TA Effectiveness Image

A look into the effectiveness of TA support, by I CAN’s Senior Education Advisor, Clive Robson

Once again* the effective deployment of teaching assistants (TAs) is back under the spotlight.  Academics from the Institute of Education (IoE), London have found that pupils who received the most support from TAs consistently made less progress than similar pupils who received less TA support.  Why is this and what can teachers and TAs do about it?

The number of TAs has more than trebled since 1997, now making up a quarter of the school workforce. The IoE argues 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.”

Their key recommendations are:
• TAs should not routinely or exclusively 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.

At I CAN, we argue that one of the key things that TAs can do is to focus on the quality of their dialogue with the pupils- and the quality of the pupils’ dialogue both with TAs and with other pupils.   We are involved in some work in a north London secondary comprehensive school where they have decided to focus on this aspect of their provision with training for the TA team and those TAs working in local feeder primary schools.  The training has included the following guidance:

  1. The quality of the dialogue between TA and the student is the critical factor in those students making progress.
  2. TAs can model good questions for pupils when working with pupils- questions that probe and providing scaffolding.
  3. Avoiding a diet of too many low level questions that check for understanding only or closed questions that inhibit thinking and discussion. Also avoid ‘spoon feeding’  or over prompting
  4. Producing with the teacher a question bank with a range of complexity – focus on the learning rather than just completing the task.
  5. Ideally the student should need the TA’s support less and less and the TA can foster this through skilled dialogue that encourages independent thinking and greater self reliance.

Clive Robson, Senior Education Adviser

*Russell, A., Webster, R. and Blatchford, P. (2012) Maximising the impact of teaching assistants: guidance for school leaders and teachers. Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge, 480