Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
Image of Hilary Wilce

The Quandary - 24 Sep 2009

Should we be worried about the large amount of maths time our daughter is spending with the teaching assistant in her class?

Hillary's Advice

New research seems to show that children who spend a lot of time being supported in the classroom by teaching assistants do no better than children who donít get any time with these classroom helpers. These parents are worried that their daughter, who is weak at maths, is being shunted off to a teaching assistant for help in this subject, when what she really needs is help from her teacher. Should they, they wonder, complain to her school?

My advice is: donít just look at newspaper headlines, but look carefully at your daughterís own situation. Is there evidence that she is falling behind in maths? What do her books look like? Is her work carefully marked and clearly commented on? What sense do you get of how good her teacher is, and how skilled Ė or not Ė this particular teaching assistant appears to be. Talk to other parents. Gather views. Stay alert and then, if you seriously think there is a problem, make an appointment to talk to her teacher. Ask exactly how much time your daughter spends with the teaching assistant, and how this compares to other pupils in the class. Explain that you believe she struggles with maths and needs more proper teaching to help her Ė one problem with teaching assistants appears to be that they are too swift to give children answers, without helping them understand how to arrive at them. But donít just jump in with both feet. Teaching assistants, just like teachers, vary enormously, and there are those who are terrific at their job.