New research has found that teaching assistants can improve literacy and numeracy outcomes when they are effectively deployed.
Two controlled trials found that when used to support specific pupils in small groups or through structured interventions, they can be effective at improving attainment.
The research was funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and will now be included within its Pupil Premium Toolkit – a resource that looks at the effectiveness of a range of possible Pupil Premium interventions.
Up until now the Toolkit has frustrated many in the teaching assistant community with its view that teaching assistants do not, on average, make a difference to children’s learning.
The Toolkit currently states that they prove relatively expensive while adding little to pupils’ expected progress across the course of a year. Overall, it awards two stars out of five for Pupil Premium strategies centred on teaching assistants.
However, the new findings are at odds with this view. The literacy finding came from a trial of “Switch-on Reading”, a 10-week programme aimed at year 7 pupils who did not achieve the expected levels in literacy at the end of primary school. The approach consists of 20-minute, one-to-one reading delivered by teaching assistants.
It found that, on average, pupils made an additional three months’ progress as a result of taking part, with those eligible for free school meals and those previously struggling with reading making even greater additional progress.
Meanwhile, an evaluation of “Catch Up Numeracy”, a similar scheme of one-to-one maths support for primary pupils, also showed positive results.
The studies are among six research trial reports published by the EEF earlier this month. The reports are based on trials involving 6,800 pupils at 238 schools and focusing on a range of interventions at both primary and secondary levels.
Five further trials involving teaching assistant-led strategies are currently underway, including a project involving speaking and listening interventions.
Elsewhere among the six reports released this month is a study which found that structured interventions should be planned in school timetables at the beginning of the year to ensure they are given priority and status.
The EEF is to publish further groups of reports throughout the year. It is currently carrying out a total of 66 trials of ways to improve standards for the poorest pupils.
Alongside the next group of reports, the EEF has said it will present guidance for schools on evidence-based approaches to supporting pupils struggling with literacy at the transition from primary to secondary.
Dr Kevan Collins, EEF chief executive, said: “These evaluations represent the first step in building a secure evidence base for schools to draw upon to improve results for their poorest pupils. In the past many schools have struggled to train and support teaching assistants in ways which benefit children, particularly students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“These studies suggest some promising ways to change that. The results show that when a groups of schools come together to test something we can generate knowledge which is hugely valuable to all schools.”
The EEF was set-up in 2011 with a Department for Education grant of £125 million and has been tasked with supporting schools’ to break the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch, the EEF has awarded £37.4 million to 72 projects.
The Pupil Premium Toolkit is online at http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/toolkit/
A list of trials being undertaken by the EEF is at http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/projects/