TEACHING ASSISTANTS – A QUARTER OF THE TEACHING WORKFORCE-ARE THEY EFFECTIVE?

Do they make a difference? Maybe ,but  not on attainment

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Over the last 15 years, teaching assistants (TAs) have become a central part of policy and practice in meeting the needs of lower-attaining pupils and those with SEN. Over this period, TAs have grown to comprise an astonishing quarter of the UK mainstream school workforce. Some claim that that using TAs to provide one-to-one and small group support to struggling pupils works well.  Others fear that they they dont have the necessary skills and training to cope with these specialist  tasks.One serving teacher  told me that the reality for many TAs today, is that ” they sit beside the most appallingly behaved children, lesson after lesson, and try to limit the damage they do by reprimanding them, encouraging them or distracting them.’

It does seem likely that schools will seek to extend this support work  through the Pupil Premium. However, research suggests   that schools should be cautious about the use (or misuse) of TAs assistants. Results first published in the 2009 book Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants: How Research Changes Practice and Policy, by Peter Blatchford, Anthony Russell and Rob Webster,  on a five-year study of 8,200 pupils, found that pupils who received the most support from TAs consistently made less progress than similar pupils who received less TA support. 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.

The five-year study, the Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project (the largest study of TAs worldwide) measured the effect of the amount of TA support on the academic progress of 8,200 pupils, while controlling for factors like prior attainment and level of SEN. Worryingly, the  analyses, across seven year groups, found that those who received the most support from TAs consistently made less progress than similar pupils who received less TA support. So given the resources invested in Teaching Assistants and their apparent lack of impact on  pupil attainment, and  the possible role they may have  in support of the Pupil Premium , some searching questions surely  need to be asked.  But perhaps its unfair to blame TAs. Fully  qualified teachers  often  value the support afforded by TAs. And   the results from the DISS project seem to show that  it is the decisions made about – not by – TAs, in terms of their deployment and preparation, which are at fault. http://www.schoolsupportstaff.net/

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3 thoughts on “TEACHING ASSISTANTS – A QUARTER OF THE TEACHING WORKFORCE-ARE THEY EFFECTIVE?

  1. This is the kind of political potato you need asbestos gloves to handle! When they came up with the idea of TAs, New Labour created an army of potential voters…mums, grateful for part time work. That they had little else in mind was evident to anyone who witnessed TAs working in those first few years. In effect schools used them to sit on the worst behaved, most disruptive children, often tying them to an individual child for the whole day. It is still common practice, as I saw only recently. Someone I worked with, who had a lot of teaching experience in London schools, described it as a complete racket, “TEFL on the cheap,” were her exact words.

    The reality for many TAs today, is that they sit beside the most appallingly behaved children, lesson after lesson, and try to limit the damage they do by reprimanding them, encouraging them or distracting them. It is a pretty thankless role. No wonder in my recent classroom adventures, several times I had to stifle a burst of laughter when a TA put her hand up to answer a question I’d asked the kids!

    • thanks for this good to get feedback from chalk face echoed by another teacher who spoke to me about this..

  2. Great people, well motivated, caring, kind and valuable. Miss-located, misdirected and too often left with impossible tasks that parcel up the toxic mix of high responsibility and low authority.

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