Are Teaching Assistants for the chop?
As Ministers search for savings in education it is clear that the Teaching Assistants may be a target for cuts.
An internal report, just presented by former WH Smith chief executive Richard Handover to the Schools Secretary Ed Balls, recommends that 40,000 teaching assistants should be removed from their posts to improve efficiency.
It concluded that financial responsibility “is not seen as a core responsibility of management at any level”.
In its 1998 and 2001 Green Papers, the government set out its intention to increase substantially the number of trained teaching assistants in primary and secondary schools In the last decade the number of teachers in England has risen by around 10% – from 399,000 in 1998 to 440,000 now.
According to government figures published in May 2009 , there are now 183,200 TAs, triple the number there were in 1997. Since 1997, teacher numbers in England grew by 32,000, with 100,000 more teaching assistants and 70,000 more support staff. However, over the same period pupil numbers actually fell by 80,000.
Are they effective?
The short answer is that teachers seem to appreciate TA support but there is precious little evidence that they impact positively on pupil performance.
Early research into teaching assistants , The role and effects of teaching assistants in English primary schools (years 4-6) 2000-2003 found little evidence to show that TAs had a measurable statistical effect on the attainment of pupils in the classes where they are deployed. However, the researchers identified that TAs had an indirect effect on teaching as they helped to increase pupils’ engagement with the lessons and therefore enabled teachers to focus on teaching.
The researchers also found that TAs often interacted directly with pupils to reinforce teaching points and therefore had a pedagogical role. However, at the time the research was conducted, few TAs had received specific training for this aspect of their work Their role n schools has been developing over a number of years. They have been deployed in a variety of ways in schools from providing support on a one-to-one basis, to developing resources and assisting teachers in student evaluation.
Schools generally make efforts to involve teaching assistants in planning activities. Crucially, teaching assistants played a central role in providing detailed feedback to teachers on student progress and helping them to develop individual education plans.
In recent decades there has been a move towards the increasing inclusion of pupils with special needs in mainstream schools. This has led to a greater need for additional support in classrooms, a role often provided by teaching assistants. Some critics suggest that SEN pupils need specialised support and TAs are not trained to cope with these pupils. More recently, a drive by the Government to raise standards in schools and tackle teacher workloads has also changed the way teaching assistants are being used in schools and has increased the diversity and range of tasks that they carry out.
An NFER survey in 2004 found that Teachers were mixed in their responses about whether they were satisfied with the TA level of support. Primary teachers were slightly more satisfied with their allocation of teaching assistant support than secondary teachers.
An Audit Commission report in June 2009 ‘Valuable Lessons’ questioned the huge rise in numbers , saying research was needed to justify spending so much on TAs, particularly in a recession. The most recent study on TAs, by the IoE, commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), compared the effect of TA support on pupil progress in 2005/06 and in 2007/08, using test scores of more than 8,000 primary and secondary pupils in England and Wales. Staff were interviewed and lessons observed.
The study perhaps counter-intuitively found a “significant negative effect” of extra help in every year group studied, in English, maths and science. “The more support pupils received, the less progress they made,” the authors concluded. Lead researcher Professor Peter Blatchford, told the Guardian that “Teaching assistants have made teachers’ jobs more productive and provided invaluable personal contact for struggling pupils. “Unfortunately, though, we found no evidence that their support has helped pupils make better progress in English, maths and science in any of the seven year groups we surveyed.” The Treasury’s efficiency review is also currently investigating whether the workforce of teaching assistants – is providing value for money. It is worth noting the Audit Commissions conclusion in its June 2009 report. It stated “In a more austere future, schools will need to ensure that the number of staff is affordable and the mix offers good value for money. ..Schools have more flexibility than they may realise to deploy classroom staff efficiently. ..Schools have little comparative information on costs or how workforce deployment affects outcomes for children.”
If teaching assistants are judged on the support they give to qualified teachers decreasing their workload and helping in a variety of administrative and teaching tasks then they may be ok. But if the criterion is based on the measurable effect they have on outcomes then expect cuts, probably big ones in the TA workforce.