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Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants

Last month, we wrote about reports in the media that suggested the Department for Education might consider reducing TA numbers and the uproar it created within teaching circles.

The video presentation below by Rob Webster on Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants succinctly describes the Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project, the results of which were interpreted in Reform’s Must do better: Spending on schools (May 2013).

Rob Webster was a researcher on the DISS project, so well placed to talk about what the research really said and the media reporting of it. His presentation details the proposed model to make better use of teaching assistants along with various case studies demonstrating how the project team’s ideas can be put into practice.

The presentation lasts around 40 minutes, but has been summarised below if you don’t have time to view.

The suggestion that the Government might take seriously Reform’s recommendation to reduce the number of TAs have provoked concern among TAs and schools more widely. Rob Webster will be addressing this issue in an article for TA Focus in the coming weeks.



Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants (Nasen) summary notes

The main objectives of the presentation:

  • Why schools need to re-evaluate how TAs are deployed in schools.
  • What can schools do to release the potential of TAs?

Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) (2003 – 2009)

Key results:

  • TAs were employed to help struggling students and teacher workloads (the latter was achieved successfully).
  • Pupils who received a high level of TA support made less progress over the school year compared with pupils who received little or no TA support. This finding could not be explained by pupil characteristics such as SEN or prior attainment.

Scale of project:

  • Over 17,800 national surveys.
  • 8,200 pupils in 153 schools were assessed in terms of impact of TA support.
  • Over 680 students and over 100 TAs in schools were observed.
  • Case studies in 65 schools.
  • Interviews with over 280 school heads, SENCos, teachers and TAs.
  • Adult-to-student talk in 16 lessons analysed.

Two project phases:

Wave 1 – targeting approximately 2,500 students in years 1, 3, 7 and 10.

Wave 2 – targeting 5,500 students in years 2, 6 and 9.

What was the impact of TA involvement? For English, Maths and Science, it was found that the more help/support the students received from a TA, the less well they did.

This was a consistent find across all year groups and core subjects.

Was this down to student characteristics i.e. SEN, pupils who are making less progress etc?  Multi-level regression was used to account for these factors, so the independent effect of TA support could be analysed.

One of the main messages from the research (often lost in the media reporting) is that TAs are not at fault The explanation for the pupil progress results lie in the way TAs are organised and deployed.

The model used to describe the three main areas within the project:

1. Deployment (how schools use TAs)

The observations of students with teachers and TAs showed non-SEN students had more interaction with teachers compared to SEN students. Those needing the most input from teachers were spending less time with them.

2. Practice

It was found that TA explanations were sometimes inaccurate or misleading, and TAs supplied answers to students too readily. The TAs were more concerned with getting tasks done, rather than exploring more and focusing on how to ensure learning and understanding.

3. Preparedness

75% of the teachers questioned had no training to work with or manage TAs, or any time to meet with TAs. The TAs were therefore underprepared and only received crucial information during lessons, rather than beforehand.

Currently, TA support is alternative to teacher support as opposed to the intended additional support. Once again, TAs are not to blame, but schools need to re-think the way they approach the three areas above.

How can TAs add value without replacing teachers? In recent years, there has been heavy investment in TAs compared to teachers, although research has shown that SEN is not a priority when raising standards within schools.

It was noted that the Ofsted report in Feb 2013 showed schools were spending Pupil Premiums to fund new/existing TAs with little impact.

Effective Deployment of TAs (EDTA) project 2010/2011

40 teachers and TAs in 10 schools addressed the three key areas from the DISS project. The project lasted a year – one area worked on per term.

Started off with an audit:

  • What requires change?
  • Build on good practice

Decisions school leaders need to make about deployment:

  • What do we want the role of TAs to be?
  • Teaching/non-teaching roles?

Problem lies when TA roles ‘drift’ from non-teaching to teaching, so should there be a limit to what schools can expect from TAs?

What can be done within the classroom to help SEN students instead of using the current model? It was noted that many teachers are unsure whether written TA deployment policies existed within their schools.

Ofsted states teachers are responsible for the progress and development of all students. There is an emphasis on preparing students to become independent.

A number of case studies are presented. Research shows that when TAs lead interventions, there are positive outcomes. Interventions are not currently drawn into the classroom, so there is a distinct problem with students bridging the gap between work inside and outside lessons. TAs and teachers need to communicate and set aside time to bridge the gap.

Unhelpful patterns of TA behaviour:

  • impulse to complete tasks
  • need to allow time for students to think/respond
  • students need social interaction with peers
  • giving answers to students without encouraging student to find answers themselves


Typically, TAs are ‘going into lessons blind’ and need planning before lessons.

After suggested changes were made (e.g. improving the quality and clarity of lesson plans), TAs felt more confident and appreciated.

Guidance on making better use of TAs, described briefly here, can be found in Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants, by Russell, Webster and Blatchford.


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