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While the number of teachers in mainstream schools in England has remained relatively steady over the last decade or so, the number of full-time equivalent TAs has more than trebled since 2000: from 79,000 to 243,700. Teaching assistants comprise over a quarter of the workforce in mainstream schools in England: 35% of the primary workforce, and 14% of the secondary school workforce. The number of full-time equivalent TAs has more than trebled since 2000: from 79,000 to 262,800. On the basis of headcount data, there are currently more TAs in English nursery and primary schools than teachers: 273,200 vs. 248,900.1 About 7% of TAs in state-funded schools have higher-level teaching assistant (HLTA) status.
A key reason for increasing the number of TAs was to help deal with problems with teacher workloads. In 2003, the government introduced The National Agreement to help raise pupil standards and tackle excessive teacher workload, in large part via new and expanded support roles and responsibilities for TAs and other support staff. The growth in the numbers of TAs has also been driven by the push for greater inclusion of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) into mainstream schools, with TAs often providing the key means by which inclusion is facilitated. Given that SEN pupils and low-attaining pupils are more likely to claim Free School Meals (FSM)1. TAs also work more closely with pupils from low-income backgrounds. Indeed, expenditure on TAs is one of the most common uses of the Pupil Premium in primary schools, a government initiative that assigns funding to schools in proportion to the number of pupils on FSM.
A combination of these factors means that schools now spend approximately £4.4 billion each year on TAs, corresponding to 13% of the education budget. This presents an excellent opportunity for improvements in practice, with such a large and already committed resource in place. The recommendations in this guidance recognise the fact that schools are operating within already tight budgets; however, noticeable improvements in pupil outcomes can be made through the thoughtful use of existing resources, without significant additional expenditure.