Teaching Assistants Under Pressure

A guest post by @Ravalier 

I’m of the firm opinion that the role played by Teacher Assistants (TAs) in this country is integral to the learning and positive outcomes for children and young people. In fact my 6 year old daughter’s class TA provides her the individual support and confidence she needs.

However, TAs are under-represented in the discourse regarding the influence of things like cuts and working conditions. In fact TAs are increasingly being asked to teach lessons and whole school days (e.g. see here), but are as affected by the negative conditions which are being caused by the wider education environment as teachers are.

Additionally, there is quite a lot of academic research looking into stress in teaching in general – and the causes of this stress (even though much of this research is quite old and not a lot of it has been conducted with UK teachers). However, there has been absolutely no research on TAs in the UK – levels of stress, causes, or impacts. This may just be another example of TAs being under-appreciated in this country, but whatever the reason, we need more of a focus on TAs.

Therefore Dr Joe Walsh and I of the Psychology department at Bath Spa University have undertaken the first (and quite a large) study looking at stress in TAs. We asked TAs to answer questions about their working conditions (e.g. things like the types of demands they have on their time; how much support they have from others in the organisation, and how they understand their role within an organisation), as well as asking about the frequency of disrespectful student and parental behaviour.Our research was carried out with the support of a number of teaching unions, but we did not receive any guidance or funding from them, so our results are independent and free from any political or personal bias.

We found that, perhaps not surprisingly, almost 20% of TAs were exposed to negative parental behaviour at least once a month as well as high levels of disrespectful student behaviour. Furthermore we found that the sheer amount of work that TAs need to do while at work, as well as the relationships that they have with peers in the organisation (in particular strained relationships) were the two main things which contributed to the experience of stress across the 3000+ respondents to the project.

It is clear that TAs perform a vital role in our education system. Our data gives us a picture of a hard-working, dedicated group of people who are increasingly under pressure to fulfill multiple, varied roles within the school environment. They need quality support from their peers and managers in order to ensure not only that they are able to support the students they work with, but also that they are safe and happy in the workplace. The next step is to begin to think about what kind of support is needed for TAs, and to examine what is and isn’t working at the moment. As our study is one of the first empirical studies to look at stress in TAs, we have only just started to scratch the surface, and certainly more research is needed to ensure that TAs are not undervalued and underrepresented in our education system.

Dr Ravalier is senior lecturer of psychology and co-leads the Psychological Research Group at Bath Spa University. He has expertise in working conditions, and how these conditions may influence health and wellbeing of employees. Furthermore Dr Ravalier investigates ways in which these working conditions, and subsequently employee health and wellbeing, can be improved. Dr Walsh is a lecturer of psychology at Bath Spa University. His primary field of expertise concerns how we communicate pain to other people around us, and factors which can affect this communication. Alongside this, he has expertise in stress and wellbeing, and the impact of sex and gender on cognition. contact: wellbeingresearch@bathspa.ac.uk

Dr Walsh is a lecturer of psychology at Bath Spa University. His primary field of expertise concerns how we communicate pain to other people around us, and factors which can affect this communication. Alongside this, he has expertise in stress and wellbeing, and the impact of sex and gender on cognition. contact: wellbeingresearch@bathspa.ac.uk

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