Recommendation Two: Use TAs to add value to what teachers do, not replace them
Recommendation Three: Use TAs to help pupils develop independent learning skills and manage their own learning
What does this mean in practice?
Teaching assistants can have a positive impact in the classroom if there is clear consensus at school and classroom level about their role, purpose and contribution, coupled with high-quality training which enhances their ability to facilitate learning.
TAs should supplement the instruction provided by the teacher, not act as a substitute for it. To take an example, imagine two classrooms, A and B. In Classroom A, the TA is ‘Velcroed’ to a low-attaining pupil; they spend all lesson with them. In Classroom B, the TA floats, focussing their time on half a dozen pupils dotted around the room who the teacher has identified as struggling with the current topic.
In Classroom A, the low-attaining pupil has less interaction with the teacher. This is replaced by interaction with the teaching assistant. The result? A pupil who would benefit most from teacher support receives less of it and the teaching assistant finds their job of supporting learning more challenging as they try to replicate the role of teacher without appropriate training or experience, or a clear idea of what the teacher wants this pupil to achieve.
In Classroom B, the teacher is in a position to work with all pupils – especially those with most need. How they use their time and who they work with is at their discretion; and there is no unstated assumption that one particular pupil will have their needs met solely by the teaching assistant. Meanwhile, the TA can help a series of pupils, and do so in collaboration with the teacher.
Finally, the TA in Classroom B can better promote learning if they receive appropriate training. For example, on questioning, feedback and scaffolding. Without this training, they find themselves less able to have a positive impact. And, it must be emphasised, through no fault of their own.
This last point illustrates the crux of TA deployment issues. School leaders need to act on the guidance to give TAs the best possible chance of being successful. If deployment is poor, ill-conceived or lacks clarity, every TA enters every classroom at a disadvantage. One that it is very difficult for them to overcome on their own.