Let’s build on TAs' commitment to making a difference

Teaching assistants are a major part of the schools workforce today, with around 240,000 working in England’s schools and 10 per cent of the education budget spent on employing them each year.

But there have for some time been concerns that TAs aren’t always used as effectively as they could and should be.

As a major provider of professional development for teaching assistants, Best Practice Network wants to help schools reflect on the way they use TAs and make changes so this is as effective as it can be. We’re keen supporters of the Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants report published last year by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and used it in our recent survey of over 750 teaching assistants - the vast majority with Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) status or working at HLTA level - to ask how they were used in relation to the report’s seven recommendations, which were:

  • Teaching assistants should not be used as substitute teachers for low-attaining pupils.
  • Use teaching assistants to add value to what teachers do, not replace them.
  • Use teaching assistants to help pupils develop independent study skills and manage their own learning.
  • Ensure teaching assistants are fully prepared for their role in the classroom through out of class liaison with teachers.
  • Use teaching assistants to deliver high-quality one-to-one and small group support using structured interventions.
  • Adopt evidence-based interventions to support teaching assistants in their small group and one-to-one instruction.
  • It is important that what children and young people learn from teaching assistants complements what they are being taught in the classroom.

The survey was also an opportunity to promote the EEF research, provide a voice for teaching assistants and HLTAs and give schools a basis for discussions that we hope would promote further improvements in the use of classroom-based support staff.

Our survey results were fascinating. They revealed that the majority of TAs felt positive about the impact they were having on pupil attainment and that their schools were using their skills and knowledge in line with the seven EEF recommendations.

The vast majority of respondents - almost 76 per cent - believed that they added value to what teachers did and that they did not replace them. The vast majority (89 per cent) felt they helped pupils develop independent skills and manage their own learning.

A high percentage (91 per cent) agreed with the statement ‘what students learn from me complements what they are being taught in the classroom’, while 65 per cent said they were fully prepared for their role in the classroom through out of class liaison with teachers.

And 84 per cent agreed that they delivered high quality small group support using structured interventions. This finding was particularly interesting given that the Education Endowment Foundation recently published further research which revealed that when TAs are used in this way they can have a great impact on pupils’ attainment.

Our survey gives a good picture of how TAs feel they are being used in areas where the research shows they have the best chances of making a real difference to children’s attainment. It is also valuable for the way it acknowledges the commitment TAs have to their work and their strong belief in the valuable contribution they can make to children’s lives.

This is not to ignore research findings that teaching assistants are not being used by all schools as effectively as they could be, but our survey and the research carried out by bodies such as the EEF raises an important question for school leaders, teachers, government and training and development providers like ourselves: how can TAs receive the constructive support and development they need to support them to be as effective as they can be?

At Best Practice Network we have developed a wide range of professional development programmes for teaching assistants from level two through to Higher Level Teaching Assistant and beyond. Our programmes, including accredited training programmes at level 3, 4 and 5, train, support and encourage TAs to achieve the highest levels of performance and be proactive in seeking job roles and opportunities that maximise their capabilities and talents.

It’s clear that there is a strong positive feeling and can-do attitude within the dedicated workforce of teaching assistants. Now it’s time to capitalise on that passion and that knowledge and give TAs what they need to make an even bigger impact in the future including through strong teacher and teaching assistant partnerships.

Maureen Lee is a Director at Best Practice Network

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