Who teaches your most *challenging* pupils?

by | Sep 28, 2020 | Classroom Practice, Inclusion, Leadership | 6 comments

Photo by Jusdevoyage on Unsplash


Sam is 14 years old. Unfortunately, her biological parents were unable to look after her sufficiently as they had their own Mental Health issues, as such she was neglected; underfed, not kept clean and often left alone for long periods of time. Sam has two younger siblings – when at home she became their main carer – all at the age of 6 years.

Now in a temporary foster care home, Sam has been separated from her siblings and sees her parents once every 3 months. In school she is often distracted, can be aggressive towards her peers and has few friends. She enjoys art (although struggles to share the equipment) and shows a particular liking towards her PE teacher Ms Sagg. We do not know how long Sam will be able to stay with her current foster carers.

Sam’s main needs are around Social Emotional Mental Health issues. Sam has been identified as having lived through trauma and having an Attachment disorder. Sam has an Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP), a legal binding document that states that she needs an Individual Needs Assistant for 21hours a week.

The school advertises for this role.

They can offer £9.36 per hour; £10,516 per year, £876.33a month*.

The school is in the South of England. The approximate living cost is £1777 per month (according to Money Nest 2019).

*Update: Thanks to TA Ryan who got in touch, corrected my Maths, and also explained to me that some TAs, like himself, have to opt out of the £40-50 pension per month that otherwise  can make a sizeable dent into such a small take home salary.

Who will be able to apply for this job?

Some of the Teaching Assistants and Individual Needs Assistants are the incredible, unspoken-about-force that keep our schools ticking over. We all know at least one who appears to be a non-stop-walking-miracle: she (they more often are) knows all the children inside-out, knows their parents, taught their grandparents, drives the mini-bus, makes the school dinners, always produces at least 13 prizes for the school fair tombola and gets you as the teacher or school leader out of tricky situations…

We are lucky to have these people in our schools.

In contrast, I also witness many TAs who are not experienced, some of whom are very young themselves, being partnered to work everyday with some of the most high-profile children, with the highest behavioural needs – like Sam.

They have not received training. They do not get a mentor. They do not spend the first year with slightly fewer face-to-face hours in order to prepare and reflect. They are often expected to meet the child and get on with it.

These TAs often do not receive the support they need to do their jobs.

Stress, frustration and turnover is high.

Sam misses out more on her learning.

As School Leaders we need to consider this – whilst we are unable (yet) to change the pay structure and hierarchy of the education staffing system – how can we provide better support and training for our TAs? – And how can we ensure that the most vulnerable young people are supported by the most knowledgeable and experienced adults?


I have made this mistake myself. When teaching in a large mainstream classroom, if one pupil has a TA I have unconsciously believed that they already have support, and so I don’t need to focus on them as much. 


The TA is there to support the additional needs of the pupil – not to have a high level subject knowledge, deliver tailored strategies to learning and pedagogy or be left to do the work instead of the pupil.

The best thing we can do in our classrooms to support that young person’s learning journey, is to communicate with the TA – before the lesson, during and afterwards – discuss the child’s learning, their needs, their progress – and what both of you can do to improve.

School Leaders


Do an audit – who is teaching your most *challenging* pupils? 

What is working? What clearly isn’t? Why?

What might they need in terms of training, on-going support, supervision? How can you provide that? Could new, less experienced staff be partnered with a mentor or an HLTA? On a Wednesday afternoon can you provide some supervision?

Teaching Assistants

If you do not feel supported, if you feel overwhelmed, emotionally exhausted or like you are fighting a losing battle – ask for support.

Your school should be able to provide this for you.

Everybody does want the best for Sam.

In order to do that, we have to ensure the team around her are the most supported and best they can possibly be.

Support & Organisations:

Optimus have an online conference 17th Nov 2020 covering Wellbeing for non-teaching support staff – https://my.optimus-education.com/conferences/supporting-staff-wellbeing-london/programme-0






  1. Ryan

    Thank you for a wonderful blog once again. I am one of the many TAs who spend their days with the most *challenging* children, as we growl, tic (“chicken nuggets”being a firm favourite here!) laugh and sometimes cry our way through the day.

    I am fortunately lucky enough to be in an amazingly supportive and understanding school, with all staff have received trauma and attachment training.

    In true TA style I must pick up on your mathematical slip
    – to be used as a learning point obviously! A monthly wage at £9.36 per hour for 21hours would be £10,516 gross per annum so therefore £876.33 per month! Yep, the figures are so low its staggering! On a personal note this has meant I have opted out of my school’s pension scheme as that £40 or £50 can make a sizeable dent into such a small take home salary.

    I am unsure there are any solutions to be had here apart from bringing this situation into the spotlight! So, thank you once again for helping to do this,

    • Adele Bates

      Thank you so much for your comment – and for correcting me! I will add this to the article, it is yet another injustice and inequality that people like yourself are having to opt out of pensions!

      I am glad to hear that you have the a great team around you, it can make all the difference.
      Thanks for reading 🙂

  2. Margaret McLennaghan

    Thank you Adele for highlighting this issue!!

    • Adele Bates

      It is an important one!

  3. Madeleine

    In many cases it is the parents who teach them. I have an adopted child with similar issues and after three school failures have had give up work to teach him myself. He is doing well and on line for GCSEs but it is a HUGE task and unfair to be left to adoptive parents who often have no alternative because the understanding and support for these challenged children is just no there. I am one of many and it is heartbreaking. With support I truly believe he could have stayed in school and built good relationships, without – no chance (We’ve done rounds of LA support and got nowhere, although we are negotiating EOTAS which hopefully will help)

    • Adele Bates

      Thank you for sharing this.
      Yes, I have unfortunately seen this a lot. I have a guest blogger coming soon to share with us some adoption specific experiences and support approaches for teachers. It sounds like your child is very useful to have you supporting them. Best of luck in what’s not an easy path.


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