Are you experienced?

This week the school appointed the Teaching Assistant who will support B each day in the classroom. The appointment has left me feeling mixed emotions. On the one hand, it is excellent news because it means he can get the support outlined in his statement. However, I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed by the outcome. I’ve written about my thoughts on a TA in a previous post (see In Loco Parentis) and much of the last week has been taken up with thinking about who might end up becoming this important person in my son’s life.

Earlier in the week we were delighted to find out that ‘over 60’ applications had been received by the school. I don’t know how many applicants they normally get for one post but that seems a lot to me. To my knowledge, the post was advertised only on the local authority web site with just a week to submit the application.  Nonetheless, I think a big response was expected for a number of reasons. An obvious one is that these are difficult times and a lot of people are looking for work. It was even suggested that, given the shortage of primary posts, we may get primary school teachers applying. Also, the post is potentially for seven years because we are starting in Reception, whereas often a post will start in later years meaning a shorter amount of time in post. Anyway, a good response was what we got. I found this really encouraging. With that amount of applicants there was sure to be a strong field to choose from. Obviously, as with any post, there would be a large amount of unsuitable applications. The job ad stipulated that a Level 2 qualification was required so I’m guessing that most applicants were qualified, but that doesn’t necessarily make them suitable. I’m not sure out of work primary teachers would have been the best choice either, because we want someone who is going to stick around, not make do until something better suited comes along. Even allowing for several applications to go straight in the bin, I felt our chances were high of having a good selection of people to choose from. In particular, we might get someone with good experience of working with autism. The job ad suggested this was ‘preferable’.

The Headteacher told my wife he was in the process of reading through the applications ahead of interviews being held on Tuesday. Once an appointment was made, he would let us know. It took until Thursday for him to let us know that an appointment had been made. In the end, an internal candidate was given the job. My wife was introduced to the TA who has worked for some time at the school on a part time basis. My wife asked ‘are you experienced (in working with autistic children)?’, to which the answer was ‘no’.

It’s not my place to pass judgement on the school’s process of appointing staff, but this appointment has left me feeling slightly disappointed. It seems a little too convenient to me to appoint someone internally, with no autism experience, after such a massive response to the post. It also seems very convenient the TA can start on Monday, whereas another applicant may have taken up to six weeks to be in post. This would have left the school with the predicament they have had over the last two weeks, where they’ve been moving staff around and finding people to meet the requirement of his hours. Would the school really be so narrow-sighted as to appoint the most convenient person? Am I really to believe that, out of all the applicants, the person already working there was the best qualified for the post? I didn’t see the applications or meet the interviewees, so I’m in no position to comment really, but it seems odd to me. Maybe I’m just becoming paranoid and (more) cynical in my old age! Or perhaps I’m just getting the measure of the school based on previous experiences with them.

Looking back, there were signs that this was going to happen. Way before the statement was ever issued, the Head had suggested that there was a person at the school who was currently supporting a Year 6 student ad who would be ‘freed up’ when that student left. When the statement was issued, I asked the Head if they would be looking for someone with experience of working with autistic children. He answered ‘yes’ but with the caveat that they wouldn’t overlook the right candidate just because they didn’t have such experience. Could it be that the school were always going to employ this person? I suspect this to be the case. There is a legal requirement to advertise these posts but the school can interview and employ who they want. That’s if they even interviewed anyone.

The thought of the school employing the nearest, most convenient person bothers me, as does her lack of experience of working with autism. There are, however, other ways of looking at this.

Firstly, the school knows this person well. They clearly think she can fulfill the requirements of the post and have seen her working. She fits into the school and is trusted. Secondly, support and training will be provided for her by Autism Outreach. The school seem committed to providing training and, encouragingly, AO have already spent an afternoon with her. It was suggested to me that a lack of autism training could be a good thing. This is because the person comes to post with no pre-conceived ideas of what constitutes autism. As such, they will be learning my son’s version of autism and not some text book interpretation or a version based on another child. Autism is such a wide ranging condition that knowing about one child does not necessarily mean understanding another.

Looked at in this way, it doesn’t seem so bad. Perhaps I’m being unfair and need to give this person a chance, regardless of the circumstances of her employment. Really, all we want is a person who is committed to helping and supporting my son. You don’t need qualifications for that. I wish her the best of luck in her new post!

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10 Responses to Are you experienced?

  1. Louise says:

    Hi, I think its a positive thing they have no previous experience, in my experience lots of the advice I have been given by people re autism is completley irrelevant for my son as he does not have routines or sensory issues. I do hope the process allows for parent input.
    Best of luck!

  2. Your concerns are totally justified. But as a teacher I would say to you you bear in mind that after you the class teacher is the main educator of your child, it is with them that the responsibility for his IEP lies. If you have faith in them then trust that they will guide the assistant accordingly.

  3. alexcparsons says:

    A really important and fascinating post. i admire you for your objectivity, while explaining very clearly how you feel about the situation. In life, we all know that we would rather hire people we know. As you say, with the right support from AO etc., and assuming she is not prejudiced in any way, things could work out really well. I guess you just have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario that she just won’t develop the skill quick enough to support B.

    Here’s hoping though!

  4. dillytante says:

    Does sound fishy but I would like to imagine there is some sort of system in place that wouldn’t allow things to happen that easily. Either way, I hope she will be a great support to your child.

  5. Keep watching in the background and see how it plays out. Maybe have a plan B up your sleeve – just in case. It might help you feel more in control. Good luck to you all. 🙂

  6. bullet says:

    Hope that the TA works out ok and gives your son the support he needs.

  7. B's dad says:

    Thanks everyone for the words of support. One week later and B seems to have taken very well to his TA, and vice versa. The poor woman did look a little tired though!

  8. Helene says:

    Hello, it 6am and I haven’t slept , i had to find someone who is going through the same situation and incredibly I’ve read your post!my son has finally been given 20 hours support and I felt so happy when we got the news on Monday, full of hopes for him…I phoned the head who told me she’ll advertise it straightaway. I found out that someone is starting on Monday and that they did not advertise it locally. Although I was not formally informed i’m thinking great! that was really fast. But I’m worried after asking a few people on Friday I found out it’s someone in the school. I really thought they would employ someone qualified to work with autistic children and I feel very anxious. We have waited 6 months to be granted support surely we can wait another week or two to find the right candidate?
    I’ll speak to the Head of Monday and want to speak to this person to get to know her and also make sure she gets some training. I wanted to know if the school can employ anyone they like and if i have any say in this but after reading your post i know the answer is no.

  9. B's dad says:

    Helene,
    It’s three months since my son’s TA was appointed and, although I’m still annoyed at the circumstances of her employment, I have to say that it’s generally working out well, so don’t be too despondent. In retrospect, it is the relationship the TA has with your child that is most important, rather than their formal qualifications. Having said that, Autism Outreach have continued to give advice and training to ‘steer’ her along the right path. It sounds like you’re taking the right approach in asking the school what training will be provided. Ultimately, the school has a responsibility to deliver the requirements of your child’s statement, so it’s in their interest to have people in place who can do this. Good luck!
    B’s Dad

    • Helene says:

      Thank you for your reply B’s Dad, Unfortunately, the first week hasn’t gone well. R is so used to doing whatever he pleases at school that he is rebelling against the poor woman and I have had to leave work twice to sort things out as he will only respond to me. I have been assured that she will get whatever training is available but I can’t help feeling sorry for her. My son only feels empathy towards his close family and he is giving everybody at school a very hard time. What do you do when there is no punishment that works and no real reward that he likes? I hope it’s a phase. All things take time and I pray that nobody will give up on him in the meantime.
      I’m glad to know things seem to go well for B.

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