The Education Assistants (EAs) Standards of Practice Working Group is committed to ensuring our education system has provincially mandated standards of practice for education assistants in this Province. EA’s play a crucial role in supporting inclusion in our education system and they support children with disabilities – some of our most underserved in society. Yet, there are zero standards of practice for this role throughout the Province.
In February 2019, the Minister of Education at the time, Rob Fleming, directed their team to complete jurisdictional scanning and intensive background work. The Ministry conducted research, jurisdictional scanning, and some consultation to better understand the EA scope of practice, the parent perspective, workforce characteristics, and of course supply and demand. Further, the Ministry reviewed various calls to action to better understand the issues and considerations including requests from Education Advocates, Resolutions from Partner Groups including the BCSTA and BCCPAC, and the Select Standing Committee on Finance. The Ministry also explored different Policy considerations surrounding standardization of practice, regulation models, and other jurisdictional practices across the Province and the Country. This work has been stopped due to COVID. We need this work to continue and provincial standards of practice in place.
Students with disabilities are designated as a vulnerable population, and as such, we need to ensure there is a consistent, high standard of practice among EAs who support them. At this point, post-secondary education programs for EAs vary so greatly that skill sets are inconsistent. In British Columbia, training ranges from 2 weeks to 2 years and when faced with EA shortages, school districts may even hire people with no specific training to fulfil this critical role. With this extreme variation, we know EAs cannot possibly be learning the same subject matter let alone have the same learning outcomes and therefore have different levels of skill and ability. This directly impacts the children they are working with.
Noteworthy: The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner Special Rapporteur came to Canada in 2019 and had this to say: “I am concerned that most provincial and territorial policies are yet to implement fully inclusive education systems and that students with disabilities in other parts of Canada may receive considerably different levels of support. I was informed that many children with disabilities are still being taught in segregated classrooms or in special education schools, and I received worrisome reports that children with disabilities can be put on partial school days or temporarily removed from school, for periods of up to six months without access to education.[i]” Creating standards of practice for EA’s support inclusion.
As we know, EA support is a cornerstone of a strong, supportive, safe, and inclusive education system. As a vital member of the teaching team, well-trained EAs mean better working conditions for EAs, for teachers, administration, and especially better conditions for students. Our entire education system benefits.
This woman dominated career path lives and breathes inequities daily. In a 2018/19 headcount, there were just under 12,000 EA’s, with over 11,000 being women and only 900 men. Not only is there a lack of consistency for the students but a lack of consistency in training for the women there to support this underserved population. Turnover is high due to this precarious employment which adds to the cycle of inconsistent classroom environments which in turn affects teachers, students, and non-enrolling staff. It is a terrible cycle.
We also know that paramedics, teachers, electricians, nurses, health care aides, all have standards of practice. Early Childhood Educators – a parallel discipline – also have standards of practice currently regulated by our provincial government. The framework is there. Any work that is required of a person that involves potential dangers to themselves and or a vulnerable population has standards of practice, that is, except EAs. Would you believe there are standards of practice (not provincially mandated but standards all the same) for aromatherapists and nail technicians? Yet, EA’s remain without.
What are the risks for not creating provincially mandated standards of practice for education assistants?
Our children are at risk. Every time there is someone working with a student that is not trained adequately, that child is sent home losing out on their legal right to equitable access to education. (See exclusion tracker report: https://bcedaccess.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Exclusion-Tracker-Report-July-22-2020.pdf)
The risks associated with not regulating EAs as they work with the vulnerable population of students with disabilities as well as with all students in the classroom are immense. Currently, due to lack of sufficient and consistent training for EAs, we continue to put children and staff at risk of not only physical harm but also trauma and PTSD.
Teachers and administration are often unaware of the qualifications an EA has, hindering their effective deployment in classrooms and schools (Webster et al., 2011), as teachers and administrators are unable to “provide the EA with guidance or gauge their skill level” (Irvin et al, 2018, para. 24).
Fiscally, with the increase in incidents of aggression and harm within the classrooms, the costs associated are also on the rise. EAs on leave, finding replacements, and costs increasing in benefits payment due to these incidents all increase the stress to the overall education budget. In addition, as parents advocate more and more, the legal costs associated will continue to rise. Human Rights Tribunals are increasing as parents are supported to advocate for their children.
We know that behaviour is communication and a well-trained EA knows prevention and de-escalation which keeps workers and children safe. We must protect all involved, the EA’s, the teachers, the administration, and students. Standards support all in the school building. But that effect on the school community reaches every corner…. even home life. When a child is not supported, parents are forced to stop working to advocate for their child. Usually women, another area where women are disproportionately affected by not having standards of practice. When a child is supported, the whole family and community benefits.
Supporting underserved children with disabilities with well-educated, knowledgeable, passionate education assistants through standardization can only support fiscal responsibility, and social responsibility, while reducing harm and trauma. Failure to do so continues to exacerbate educational inequities for underserved students and their families.
This is an opportunity for our government to show BC they support inclusion and improving our education system for all students, and especially for our most vulnerable students. When we support our underserved students, we are setting up the entire population of students for success. The talk of provincially mandated standards of practice has been ongoing for a number of years.
The prevalence of need for the role of an education assistant is growing, and this is BC’s opportunity to lead the country.
Irvin, D., Ingram, P., Huffman, J., Mason, R., & Wills, H. (2018). Exploring paraprofessional and classroom factors affecting teacher supervision. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 73, 106-114. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0891422217303207
Rob Webster, Peter Blatchford, Paul Bassett, Penelope Brown, Clare Martin & Anthony Russell (2011) The wider pedagogical role of teaching assistants, School Leadership & Management, 31:1, 3-20, DOI: 10.1080/13632434.2010.540562