Learning support assistants (LSAs) are responsible for aiding students who require additional support in their studies. These students may have disabilities, learning difficulties, or other additional needs that require extra help beyond what is provided in a typical classroom setting. LSAs play a crucial role in ensuring that these students receive the support they need to succeed academically and beyond.
What is causing the greater demand for LSAs?
Colleges have been facing a shortage of LSAs over the past few years. The shortage can not only affect the quality of education provided to students, but also impact the overall functioning of colleges. There are a number of reasons why the recruitment of LSAs is proving to be difficult. These include:
There are more students with additional needs
There is an increasing number of students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) attending further education colleges. According to the Department for Education, in 2020, over 40% of 16- to 25-year-olds with SEND attended FE colleges.
Greater inclusion and diversity in colleges
It has been great to see colleges becoming more inclusive and diverse over recent years. With a greater variety of subjects on offer, both academic and vocational, we are seeing more students from various backgrounds and with different learning styles attending college. As a result, there is a greater need for LSAs who can help bridge the language and cultural barriers that some students may face, ensuring they are fully integrated into college life.
A shift in education policy
We have seen a shift in educational policy towards a more personalised and inclusive approach to learning. This has led to the development of individualised learning plans (ILPs) for students, which identify their strengths and needs and provide tailored support to help them succeed. LSAs play a key role in implementing these plans and providing the necessary support to students.
Challenges brought on by the pandemic
The pandemic has had a significant impact on the education of children with SEND. The closure of schools and other educational facilities during the initial stages of the pandemic had a substantial effect on children's education, and many SEND students were particularly affected.
The sudden shift to remote learning was challenging for many SEND students. With the lack of in-person support, these students may now struggle to engage with online lessons and materials, leading to a potential gap in their learning. The pandemic also caused disruptions to routine and structure, which can be particularly challenging for those who rely heavily on routine and predictability.
The pandemic also had a detrimental impact on the mental health and wellbeing of many SEND students. The isolation and lack of social interaction can exacerbate existing mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, leading to further challenges in learning and engagement.
Why are we experiencing a shortage of LSAs?
The role of an LSA is often misunderstood, and there is a lack of consistency in how colleges define the role. This can make it difficult for potential candidates to understand what the job entails and whether they are suited to it. They are often required to take on a variety of responsibilities, ranging from administrative duties to providing personal care to students. This can make the role challenging and demanding, and some potential candidates may be deterred by the range and intensity of the responsibilities.
LSAs are typically paid at, or near, minimum wage, which is another major factor, and many colleges find that this is not enough to attract and retain qualified professionals. The low pay also means that many people are unwilling to travel too far for work, leaving colleges with a small local talent pool from which to recruit. In areas such as the Wirral, this is of particular concern, as they can struggle to attract experienced LSAs who are willing to travel to these locations.
Additionally, good LSAs have a range of transferable skills that are attractive to other better-paid sectors. Many use their skills and experience to become teachers, technicians, or other specialist positions such as work experience coaches, personal development tutors etc.
What can colleges do to attract more LSAs?
Here are some strategies that colleges can use to attract more learning support assistants:
Offer competitive salaries and benefits
Colleges should offer competitive salaries that reflect the important role that learning support assistants play in supporting students with special needs. Providing salaries that are in line with the market rate for similar roles in the industry can attract more qualified and experienced candidates who are looking for better remuneration for their skills and knowledge. Those that are unable to increase salaries should look at what additional benefits they can provide to make up for the loss in earnings. These can be benefits such as free use of facilities (sports/gym memberships), subsidised lunches, free on-site parking – little things can make a big difference in the current economic climate.
Ensure you write clear job descriptions
A clear and detailed job description is essential in attracting the right candidates. A well-written job description should outline the key responsibilities and requirements (including the challenging aspects of the role), as well as the qualifications and experience required. This can help potential candidates understand whether they are a good fit for the role, saving time for both the college and the professional.
Look outside the box
Many colleges have strict criteria for recruiting LSAs, but if they are willing to consider those outside of the sector, they can tap into a talent pool of professionals with excellent transferable skills. For example, youth workers, social workers, nursery workers, or those with a background in care, all possess the skills needed to be an LSA, such as patience, resilience, and experience with behaviours that challenge.
Colleges could also look at recruiting from within their own student body, such as those who are completing health and social care courses. Offering existing students discounted learning and a graduate-style placement to work in the college once they complete their course, could be a great way to create your own talent pool.
Invest in temporary employees
Currently many LSAs are recruited on a temporary basis, but we often see that colleges are not investing in their development in the same way as permanent employees. In order to retain staff, offer temporary workers paid time off for career development in subjects such as safeguarding and first aid, or invite them to attend staff training sessions offered to permanent staff.
One solution that some colleges have been considering is changing the entry routes to becoming an LSA. Apprenticeship schemes are cost effective and can help to build a pipeline of talent for colleges, with apprentices potentially becoming future permanent employees. Additionally, offering apprenticeship opportunities can help colleges to demonstrate their commitment to investing in the professional development of their staff, which can be attractive to prospective students and employees alike.
What are the implications of failing to meet students' additional needs?
Students with additional needs who do not receive adequate learning support may face long-term impacts on their academic, social, and emotional development. These impacts can include a lack of progress in their learning, limited access to educational opportunities, and decreased self-esteem and confidence.
Additionally, SEND children may struggle with developing critical life skills and independence, which can hinder their future employment and personal relationships. Without proper support, SEND children may also experience increased frustration, anxiety, and isolation, leading to potential mental health concerns.
Attracting more learning support assistants requires a comprehensive and strategic approach. By implementing these strategies, colleges can provide the necessary support to all students who need it, which can lead to better academic outcomes and greater success in life.
If you are looking to hire a learning support assistant, or another further education professional, get in touch with one of our specialist consultants today.