Stars in our schools - the teaching assistant

As well as fantastic teaching staff, every Ark school has first-rate support and non-teaching staff – from catering teams to bursars – without whom our schools simply wouldn’t be able to operate. This week, we are celebrating some of our schools’ ‘unsung heroes’ for ‘Stars in our schools’, a national event from UNISON to celebrate the role support and non-teaching staff play.

“The role has changed massively since the old days,” says Sasha Sweet, one of Ark Brunel Primary Academy’s team of teaching assistants (TA), “We have a much bigger involvement in developing children’s learning, in lesson planning and in marking.

“A lot of it is about working with teachers to deliver the best lessons and giving each pupil the attention and support they need.”

As well as running reading-time sessions, Sasha has responsibility for ensuring that every pupil keeps up with the class’s phonics progress, which tests a pupil's ability to pronounce the sounds that make up words. Thanks to TAs like Sasha, 90% of key stage 1 pupils at Ark Brunel Primary passed their phonics check – a vital marker of a pupil’s language acquisition.

Sasha says: “If one pupil is struggling to form sounds at the same rate as other pupils, I sometimes have to fast-track them. That’ll often mean giving them a few sounds to master each day, both at school and at home.

“You always have to know where each pupil is at in their learning process, where they should be and how to get them there. There’s a focus on helping pupils reach their potential, on extending them beyond what they did last lesson to get that bit further.”

Sasha, who decided to become a teaching assistant after working in a local nursery, says: “I love every bit of my job and feel extremely lucky to be doing it. I know some people wake up in the morning and dread going into work, but I never get that feeling – I can’t wait to get to school.

“Still, the best bit is seeing a child manage to read out aloud. No matter how many pupils you’ve seen manage to form the same sounds or read the same sentences, it never fails to be this amazing and fascinating thing to see.”

Sasha says that working as a TA at Ark Brunel has been particularly valuable: “I am given many of the same opportunities a teacher receives and all of the staff work as a team – we all want to put the kids first, so we help each other to make sure that happens.”