After two weeks of intensive support from Autism Outreach, B starts the week tomorrow completely in the hands of the school. The ball really is in their court to come up with the 32.5 hours support he needs each week and to make good on the measures outlined in his statement. The post of Teaching Assistant has been advertised, with a deadline of Tuesday. So far the school have received ‘plenty’ of applications and will shortlist this week, ahead of interviewing the following week.
This has left an inevitable gap of about six weeks before a person is in post. Although school have wasted no time in recruiting, CRB checks are likely to slow down the process. We could be looking at half term before the lucky applicant gets to come face to face with B. We requested a meeting with school (pushy parent time!) to have a general transition/what are you going to do now kind of chat. To their credit, they have made efforts to ensure that his hours are met by arranging a timetable and redeploying assistant teaching staff. They are generally pleased with how he has settled in but, like us, I suspect they feel AO’s involvement has played a big part in this. Hopefully, the last two weeks have provided good autism training for the staff as they have observed how AO handle him and support his needs.
I have been thinking about the role of the Teaching Assistant who works with B. I have plenty of experience myself of working with TAs, although from a secondary school perspective. Around two-thirds of the classes I teach have students to whom a TA is attached. Mostly these classes are Key Stage Four and I see the students for three or four hours per week. Usually the TA sits with or near the child and acts as a gateway to helping them understand the lesson and achieve the objectives. The level of support offered differs according to need, with some very much taking a back seat and being there ‘on standby’ more than anything. I’ve often thought it must be quite boring in such circumstances (not that my lessons are ever boring!). Some TAs work much more intensively in helping the students access the learning.
Being teenagers, the job can be difficult at times. Some kids resent the constant presence of an adult and many, by the very nature of needing support, really struggle and resist doing the work. I imagine it is a pretty thankless task at times. They also tend not to carry the same level of authority as the teacher at the front of the class. I’ve heard and seen some pretty appalling instances of rudeness directed at TAs. It must be a tough job.
As with teachers (and any job come to think of it) there are some excellent TAs and some less good ones. The best ones strike up a fantastic relationship with the child and, in many cases, their parents. They understand the child’s need, look out for them and ensure that they are happy and successful in all aspects of their school life. The bond they form with the child is possibly the closest adult bond the child will have in school.
Which brings me to my main reason for writing this post. The school is about to appoint a person who will be of massive importance to my child’s life. This person will have to spend almost all day, every day with my son at school (break and lunch will be assigned to a second person). It will be vital that they are able to understand, empathise and work with B. It will be vital that he likes this person and likes being supported by them, because they will be a huge part of his school experience. They will be in loco parentis- or in other words, they will be in the role of parent to him at school. I know it won’t be their job to love him or to embrace him as their own or anything- it’s just a job after all. But in so many other ways they will be like a parent. Given that he is so young, they will act in the role of carer as well as educator. As a result I have a massive interest and, I suppose apprehension, in the school getting it right in their appointment.
It has been suggested to me that it is within my rights to be present when the interviews take place. I don’t know if this is true or not but I don’t think it would be a good idea. I would find it difficult to be objective and I don’t think I could contribute anything useful really. What I’d really like to do is read the application forms and be involved in the shortlisting process. I do this in my own job and I think I’m pretty good at reading an application (and reading between the lines of an application). Obviously, this is not going to happen. I’d love to do it, though.
I know of some people who have applied for the post already. One is B’s former nursery worker and would be perfect. It’s tempting to say something to the school but I think I should stay completely out of it. If anything, such meddling could spoil someone’s chances of getting the job. Another applicant is my wife’s friend on Facebook. She can’t spell. Call me harsh, but her application would be straight in the bin. Bad spellers need not apply. This is probably why I should not be involved in the selection process! On the other hand, no one knows my son as well as my wife and I do. I would know if someone was ‘right’ for him or not. Let’s hope the school can make a good judgement.
I asked B’s primary teacher what sort of liaison I would have with the TA. Her answer was very clear- any liaison would be via her. I felt she was stating very clearly that it is her classroom and that the Teaching Assistant is there to assist her. I don’t think they welcome the idea of direct parent/TA involvement but I feel it is pretty important. I guess that’s a battle for another day.
What I do know is that whoever gets the post will have a fantastic opportunity to make a difference to the life of a very special boy. Autism Outreach have loved working with him, and believe he has a huge amount of potential. I hope the right person to help unlock that potential gets the job.