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The role of learning support assistant in further education (FE) varies from college to college but the through-line is providing support to students to help them better understand and participate in classes.
College learning support assistants help and encourage individuals or small groups of learners with a whole range of needs. The role will involve supporting the educational needs of the learner, not their care needs.
The Learning Support Assistants in Further Education and Training report, a collaboration between the Education & Training Foundation, the Education Endowment Foundation and J.P. Morgan, noted that “learning support job titles include, but are not restricted to: learning support assistants, academic support worker, additional learning support, learning support worker, maths learning facilitator and specialist support assistance”.
The number of full-time equivalent teaching assistants has more than trebled since 2000 from 79,000 to 243,700 in 2018. FE learning support assistants are, therefore, in large demand at present.
Being a learning support assistant requires empathy and compassion with a drive to offer a nurturing learning environment to students. To be successful in the role, key characteristics are positivity, flexibility and calmness under sometimes trying situations.
The role calls for proactive individuals who are energetic and committed to engaging pupils in their education, inspiring them to be confident and independent.
Learning support assistants work with pupils of all abilities, including individuals with special needs. It should be remembered that students with physical disabilities may need help with their mobility or in accessing materials.
Students under the supervision of learning support assistants may not have English as a first language so it may require extra care and attention so that learning materials are accessible. Meanwhile, learners with behavioural difficulties will require targeted support to help them achieve their full potential.
Transferable skills from other roles, such as strong written and oral communication, and interpersonal skills will be looked upon favourably during the interview phase.
FE learning support assistants broadly require the same qualifications as special educational needs (SEN) teaching assistants. According to the National Careers Service, the SEN role needs candidates to have either have completed a college course or an apprenticeship or else to have volunteered in a similar role in the past.
Level 2 qualifications in maths and English will usually be a must, while a qualification in a related field, e.g. teaching assistant, childcare, health and social care etc, is desirable.
Relevant college qualifications include:
A placement working with learners with special educational needs may be secured while doing one of these courses.
Through past work experience, it will certainly be beneficial to present an understanding of the specific personal needs of learners to ensure a safe and effective learning environment.
Becoming a member of the National Association for Special Educational Needs may well be beneficial for candidates seeking to become a college learning support assistant.
Being on top of the latest developments in FE that affect learning support assistants is a good way to put yourself ahead of the competition when it comes to the interview process. The Learning Support Assistants in Further Education and Training report made five key recommendations for leadership teams to consider when ensuring the maximum impact of learning support assistants can be realised. These were to ensure:
Paul Warren has worked in FE for more than 13 years as a learning support assistant and believes that support workers are the key to empowering students to have a larger level of independence that when they started the course.
He is clear about how he sees the role of the learning support assistant: “An effective [learning support assistant] helps to enable and empower students to complete a course of study with a measurably greater degree of independence or autonomy than when the student started.”
Warren explains how worthwhile being a member of FE support staff can be, stressing that “the role primarily exists to help to change a student’s mindset from that of ‘I didn’t think I could’ to ‘now I know I can’”.
Meanwhile, although Anna Holland works as a learning support assistant in secondary education at Gosford High School in Newcastle upon Tyne, the elements of a typical day she describes can be transposed to an FE learning support assistant.
“Working on a one-to-one basis with a young person can be a very delicate operation,” she states “as it is important to ensure that they do not become isolated or appear different from their peers”.
Talent.com states that the median salary for a college learning support assistant to be £23,400 in the UK or £12 an hour. Entry level positions start at £21,099 a year, although some of the most experienced workers bring home around £72,216 per year. For comparison, the Office for National Statistics puts the UK’s median annual pay for full-time employees at £31,461 for the tax year ending April 2020.