A teaching assistant at Barrow Island Community Primary School, in the Walney Learning Away partnership, has become the coordinator of the Year 6 transition camps for seven local primary schools and their linked secondary schools. In the four years since this programme started she has moved from “putting my toe in the water” as a helper during the day to taking charge of the whole five day series of transition residentials.
Developing the role of the teaching assistant
As teaching assistant she initially became involved in the transition camps when the Year 6 pupils she worked with joined the programme in its first year. The camps are very busy affairs based in the grounds of another local primary school and with pupils and staff coming and going for their overnight slot. At the same time activity leaders are arranging a round robin of events on- and off-site. All this is based in the grounds of one of the schools, using camping equipment bought and maintained collectively and stored centrally. In that first year everyone felt overstretched and tired out. The teaching assistant helped out with some of the on-site activities during the visit of her pupils. She remembers enjoying the time with the pupils, appreciating the change in relationships she then had with them and the insights she gained into their personalities. However, very soon they moved on to their secondary schools.
The following year it was decided to have a separate staff team to look after the camps overnight and the teaching assistant took on this role for one of the nights, as well as visiting during the day with her pupils. This dealt with the over tired staff problem, but the camps were still busy and confusing.
The next year it was decided to have one person as a camp coordinator. The role was to have the overview of each day, so that children and staff could be directed to the right places at the right times and pressure points during the day could be given extra help. Two of the headteachers took on this role, but it became clear that this was too big a job, stretching the demands on a headteacher too far.
In the fourth year, the teaching assistant, now a veteran of three years of camps, was asked if she would take on this coordination role. She described how she felt really valued and appreciated when this offer was made. She and other colleagues were drawn into the team by being included in Walney partnership meetings and the collaborative Learning Away planning and networking events. With new schools joining in each year, the decision was made to extend the camp to five consecutive days.
All has gone really well with over 50% of the pupils in Barrow transitioning to the local secondary schools taking part. The teaching assistant, who doesn’t like public recognition, commented that this responsibility felt like real appreciation of her skills and personality. She added that she no longer felt “just a TA” and now realised that she had a vital role to play in the work of all these schools. She described how her confidence improved through talking to heads and teachers from the other schools, as well taking on the task of holding the camps together. The best outcome was to see happy pupils and unstressed teachers and activity leaders.