Time to rethink Teaching Assistants?

A new report has highlighted the need to reassess the use of teaching assistants in the classroom

The rise in the number of teaching assistants here in the UK has prompted academics to question whether Schools and policy-makers need to make radical changes in the way they are deployed in classrooms. In their book Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants: How Research Changes Practice and Policy Peter Blatchford, Anthony Russell and Rob Webster have assessed the impact of teaching assistants in recent years and their role in the contemporary education system.

Looking at results for 8200 pupils over the past five years the authors found that pupils who received the most support from TAs consistently made less progress than similar pupils who received less TA support. They argue that “the fault is not with TAs, but with decisions made—often with the best of intentions – about how they are used and prepared for their work. There has been a drift toward TAs becoming, in effect, the primary educators of lower-attaining pupils and those with special educational needs. Teachers like this arrangement because they can then teach the rest of the class, in the knowledge that the children in most need get more individual attention. But the more support pupils get from TAs, the less they get from teachers. Supported pupils therefore become separated from the teacher and the curriculum. It is perhaps unsurprising then that these pupils make less progress.”

The conclusions reached are now widely recognised and have fed into the Lamb Enquiry on SEN, new Ofsted guidance and the Government’s SEN green paper. The Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project is the biggest study of TAs and other school support staff worldwide.

In Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants the authors recommend:
• TAs should not routinely support lower attaining pupils and those with SEN
• Teachers should deploy TAs in ways that allow them to ‘add value’ to their own teaching
• Initial teacher training should include how to work with and manage TAs
• Schools have a formal induction process for TAs
• More joint planning and feedback time for teachers and TAs.

Pie Corbett