BEING a teaching assistant once involved tasks like helping prepare for the day’s lessons and putting up a display of pupils’ work on the classroom wall.

Fast forward to 2019 and learning support assistants’s role has increased dramatically to the point where they can teach entire classes when needed.

They also provide additional support to children, whether that is reading and writing, or as a friend to turn to.

But as schools say their budgets are being eroded, it has led to swathes of these key staff members being made redundant.

Prettygate Infant and Junior schools in Colchester recently publicly revealed the “dire” state of its finances, resulting in eight learning support assistants taking voluntary redundancy.

Executive head teacher Rita Tingle said that meant the school’s remaining staff would “redouble” their efforts to make up for the losses, so as best not to impact children.

She added: “Last September we looked at where we were with our budget and forecast where we needed to be and really didn’t want to see a deficit budget.

“If we set a deficit budget the local authority sacks the governors.”

In that instance the authority, Essex County Council, would install its own advisory body, something the schools, who pride themselves on their community ethos, were at pains to prevent.

Cutting learning support assistants was the next option with the schools just having enough cash to make them redundant.

The average wage for a full-time learning support assistant is £11,000.

Mrs Tingle said: “We need a teacher in each class because we are full so the next people we were looking at were learning support assistants.”

Some learning support staff will remain across the two schools but their number has been depleted.

Among those to leave is Liz Whiting, who started her job there in 2000.

She said: “It is just nice to see a child grow.

“I have been told in the past: ‘This child you have been working with, they have made six months’ reading progress’.

“It is it nice to support those children that emotionally struggle to grow in confidence and that is time we have given. They become independent and that is so lovely to see.”

Mrs Whiting said some children seek comfort in talking to an adult in school who is not their teacher.

The loss of the learning assistants will also leave teachers, whose class sizes can range from 30 in the infant school to 32 in the juniors, have to make difficult choices over how to best use their time to support their pupils.

The invaluable members of staff also support children who have special educational needs.

Pressures have increased, all round, say staff.

On rare occasions, the assistants have covered classes for a morning or afternoon if a teacher has gone off sick.

The benefits, said Mrs Tingle, are the assistant knows the class and its progress and this is also far cheaper than paying for a supply teacher.

Mrs Tingle added: “Although the school community has had a turbulent year it has come out of it together and is still a team.

“Everybody has been highly professional about how they have conducted themselves, there is a great community feel and that is why I have stayed here so long.”

  • The Gazette’s campaign supports north east Essex’s Funding for Schools.

We urge you to sign their 2,000-signature strong online petition to lobby Education Secretary Damian Hinds for more funding for all our schools.

They need a commitment of at least 15 per cent more funding per school from the Government, when its spending review takes place this autumn.

That’s the equivalent of £218,00 per school, with some needing as much as £500,000.

The campaign seeks to restore standards so our schoolchildren can learn in a comfortable environment with the support they need.

In the past four years £134 million has been cut from Essex schools alone in real terms, taking in account inflation, pension commitments and rising staffing costs.

The petition can be found at