New EEF Guidance Report - Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants

Teaching assistants should not be used as substitute teachers for low-attaining pupils, according to a new guidance report from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) published today.

Instead they should be used to help pupils develop independent study skills and given direction to deliver high-quality one-to-one and small-group support.

The report calls on teachers and school leaders to make more effective use of their teaching assistants and offers seven practical tips for maximising the impact they have on the attainment of pupils.

The seven recommendations will be used to inform a £5 million campaign to boost learning for nearly 14,000 disadvantaged pupils in Yorkshire.

At present, there are 243,700 full-time equivalent teaching assistants are employed in schools across England, a number that has more than trebled since 2000. In a year, schools spend approximately £4.4 billion on their employment.

Previous research had shown that in many English schools teaching assistants are not being used in ways that improve pupil outcomes. However, research funded by the EEF demonstrates that when they are well trained and used in structured settings with high-quality support and training, they can boost learning by as much as an extra term.

Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants, by Jonathan Sharples (Institute for Effective Education & EEF), Rob Webster (UCL Institute of Education) and Peter Blatchford (UCL Institute of Education), urges school leaders and teachers to strongly consider these seven evidence-based recommendations:

  • 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 students learn from teaching assistants complements what they are being taught in the classroom.

Today’s report and its recommendations are part of a £5 million campaign led by the EEF to improve the impact of teaching assistants. The campaign will be focused on West and South Yorkshire, regions where the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils is large and there are a significant number of schools with a high percentage of disadvantaged pupils.

Regional partners will work with over 1000 primary schools in West and South Yorkshire to help them act on the guidance and recommendations. Schools with large numbers of disadvantaged pupils will benefit from funding to implement targeted interventions, reaching 13,800 pupils in total.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, says: “We know that in many schools teaching assistants are not being used in ways that improve student outcomes. These seven evidence-based recommendations and a £5 million campaign represent a significant and long term commitment by the EEF to address this. With £4.4 billion spent on teaching assistants each year the leverage in employing them cost effectively is enormous.”

Dr Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, says: “Teaching assistants play such a significant role in schools, especially in supporting some of our most disadvantaged pupils, that they deserve the best possible guidance. By providing teachers and school leaders with a practical framework that they can take into the classroom, today’s report has the potential to make a real difference to the professional development of teaching assistants and, as a consequence, pupil attainment.”

Rob Webster of the Institute of Education says: “Our extensive research and on-going work with schools shows that making best use of teaching assistants is a school leadership issue. School leaders need to put pupils’ needs at the heart of a review of current practice and to think through ways of strategically deploying teaching assistants across the school to ensure pupils receive the best possible educational experience. Teaching assistants should play an integral part in the drive to improve pupil achievement.”


  1. The Education Endowment Foundation is a charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust, with a Department for Education grant of £125m. It is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £52 million to 93 projects working with over 600,000 pupils in over 4,700 schools across England.
  2. Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants will be available from the EEF website at 0001 on Friday 27thFebruary.
  3. The EEF is inviting a wide-range of organisations to work with them as advocacy partners and bring the guidance ‘to life’. Advocate partners may be local authorities, teaching schools, universities, education charities, or other organisations working closely with primary schools in West and South Yorkshire. Expressions of interest should be received by Friday 27th March.
  4. The Department for Education is developing a set of new standards, The Professional Standards for Teaching Assistants, to help raise the status and professionalism of teaching assistants. They are designed to ensure that the skills and experience demonstrated by teaching assistants support high quality teaching and learning. The standards will be available in the coming weeks