Acting on the Evidence
The evidence on effective TA deployment, training and use can be summarised in one clear principle – ‘Use TAs to supplement what teachers do, not replace them’ (Recommendation 2). The remaining recommendations in this guidance are either exemplifications of that principle (e.g. the careful use of TA-led interventions) or ways of achieving it (e.g. ensuring TAs and teachers understand their complementary roles). The evidence therefore is relatively straightforward. At the same time, there are also clear benefits to schools re-framing the way TAs are used, in terms of pupil outcomes, school outcomes and overall staff satisfaction and morale (see ‘Ten reasons to improve the use of Teaching Assistants’).
Nevertheless, our experiences of working with schools in improving the way TAs are trained and deployed suggests that making those changes is not straightforward. It can be a complex process, requiring changes across the school (senior leadership, middle leadership, teachers, TAs), addressing existing ways of working, training at all levels, and sometimes structural changes in terms of timetabling and working arrangements. Encouragingly, schools that overcome practical barriers to change do so by investing time, attention and effort into making improvements – not by spending lots of money.
The figure above shows a model for school improvement. This should shape an implementation plan for your school, which can then act as a foundation for training and deploying staff - summarise the objectives for the project and the activities that will take place to support the changes. An additional EEF guidance report, Putting Evidence to Work: A School’s Guide to Implementation’, provides more detail on the features and processes of effective implementation.
Developmental work with schools has revealed a number of key principles to successfully taking action on the recommendations in this guidance:
- The headteacher forms and leads a small development team with responsibility for managing the changes. This is essential, as staffing and contractual issues inevitably feature in decision making and change cannot be sanctioned without the headteacher’s understanding and approval.
- This development team schedules dedicated time over the course of two or three terms for discussion, planning, decision making and action. Time is ring fenced for these discussions.
- The Senior Leadership Team (SLT) should develop and communicate a clear vision for what the schools needs from its TA workforce. Think about TAs’ role and contribution, and what pupils and staff will do differently as a result of improving TA deployment and preparation. Keep discussions open and positive.
- A thorough audit of the current situation is conducted (see Figure 3). This can include:
- Self-assessment of current practices;
- Surveying staff (anonymously) for their views and experiences;
- Conducting observations and asking questions about teachers’ decision-making regarding TA deployment;
- Making an effort to listen to TAs’ interactions with pupils;
- A skills audit to collect details of TAs’ qualifications, certifications, training, experience, specialisms and talents; and
- Obtaining the views of other stakeholders, such as pupils and parents/carers.
SLT should explain the purpose of the audit process to staff, and emphasis the collaborative nature of the review and the changes to practice that will follow. It is important to be alive to the sensitives of carrying a process, the intentions of which could be misread by TAs in particular.
5. Change is rolled out gradually, testing ideas and winning support from staff across the school. The initial team is extended to include a small group of enthusiastic teachers and TAs who are interested in working with research evidence and willing to test new strategies and feed back on progress.