Steve Longford (CP letters, 09-04-21) seems to be suggesting teaching assistants (TAs) “don’t warrant a higher wage.” 
He is correct in saying “They are a cheaper substitute for teachers”, but this doesn’t make it right or negate the fact they deserve more.
Too often, TAs are exploited:

  • l Left to supervise classes, when teachers pop out for a few minutes or pick up the slack, if a teacher permanently leaves the school and a replacement cannot be found or afforded. 
  • l A UCL study published last month showed over half of TAs managed a whole class or bubble on their own during the pandemic, presumably while teachers were online teaching. TAs felt vulnerable and were at greater risk. Largely unnoticed, TAs undertook a range of additional tasks, not normally expected of them, minimising transmission risks by cleaning equipment and furniture.
  • l Having break, lunch duty or detention room supervision with the most challenging pupils with little or no support.
  • l Often arriving early to help prepare lessons and leaving late clearing up — sometimes even taking work home.

TAs sit next to pupils helping them to learn things the teacher has taught, sometimes caring for the most intimate needs of a pupil. 
Hardly a situation conducive to feeling safe without any possibility of social distancing. 
When pupils struggle, TAs break down the lesson in a way children can understand, offering emotional support to those finding learning difficult – often due to speech and language barriers, social deprivation or special educational needs and disability.
Pay is low; the trend being a race to the bottom. Being paid ‘term time only’ means pay is often 70 per cent of the actual salary as they cannot work in the holidays. 
School restructures usually mean TAs are the first to be axed, jobs re-evaluated to a lower salary scale or hours cut. I am aware of one TA with 44 years’ work history. Her pension just over £6,000 a year.
Covid has underlined the TAs’ valuable contribution to their schools. 
These “unsung heroes” surely warrant a higher wage.