Recommendation One: TAs should not be used as an informal teaching resource for low attaining pupils

“The evidence on TA deployment suggests schools have drifted into a situation in which TAs are often used as an informal instructional resource for pupils in most need. Although this has happened with the best of intentions, this evidence suggests that the status quo is no longer an option. School leaders should systematically review the roles of both teachers and TAs and take a wider view of how TAs can support learning and improve attainment throughout the school.”

What does this mean in practice? 

Low attaining pupils need support from the classroom teacher. Support from teaching assistants is not an adequate substitute for high quality teacher input. In many schools, an informal model of deployment has developed in which TAs become ‘Velcroed’ to pupils with low attainment or special educational needs (SEN) for long periods. This is nearly always the result of good intentions, but the consequences are generally not positive.

First, the situation puts undue onus on TAs to support pupils with the greatest needs, something for which they are generally not adequately trained. Second, it diminishes the amount of contact between the teacher and these pupils, putting them at a further disadvantage by separating them from the classroom teaching. Third, when schools can get ‘locked into’ these practices, they narrow the potential for TAs to be used in more impactful ways.

There can be no doubt that teaching assistants have much to offer pupils and teachers. Deployed effectively, they can have a fantastic impact on teaching and learning. But effective deployment requires careful thought and consideration from the school leadership team. In conjunction with teaching assistants and teachers, there needs to be a clear delineation of what pedagogical role TAs are to play in the school.

This might involve supporting low-attaining pupils and pupils with SEN at times. But it will not involve an approach in which TAs only ever work with these pupils – and in which they become an informal teaching resource replacing necessary teacher-pupil interactions.

It is important to keep in mind that reviewing, rethinking and reforming the way you use your teaching assistants is not a cover for reviewing, rethinking and reforming you provision for pupils with SEN.