged areas of asbestos and released the potentially lethal fibres into the air over many years. “The Health and Safety Executive issued guidance in 2008 saying that ceiling tiles must not be lifted, but the message is not getting through,” he says. “I spoke to two TAs recently who were still hanging up children’s work by lifting ceiling tiles. They must not do it.” ■■ Speak to your head teacher, support staff governor, or union rep if you are worried about asbestos in your school. For more information, visit:

Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011  13

toilet trouble

planning for

accidents One in 20 five-yearolds regularly wet their pants during the day and one in 30 soil themselves. What does this mean for TAs?


orking with young children inevitably includes helping them use the toilet and sorting them out if they have the occasional accident, as teaching assistants and nursery nurses know well. But what happens if a child is having many “accidents” a day? Or if the child concerned is not in reception, but year five or six? Although most children achieve full bladder and bowel control by four, schools report that more children are starting school without being able to use the toilet reliably.

Far from rare

ERIC, a charity that supports children who have problems with wetting and soiling, estimates that one in 20 five-year-olds

regularly wet their pants during the day, and one in 30 soil themselves. For most children, things improve as they gain more physical control and social awareness. But it’s still far from rare among older primary school pupils, affecting one in 50 seven-year-olds and one in 100 11-year-olds. There are many reasons for daytime wetting and soiling in children. Among the most common are bladder overactivity (when the bladder empties before it is full), urinary tract infection and constipation. In almost all cases the child has no control at all. Most of these conditions can be treated so it’s important to talk to the school nurse. But mainstream schools are also admitting more children with learning difficulties, physical impairments or medical conditions which have an effect on their bladder or bowel control. The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 means schools cannot refuse to accept children because they have difficulties with continence, but heads should make sure they have the

toilet rights ●● Children should always be allowed to go to the toilet whenever and as soon as they need to. ●● Children need decent, safe, private toilet facilities with handwashing and drying facilities as

14  Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011

much as adults do, and have a right to expect them. ●● Pupils with special needs must have suitable toilets they can get to and use easily. From Bog Standard’s charter: www.

facilities and resources needed to cope. Teaching assistants are at the frontline of looking after children with toileting issues, and the Unison trade union is worried that schools are leaning too heavily on them to manage pupil incontinence. It says inclusion needs to be better resourced and planned for. Forcing TAs to provide intimate care for pupils is not fair on the pupil or the member of staff, and

I pooed my pants in class because the teacher wouldn’t let me go. I was really desperate but she still wouldn’t let me go. I’ve never pooed at school because the toilets aren’t very nice. I only use them when I’m really desperate for a wee. When I need a poo I wait till I get home. The toilets are locked during lessons and we can only use them at break. I knew I wouldn’t last that long because I was in a lot of pain. I couldn’t stand the pain and it was getting worse and worse, so I just pushed it out into my pants. Message posted to ERIC’s Bog Standard campaign by an 11-year-old boy

is not acceptable says new guidance. “A reference to ‘toileting’ in a contract is inadequate and any contractual requirement for staff to deal with incontinence should spell out what is expected by way of nappy changing and the age of pupils,” says the guidance. “It is also unacceptable to impose an amendment to a contract to include dealing with incontinence.

Health and safety

“There are training and health and safety issues and resource implications. Schools should monitor the extent of toileting required and take measures to meet it without pressurising reluctant staff, which must lead to the discomfort of the pupil.”

For children affected, the potential for humiliation, low self-esteem, name calling and bullying is enormous. They need sensitive adult support and schools need to do everything possible to help children become continent. Schools can indeed do a lot to help children to manage their own toilet needs. ERIC runs two school campaigns: Bog Standard for better pupil toilets and Water is Cool in Schools. Bog Standard has just launched a School Toilet Award – “to recognise schools that care for their toilets”. ERIC says adults should never discourage or prevent children from going to the toilet when they need to. Young bladders and bowels will not necessarily conform to school timetables.


But if the toilets are dirty, smelly, cold, with doors hanging off and no toilet paper available, children will avoid using them. And if children do not drink enough during the day – perhaps because they don’t want to have to visit the school loo – they are more prone to urinary infections and constipation, both of which can increase the risk of incontinence. Dealing with incontinence is a tough issue for teaching assistants, and even tougher for incontinent children. But with the right information, a lot of problems can be resolved. Visit www. for links to the organisations and publications mentioned here, and more.

hannah cumming

guidelines For children with specific toileting problems, a group of head teachers, health professionals and other advisors has written guidelines for schools. It recommends: ●● a meeting before the child starts school between parents, any health professional involved, the head, and school staff who will be working with the child – and the child too if he or she is old enough to contribute to the meeting ●● a full assessment of the child’s difficulties, and a plan agreed for how to go forward. This could involve targets

for improving continence, and an assessment of how the school’s facilities can best be used ●● the teacher, and any other named staff member who is to be involved with the child, should get individual guidance and training from the health professional involved with the child ●● members of staff involved in changing or cleaning children with continence difficulties should use protective garments and latex or plastic gloves. Go to resources for a link to the guidelines Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011  15

Page Label craft

Snowflake Make a display of snowflakes, every one unique, says Clare Beaton In winter we sometimes get snow instead of rain. This is because at low temperatures, water vapour in the air freezes into clusters of crystals which fall as snowflakes. Each snowflake has six points, but they all have their own unique patterns. Like finger prints, no two are the same.

PAPER SNOWFLAKES What you will need paper squares or circles scissors pens

Use this template as a starting point for your own snowflake design. Or extend the six lines out and cut into a hexagon to make larger snowflakes.

Sprinkle with glitter or stick on silvery sequins. Try using foil papers, white and silver doilies. 16  Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011

CUT SNOWFLAKES What you will need paper squares scissors


1. Fold in two

2. Fold again

3. And again

lacy pattern

Turn over and fold the triangle of paper on the right over to the left, to make a two-pointed shape


5. Cut off the two points at the top

shape between points

6. Cut both sides of folded paper. One side will form the shape between the six points. The other will form the lacy pattern within the points. Open out. Fold and cut out more – all different. Display on classroom windows.

What you will need pipe cleaners plastic beads Twist three pipe cleaners together at their centres. Thread the beads onto the six pipe cleaner “arms” in the same order, leaving 1 cm free at the ends. Finish by twisting the ends over the last bead to secure. Hang up with thread.

See Clare Beaton’s craft and activity books at Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011  17

learning difficulties

Jill Morgan continues our series on learning disabilities by looking at two of the less well known specific learning difficulties – dyscalculia and dyspraxia

when things don’t


add up

n the last article in this series we looked briefly at dyslexia, which is often referred to as a specific learning difficulty. However, there are other specific learning difficulties which may be less well known than dyslexia but which will almost certainly affect some of the children you work with. Two of these are dyscalculia and dyspraxia.

Dyscalculia is a learning disability that has received relatively little attention from the research community, so not a great deal is known about it.

Number bonds

What we do know is that it affects children’s ability to learn in any situation where numbers and maths concepts are involved. For example, a child may be able to count from memory, but have no sense of what those numbers mean in relation to a number of objects; or a child may have great difficulty remembering even the simplest of number bonds (2 + 8 = 10) or multiplication table items (2 x 3 = 6). 18  Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011

You have no doubt heard plenty of adults laughingly say that they are useless at maths – you may have said it yourself – but dyscalculia is more than a sense of not being very clever with numbers. You can probably add up the money in your purse, and do basic mental arithmetic, but even these simple maths operations are very difficult for the child with dyscalculia. Dyscalculia may affect as much as 6% of the population (that’s about 1 in 16 or, on average, two children in a class of 32). You can find more information about dyscalculia on the website

Language content

The British Dyslexia Association also offers information about dyscalculia on its website ( uk) and offers advice on support for children with dyscalculia, as resources and professional help are less commonly available for this learning difficulty, due to the lack of research in this area. At least 50% of children who have been diagnosed with dyslexia also

have difficulties with maths, but at least some of that will be due to the language content of maths lessons. In the early years, number work may use only numbers or manipulatives (objects which can be counted, sorted, etc). However, written language is soon introduced into maths work, as children are required to read questions or write answers which include both questions and words. For children who display symptoms of both dyslexia and dyscalculia this presents them with an ­impossible task.

Dyscalculia may affect as much as 6% of the population – that’s about 1 in 16 or, on average, two children in a class of 32 as understand concepts and ideas. Fortunately many of the physical symptoms of dyspraxia are very evident from an early age, as developmental milestones are not reached within the usual age range, but carers and professionals need to be alert to the possibility of dyspraxia so that support can be provided as early as possible. Estimates vary as to how many children have dyspraxia in the UK. Some studies suggest about two in every 100, others as many as eight. The higher number suggests that in a class of 30, as many as three children could be dyspraxic. The condition is more common in boys than girls and can often be accompanied by ADHD. The most important thing to remember about dyspraxia, is that it is not a measure of how intelligent a child is – children with dyspraxia can be very successful if given the right support

– but it does seriously affect their ability to learn. Speech and language therapy can do a great deal to help with the language delays associated with dyspraxia and occupational therapy can help develop physical coordination, but most children with dyspraxia continue to experience its effects into adulthood. What they learn is coping skills.

Friendly spaces

Dyspraxia Foundation’s website (www. has useful information including symptoms of dyspraxia and how it affects different aspects of a child’s life. It also lists practical ways in which classrooms can be made more friendly spaces for children with the condition. There is also information on the NHS website ( – under the Health A-Z section).

commonsense suggestions Geoff Brookes, whose son has dyspraxia, has written a book in Continuum Publishers’ series for TAs. It is very practical and designed to provide TAs with the information they need to spot and support children with this condition as they go through their school years.

Dyspraxia is a neurological condition relating to movement, affecting both gross and fine motor skills. Many children now identified as dyspraxic would formerly have just been called clumsy. Another term used for dyspraxia is developmental coordination disorder (DCD). Effects can go much further than obvious difficulties with balance, coordination and motor control (including poor speech and illegible handwriting). Dyspraxia can also affect the ability to read and spell as well

He makes a variety of suggestions for support according to the child’s age, ranging from early years to secondary school. These include: ●● encouraging parents to sing action songs with their young children to help develop fine and gross motor skills – particularly if those songs involve repetition in the words and movements ●● building an obstacle course to promote physical coordination and help children develop a better sense of their bodies and how they can control their own movements

●● being more aware of the types of classroom equipment that children use during the primary years – looking for pens and pencils that are easier to hold, fixing paper to the table and so on – to facilitate writing activities. ●● ensuring a predictable routine, while helping the child to negotiate the inevitable changes and transitions of the classroom. If some of these suggestions just sound like good common sense, that is because they are – they are the sort of things you already might do for some children in your class who seem to need extra support. And most children enjoy and benefit from action songs and obstacles courses and being able to use proper writing equipment. But for the child who is dyspraxic, they are essential. Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011  19

web world

Sal McKeown hunts down websites that do justice to exciting electricity

Learning Circuits is beautifully designed




o websites about electricity have to be boring? I want to see faces light up as well as bulbs. Sadly, a lot of the sites I visited while looking for information on circuits were uninspiring. I wanted flashing lights, but what I got was word searches and tests masquerading as games. Where’s the excitement in that? Many of the sites are overloaded with small-sized text that makes them unsuitable. But there are some notable exceptions. The Electricity Book from Birmingham Grid for Learning has some interactive resources about circuits that would look good on a whiteboard where pupils can see wires join up and light bulbs flash. The test at the end is the sort that can be done as a whole-class activity and would pass for a quiz. Learning Circuits is an interactive set of materials that can be used as a game by individuals or small groups or as a whole-class activity. This beautifully designed site has lots of content and is quite easy to understand. It also has a handy glossary that is useful for children and also ideal for those moments when the words won’t come and you find it hard to explain resistance or what an insulator is. Those who favour a Blue Peter approach, complete with cardboard tubes and batteries, will enjoy making a lighthouse (right). This is an Irish site and has some differentiation built in. The basic activity involves getting the children to create a lighthouse with a working light and, if the

20  Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011

Birmingham Grid for Learning has interactive resources about circuits that would look good on a whiteboard Frankenstein’s Lightning Laboratory gives instructions for using a lemon as a source of power light does not work, to identify if the problem area is an incomplete circuit, a short circuit, a dead battery or a broken bulb. Some learners can move onto the next level and might try inserting a switch into the circuit. For a Survival Special approach, try Frankenstein’s Lightning Laboratory: ”Igor has asked you to help him find a temporary source of energy to get a single light for the good doctor. His blood-shot eyes stare into yours as he begs for your help. That’s when you spot the bowl of fruit.” The site gives instructions for using a lemon as a source of power and children can go on to ­investigate the power potential of other fruits. Parents may be surprised if their child decides to do some homework, but this site definitely has the fun factor so absent from other sites. ■■ Go to resources for links to all the websites mentioned here


Carefully designed and mounted displays can be lost in clutter warns Linda Hartley


his is a great time of year to clear the decks and have a tidy up. Too much clutter in the classroom can leave you, your teacher and your pupils, feeling overwhelmed and easily irritated. Too many wet or icy playtimes and a general feeling of being cooped up inside all add to the chaos. It can be hard to think clearly in a chaotic environment. This applies to you just as much as it does to your class. And it is even more important to any students in your class who suffer with attention issues, dyslexia or autistic spectrum disorders. The effort of tuning out visual noise uses up valuable energy that could be helping them learn, and it can affect behaviour too.

Visual impact

This is not just about your displays boards, but about the whole visual impact of your classroom. The appearance of a workspace can have a big effect not only on efficiency but also on the ease with which people are able to concentrate. Your carefully designed and mounted display boards can be lost in the clutter that surrounds them. Once you give it your attention you will quickly see how to improve the classroom learning environment. There is a difference between this clutter of course, and a “creative mess”. I would never advocate the perpetually tidy classroom. When creative work is under way, every classroom gets a bit messy and that’s a good thing. Just make sure you clear away afterwards and have a plan for where stuff can go so that it does not add to the problem. Have a good look round your classroom. Identify any work in progress that has been left out; equipment or

Creative mess is different from classroom clutter

reasons to be

tidy other things you’ve not had time to clear away; corners where things just seem to accumulate; shelves piled with books; tangles of wires; display boards with damaged backing paper, borders or lettering.

top tips ●● Get down to pupil level and imagine what it’s like to be a child rather than an adult in your classroom. ●● It helps to do this with a partner, maybe your teacher or another teaching assistant. ●● If you are brave, do a swap and review each other’s classrooms.

These are mostly things for which there are quick and easy solutions. One of the NVQ level 2 and 3 mandatory requirements is for teaching assistants to help to prepare the learning environment, and clearing visual clutter forms part of that.


Annotated “before and after” photographs can provide valuable evidence for your portfolio and give you a strong sense of achievement. But don’t try clearing up your teacher’s desk unless they want you to! It may look untidy to you but a teacher’s desk is definitely their territory and should never be “organised” without their permission. Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011  21


‘i h8 u’ Dealing with the threat of cyberbullying requires a whole-school approach, Amy Taylor finds


ame-calling, segregation and rude comments are forms of bullying familiar to anyone working in a school. But a new version of the problem is hitting classrooms and playgrounds. Cyberbullying – bullying carried out through computers or mobile phones – is a growing problem and unlike earlier forms, children cannot escape its reach once they leave school. Cyberbullying often involves social networking sites, such as Facebook or Bebo, on which bullies send victims private messages or write rude comments about them visible to anyone they have added as a friend. Photos of victims are also frequently uploaded to the sites and videos are posted on the website YouTube. Texting provides another avenue for bullies to reach their victims, either through targeting them directly or circulating photos or films of them. School bans on mobile phones and

strict computer usage policies means most cyberbullying occurs outside school premises. But, says Tracey Hardy, a pastoral teaching assistant with joint responsibility for dealing with cyberbullying at Cleeve Primary School in Hull, it often comes into school afterwards and turns into bullying in the playground. An incident she dealt with recently involved two children starting an argument with another using messages on Facebook. This later led to name calling in school.

Picked on

Cleeve has a strong and well-publicised anti-cyberbullying policy and Tracey Hardy conducts assemblies on the issue. She says all the children know to come to her or her colleague if they are feel they are being picked on. In the case described the child brought her a copy of one of the messages. Unlike traditional

if you suspect cyberbullying … If you suspect or know of an incident of cyberbullying: ●● Inform the person in the school responsible for bullying ●● Tell the child not to retaliate – this is exactly what the bully wants ●● Get the child to print off any messages they have received or save any text messages ●● Once printed off, help the child to delete any messages or photos they are able to access or ask the bully to take them down. If they refuse contact the websites directly – many have “report abuse” buttons. ●● Childnet International recommends waiting for up to five days and then re-reporting the material if it still remains online. 22  Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011

bullying, cyberbullying often leaves an evidence trail. “One of the messages was printed off and given to me. There were others, but mum had seen them and deleted them. We encourage the children to save the messages as these can prove really useful,” she explains. Will Gardner, chief executive of Childnet International, a not-for-profit organisation working to make the internet safe for children, agrees that all pupils and staff need to be aware of a school’s cyberbullying policy. “Cyberbullying needs a whole school community approach. This needs to involve not just the teachers but all the staff. One of the reasons for this is that a child is as likely to talk to their teaching assistant or playground supervisor as they are to talk to a teacher, so it’s really important that everyone recognises that,” he says.


Cyberbullying requires no face-to-face confrontation and this can lead to children saying things to each other which in the flesh they would not dare. Lauren Seager-Smith, regional strategy co-ordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance, a network of over 70 organisations, says teaching assistants and other school staff need to get the children to recognise that bullying online or by mobile phone is of just the same severity as other forms of bullying and take responsibility. “Children will take risks online and say things that they wouldn’t say in person. It’s about getting them to identify that their persona online is still who they are,” she says.

Daydreaming, a video on cyber­ bullying produced by Cleeve Primary School, has been used by many primary schools and can be downloaded via www. As with the traditional form of bullying, cyberbullying can lead to fear, isolation and a sense of worthlessness among victims. But it has other unique effects. The potential for images, videos and messages to spread and the size of the possible audience mean children can feel deeply humiliated. The passing around can also go across peer groups and involve children in other schools making these feelings worse. Lauren Seager-Smith, says that cyberbullying invades children’s homes and personal space and its 24/7 nature puts victims under intense pressure. “It’s hard to get away from. If the bullying is going on in school you can come home at the end of the day. With cyberbullying every time you log on and you go on Facebook and you go on MSN you could be getting those messages,” she says. The minimum age to use Facebook is 13, but many parents allow younger children to access the site, not fully understanding the risks. Cleeve runs courses for parents on cyberbullying and Tracey Hardy says that educating them is an essential part of prevention work. “It’s OK us being up on cyberbullying in school but if children are going home and hit a blank wall with parents then we are not really stopping it,” she says.

where cyberbullying happens The main routes for cyberbullying: ●● Facebook – a social networking website ●● Bebo – a social networking website ●● Twitter – a website on which people post what they are doing, an activity known as tweeting, which is then accessible to anyone looking at the site ●● Text messaging – of either text, photos or films Picturepartners

●● Windows Live Messenger (formerly called MSN Messenger) – a chatroom-style facility in which people can talk to each other and share photos and films in realtime ●● YouTube – a website to which anyone can upload videos or view them. Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011  23

behaviour in class

Hazel Bennett has advice for TAs on how to deal with attentionseeking children


veryone has a need to be valued and shown care, but some children crave so much attention they waste valuable class time and harm the education of others. To the attention-seeking child, any attention is good attention. Here are some tips to deal with attention-seeking behaviour in class. When a child regularly tries to arrest your attention by getting you off the topic, say: “That’s an interesting point, but it is off the subject. Stay here at playtime/after school and we will discuss it in depth then.” When a child seeks attention by sniggering or making silly noises remember that if you speak to them, even in rebuke, you are giving the looked-for attention, encouraging further misbehaving. Turn your back, look around the class and say: “Well done, those of you who are behaving like grown-up year 5 children. You can all go out at playtime.” Attention-seeking children are adept at finding out what irritates you. When you have asked them to stop sucking their hair or picking their noses, they do it every time you look at them. Ignore it, turn your back and begin showering praise on the children who are doing the right thing. Sometimes attention-seekers try to distract other children by prodding them or whispering teasing remarks. Reward the other child by saying: “Well done, you are being provoked, but you are ignoring it. You can have a sticker for mature behaviour. Every time you are provoked and you ignore it, I shall give you another.” Try to be positive. If a child lives in a children’s home or has suffered a bereavement, then give them friendly

One child can harm the education of others by constant attention-seeking


24  Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011

turn your

on attention seeking

When a child seeks attention by sniggering or making silly noises remember that if you speak to them, even in rebuke, you are giving the looked-for attention, encouraging further misbehaving

attention outside lesson time – in the playground or the corridor. If a child seeks attention because they have no one to play with, then quietly ask a friendly child to invite the attentionseeker to play with them. Find out what the attention-seeker likes – football, space stories – and find an outline picture of a football or spacecraft or something appropriate. Divide the picture up into about 20 sections and tell the child that every time he gets through a lesson without distracting anyone, he can colour in one of the sections. Tell him that when he has got all 20 sections coloured, you will laminate it for him to take home, or telephone his parents to tell them how pleased you are that he is trying to improve his behaviour. And of course, always shower attention-seekers with praise when they do behave sensibly.

children’s health

Caroline Roberts has advice on how to prevent back pain and other problems


esearch over the last 10 years has shown that more children are suffering back pain and other musculoskeletal problems. Couch potato lifestyles and hours hunched over the computer may be to blame. The design of school furniture is unlikely to help. Although health and safety regulations cover office furniture, they do not apply in the classroom. So what can you do to minimise the damage?

Sitting pretty

“When children are sitting for long periods, whether on chairs, the floor, or at the computer, they should get up for a stretch and wriggle every 30 minutes,” says Lorna Taylor, a physiotherapist who specialises in treating children. “If they’re sitting on the floor, they should be encouraged to change position to sit with knees to the side some of the time so they’re not always in a flexed crosslegged position.”

sitting comfortably Also bear in mind that children of the same age can vary enormously in height, particularly around the age of 11. Watch out for children who are much taller or shorter than their peers and make sure they are using desks and chairs of a suitable size – swap furniture with another classroom if necessary.

Classroom layout

Try to avoid table groupings that mean children have to crane their necks to see the board, says Lorna Taylor. If that’s not possible, move them around every so often so a child is not sitting in that position all year. If there is going to be a lot of copying from the board in a lesson, it’s best to let the child turn the chair round and use a clipboard.

At the computer

Adjust computer workstations to suit the child. The top of the computer screen should be at eye level, the mouse should be within easy reach and

the child’s elbow should be horizontal with the desk.

Lifting and carrying

If children are helping move classroom furniture or equipment for PE, make sure they use the proper lifting technique – bending the knees and keeping the back straight rather than bending from the hip. Make sure that they are not carrying a lot of heavy books and equipment to and from school. Carrying any more than 15 per cent of their body weight can cause spinal damage and research has shown that some children carry as much as 36 per cent. Finally, be aware that children with Down’s syndrome or dyspraxia tend to have a lower level of muscle tone and control so may find it awkward to carry things like bags and PE equipment. Do not exclude them from helping, but make sure they are carrying easily transportable objects, says Lorna Taylor. Children should change their position so they are not always cross-legged if they have to sit on the floor for a long time

■■ You can find more information and advice at and Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011  25


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

Broaden your experience Q

I have been a volunteer classroom assistant for two years working in KS2. I do one day each week, usually listening to individual pupils read and helping with guided reading and when there is a day trip I often go as a parent helper. I would really like to be employed as a classroom assistant. I applied for the last three posts which became vacant but I was unsuccessful. After the last interview I asked for feedback but was just told that they needed someone with more experience. I feel hurt and disappointed and wonder if it is any use to carry on at this school. You have said that your role is mostly supporting guided and individual reading for one day a week. It


might be worth speaking with the head to arrange for you to broaden your experience within school. Be specific. Ask what steps you can take in order to stand a chance next

Be specific. Ask what steps you can take in order to stand a chance next time there is a vacancy, and draw up a personal development plan for yourself time there is a vacancy, and draw up a personal development plan for yourself with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) development targets.

Find out as much as possible about the role of a TA and attend any training courses you can which are relevant to the role. If you are receiving benefits you might be eligible for free or subsidised training – it’s worth enquiring at your local adult training college. Read as much as you can about the various conditions affecting children’s learning and ask other TAs and teachers about how best you can support children’s learning. Finally, are there other primary schools you could approach? A different school may be looking for someone with less experience but a willingness to learn. There should be no harm in asking around. I wish you good luck and success.

I feel isolated at school Q

I have been a TA for well over 20 years and have always enjoyed working with children across both key stages. I still love the children. These days though, I feel increasingly isolated and overlooked. My school is in an area of new housing and has practically tripled in size, but I don’t feel a part of it. I tend to stay in the classroom at break as I feel overwhelmed by all the new faces in the staff room. Some days I question whether anyone would notice if I didn’t turn up at school and, I wonder, is it time I moved on? I’m sorry you feel so isolated. I wonder when this feeling began. You say that school has grown in size and staff numbers have risen. Was this a gradual process or did lots of new faces appear all together?


26  Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011

I’m also wondering about the kind of relationship you have with the class teacher. Do you work in the same class or do you move around? The one thing that is clear is your relationship with the children, who you

First of all, you need to decide whether you do want to stay in that working environment. If the answer is yes, then you need to take matters into your own hands love. It is hard to cope with change and if you are not that confident to begin with, it is easy to get left behind. First of all, you need to decide

whether you do want to stay in that working environment. If the answer is yes, then you need to take matters into your own hands. First, choose a time when you know the staff room will be relatively quiet. Call for another TA on your way there, that way you won’t feel so alone. Once you’re in there, smile and make eye contact. If you start to feel uncomfortable, leave, but tell yourself how well you have done in going in there in the first place. Go in each day for a brief time. Start slowly. Make a point of smiling at someone new each day. After all, they are new; they may be feeling pretty awkward too. One thing is certain, if you continue to stay in the classroom, this feeling of isolation will only get worse.

I’m going to be

appraised Q

I have been informed that I will be appraised by the headteacher next term. I am a bit worried. What will it involve? It is natural to feel worried when we encounter something new. I hope I can help by explaining the appraisal process. Appraisals are an opportunity for heads and other staff to discuss school progress, staff development needs and any other issues. Appraisals usually take place annually. It is important that they are planned and prepared for, so you might be given a form to complete before the appraisal meeting with areas for you to consider, for instance, job satisfaction, problems you are having, training needs you feel you have. You might be asked to think about the ways you contribute to school life and your role in pupil progress. Appraisals may vary from school to school. If you are still worried, why not talk about it with the head? I think appraisals are a great opportunity to have a dialogue with senior managers, and involving TAs in the appraisal process is good practice.


An appraisal can sound intimidating, but it should give you a chance to think about how you would like to discuss your work and develop your contribution to the school

Get chatting Meet teaching assistants and other learning support staff in the TeA Set, Learning Support’s onlineforum. 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.)

w w w. l e a r n i n g s u p p o r t . c o. u k / t e a s e t Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011  27

Page books Label

My year 6 daughter was recently asked to interview someone who was alive during the second world war says Nichola Gale. She has no close family relation to approach – a fact that brought home to me what an important tool history books and, in particular, historical fiction, can be for ensuring that the past stays alive for today’s children.

past keeping the

28  Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011


Terry Deary’s Viking Tales – The Sword of the Viking King Terry Deary A & C Black Paperback £4.99

Grim Gruesome Viking Villain – The Cursed Sword Rosalind Kerven Talking Stone Paperback £5.99

Savage barbarians may not seem the ideal focus for a series for younger children, but when those barbarians are the vikings, they become magnets for reluctant boy readers. The Viking Tales series are an irresistible combination of Norse mythology, Horrible History humour and historical facts. After all, the vikings were brave men and great sailors as well as being notoriously cruel warriors. Fans of Terry Deary will also be pleased to note that knights, Romans, Greeks and Egyptians are given a similar treatment in his reader-friendly series which are ideal for those children just too young for Horrible Histories but who still like a touch of gruesome seasoning to their reading matter. And prepare to don your leather vest and helmet and smell the salt of the high seas with Rosalind Kerven’s page-turning introduction to viking child catcher, Grim Gruesome whose hypnotic powers and pus-oozing fingers will strike a chord of delicious fear in anyone with a taste for high adventure.

The Dumpy Princess Karin Fernald Frances Lincoln Hardback £9.99

Whatever your opinion of the royal family, the turbulent lives of Britain’s kings and queens make for fascinating reading. The Dumpy Princess tells the story of the childhood of one of our less glamorous, but most important monarchs, Queen Victoria. Witty, exciting and with tongue firmly in cheek, this is a lighthearted look at a royal childhood, complete with pantomime villains, penniless mothers and a plain little girl with no chin who, despite the best efforts of the wicked Sir John Conroy, became Queen of England. With a definite nod to history and a huge thumbs up to humorous storytelling for younger children, this is an ideal book for newly independent readers or as a read-aloud for grownups with a yen for German accents.

Nichola Gale is a children’s literature specialist

The Eleventh Orphan

Joan Lingard Catnip Publishing Ltd Paperback £5.99

Still with the Victorians, a huge thankyou to my year 5 reading group (both boys and girls) whose wholehearted recommendation of this book made it rise to the top of my reading pile. Part adventure, part history, The Eleventh Orphan is the ideal read for any child whose favourite part of “Victorian Day” is dressing up and being threatened with the cane! Eleven-year-old orphan Elfie has few possessions, save for a special bag containing a signet ring and a watercolour painting of ‘The Pig and Whistle’ pub whose doorstep she ends up on. Who she is and where she comes from makes for exciting reading, but the real draw of this book is its account of day-to-day life for working-class Victorian children, including the bathtime from hell!

The Double Life of Cora Parry Angela McAllister Orion Children’s Books Paperback £8.99

This atmospheric page-turner is a harsh account of what life was really like for many Victorian children. Determined not to end up in the workhouse following the death of her guardian, 14-year-old Cora is led into the lair of Fletch, a female slum lord, who introduces her to the seething Victorian underworld and convinces her that crime is the only way that pays. A more accessible Oliver Twist, this book exposes the cruel treatment of waifs and strays in Victorian London and should be given to any child who thinks it’s a hard life if they have to tidy their bedroom.

One Boy’s War

Lynn Huggins-Cooper and Ian Benfold Haywood Frances Lincoln Hardback £11.99

Doing justice to one of the most traumatic times in recent British history, this is the story of 16-year-old Stanley, a young man desperate to join the First World War, only to die in the muddy trenches of Belgium. It’s very moving and ideally crafted for key stage 2 children. Told through a series of letters home and his journal, the book reveals how Stanley’s enthusiasm and optimism turns to disillusionment and degradation before he pays the ultimate price for fighting for his country. Keep tissues to hand – you’ll need them for the illustrations alone.

Ronnie’s War

Bernard Ashley Frances Lincoln Paperback £6.99

Many of the battles ordinary British people faced during World War II were feeding their families on next to nothing, saying goodbye to loved ones and never hearing the sound of an aeroplane without waiting for the air-raid siren to follow. The closest 12-year-old Ronnie gets to the more obvious horrors of war is when a bomb falls on his Aunty Edna’s house. From then on, his conflicts are more personal – evacuation, the playground bully, the unsettling thought that his mother might be interested in an American captain, and coming to terms with the fact that he may never see his father again. An excellent story – understated but not to be overlooked.

Tail End Charlie

Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom Frances Lincoln Paperback £6.99

Taff in the WAAF

Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom Frances Lincoln Hardback £11.99

One person fortunate enough to hear firsthand accounts of the bravery of everyday people during the Second World War is author Mick Manning, whose true life account of his father’s life as an RAF airgunner was shortlisted for several major awards. Following the success of Tail End Charlie, Mick has followed this up with Taff in the WAAF, the story of his mother’s memories of her own war time role, from queuing with her ration book to becoming a wireless operator in the top secret ‘Y’ service – work considered so hush-hush that her story could not be told for many years. With its captioned illustration boxes and speech bubbles, this book presents an excellent opportunity to look at many of the overlooked tasks women carried out in WWII.


Joe Layburn Frances Lincoln Paperback £5.99

Combining a ghost story with true World War II events, contemporary inner-city school life and bullying in just 96 pages is no easy feat, but one which Joe Layburn manages admirably. Inspired by the real-life bombing of an East End primary school, Aisha, a second generation Somali immigrant girl, meets 1940s Richard, who transports her from the troubles of her school and home life to the time of the blitz. With their lives in each other’s hands, this is a story that transcends time and culture. Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011  29

man’s world Melinda Shelton

Daniel has trouble with language

From T

cute to cringe

he playground is a place where many unusual conversations take place with the children. This week a reception child, who isn’t in any of my classes, interrogated me to extract as much information about me as he could. “What’s your name when you was a baby?” he asked, I smiled and gave him the usual Mr X response. “But what did your mummy call you when you was only just born?” I stuck with Mister, though it’s not strictly true. Why is it that when infants say something grammatically incorrect it’s cute, but when a junior says it you cringe? “Do you have a little boy?” he asked. “No I haven’t” I replied, “Well if you ask your girlfriend she can get you one,” he said. I’ll bear that one in mind, thanks. 30  Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2011

Crazy crazes

I don’t know how much notice you take of clothing trends, but have you seen those Russian-style hats with the fur on the top and the sides that will have probably hit your school by now? They are great – nice and warm but also fashionable. I didn’t think that was possible, but they do unfortunately also bring back memories of John McCririck in the Big Brother house. The other craze that is hitting my school at the moment is those ridiculous Silly Bandz. Don’t get me wrong I’m all for Match Attax and other collectors’ items, but what is the point of those shaped bands? Do they actually serve any purpose or have any entertainment value at all?

What is the point of those shaped bands? Do they actually serve any purpose or have any entertainment value at all?

Letting things go

It was getting towards the end of the week, and if I’m honest, I was shattered … the kids were shattered and the class teacher was convinced we only had two weeks left until we broke up for Christmas. It was still November, so this was clearly wishful thinking. I was speaking to a year 6 pupil when just within earshot I heard something that I found rather concerning. “I beg your pardon!” I said to the culprit who actually looked very guilty. “I can’t believe what I have just heard you say!” “He was pulling the door, so I told him to push it” he replied. “Oh, never mind.” I said. Sometimes when there’s a chance we may have misheard, we let things go. Given how tired I was this was definitely one of those occasions.

Page playtime Label lesley Mcintyre

Playtime is more than a chance for the children to run around and let off steam, explains Shelly Newstead


t’s a cold winter’s day and the thought of going outside at playtime does not fill you with joy. But playtimes are important for children’s development as they provide them with an opportunity to move freely. Notice that when children arrive on the playground at lunchtime, most will move differently. While not all play is about being physically active, many children will be chasing, running, jumping, twirling, skipping and taking part in rough and tumble play – using playtime to increase their physical activity. This benefits not only their fitness levels, but may also protect them from complaints like type 2 diabetes and cardio-vascular disease. Active play also has a positive effect on children’s mental health. Physical activity is good for children’s stress levels. While they are moving around freely, children also choose how to play and who to play with. Using their initiative and making decisions for themselves



helps to build children’s self-esteem. It is no wonder that play has been linked to the development of resilience. Children who move freely around the playground have to practise social skills to work out how to get on and play together. Studies have shown that physical activity benefits cognitive performance and that children behave and concen-

Physical activity benefits cognitive performance and children concentrate less well without a playtime trate less well without a playtime. So all that jumping and twirling seems to have a purpose! Active free play at playtime benefits children’s physical health, their mental health, their social skills and their performance in the classroom. So instead of organising children to play games, we need only to let play do the work for us.

This means allowing children to play freely unless there is a good reason to stop them. For example, are children allowed to: ●● use the whole playground as and when they want? ●● choose how to move around the playground? ●● move in unusual ways when playing (eg, handstands)? ●● use playground furniture to increase their physical activity (eg, twirling over railings)? Of course adults need to ensure that children are safe enough, but this does not mean banning everything in case there is an accident. Any risks can be weighed against the benefits of free movement in our playgrounds – and there are a lot of those. ■■ This article is based on research quoted in a recent factsheet written by Shelly for the Children’s Play Information Service – visit for a link to download it.

Learning Support  Spring Term [1] 2010  31

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Send to Learning Support binder offer, 23 High Street, Bishop’s Castle, SY9 5BE Delivery normally in 10 working days 32  Learning Support  Spring Term 2 2009

Learning Support Issue 34  

Learning Support, the magazine for teaching assistants, Issue 34 (Spring term 1 2011)

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