Watch: Paying for quality support staff
Iain Taylor is always direct.
It’s a trait that has sometimes caused ripples in a conservative education community, but it’s also part of his long-term success as a principal.
“Listen,” the Manurewa Intermediate principal says, “Teacher Aides or Learning Assistants shouldn’t be an add-on to a school. They’re an integral part of any school community and funding them so they are paid a decent wage shouldn’t be an issue.”
How can they pay Learning Assistants at Manurewa Intermediate so much more than most other schools? While the majority of the country’s school support workers earn somewhere between $17 and $20 an hour and are on limited hours, Manurewa Intermediate pays all Learning Assistants over $24 and employs them as full-time workers.
“That’s the key,” Taylor enthuses. “Our LAs are fulltime and the beauty of that is they become an integral part of our school. They’re part of the constructive energy of the place. They start at 8.am like everyone else and they plan and prepare in the same way anyone else working with our students does. They know all the students, and they contribute in extra-curricular activities and camps.”
Both Taylor and deputy principal Tanya Brook have worked in schools where Learning Assistants work part-time, often only for the couple of hours a day that ORS or other special needs funding stretches. Too often such an arrangement results in a disjointed, miscellany of support that doesn’t work well for children, the Learning Assistants or the school.
“By making our LAs fulltime, permanent staff, we give them mana,” says Brook, who is the school’s SENCO and Deputy principal: Guidance and Support. “You can see it in the staffroom here; they’re part of a professional group where there is reciprocal support and respect.”
All Learning Assistants are part of Brook’s Te Tautoko syndicate that meets fortnightly to plan, exchange ideas and information, and undertake professional development.
“We’re determined that we develop the skills of our Learning Assistants and get real value from them,” says Tanya. “That means we don’t assign a Learning Assistant to an individual child. Individual students are the responsibility of the classroom teacher and if you go into our classrooms, you’ll see LAs working to support the whole class or working with groups of students. Pairing an LA with an individual student too often encourages dependence rather than inclusion.”
Taylor insists that growing skilled, versatile Learning Assistants is not the end goal.
“We want them to become teachers,” he says and talks about the three who are currently doing teacher training, using the school as a base.
“We hope that once they’ve ended their training they’ll come back here and add even more value. One thing that’s really important is that in most cases our TAs are from this community, so they bring knowledge and connections that are really important.”
Both Taylor and Brook point to the high quality of applicants for any role that is advertised, arguing that good pay and fulltime, permanent work are the drawcards.
“It’s simple,” says Taylor. “If we want quality for our students we can’t offer low pay and insecure work.”
“I know it’s not easy,” he says, “And people will say we’re at an advantage here, because we’re a decile 1 school and get extra funding. But you have to realise we are a poor community and get very little from our parents. Mostly we use Operations Grant money. We prioritise people because that’s what makes success.”