'Significant proportion' of SEN teaching is being delivered by TAs

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: iStock

New classroom-based research has revealed that there is a heavy reliance on teaching assistants to deliver SEN provision in secondary schools, despite advice in the SEND Code of Practice.

The education of pupils with SEN is still too dependent on under-skilled teaching assistants, despite provisions within the SEND Code of Practice that provision should be underpinned by “high-quality teaching”.

The concerns have been raised in new research, which also warns that serious training insufficiencies mean many school staff are not equipped to meet the needs of pupils with learning difficulties.

Research from the UCL Institute of Education shows that as they approach their GCSEs, a “significant proportion” of teaching for pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) is done by teaching assistants.

The Special Educational Needs in Secondary Education – SENSE – study has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation and is the first research project to examine the experience of pupils with EHCPs in secondary settings.

It is the largest classroom observation study ever in the UK to look at children with special needs, with researchers completing 700 hours of observation across 43 schools in England.

The results show that in 84 per cent of observations in English, maths and science lessons, pupils with EHCPs were taught in separate classes for “low-ability” pupils and those with SEND.

The research also found that despite being taught for half the time (54 per cent) in smaller classes of 16 or fewer, pupils with EHCPs did not get more time overall with teachers, compared to average-attaining pupils (who were taught in classes of 17 or more).

And pupils with EHCPs spent 15 per cent of lesson time interacting with teaching assistants, compared to only one per cent for average-attainers. Furthermore, they spent only 16 per cent of their time interacting with classmates, compared to 27 per cent for others.

The researchers’ conclusion is that high amounts of teaching assistant support is coming at the expense of interaction with teachers and peers. Furthermore, when SEN pupils do interact with the teacher, it is as part of the wider class audience.

The report states: “It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that primary and secondary mainstream schools view the employment and deployment of teaching assistants as a key strategic approach to including and meeting the educational needs of pupils with Statements.

“It was hard to define the pedagogical approaches teachers in both mainstream and specialist settings use to meet the learning needs of pupils with Statements. Likewise, teaching assistant ‘support’ is a fuzzy concept.”

The findings contradict the statutory guidance as set out in the SEND Code of Practice, which states: “Special educational provision is underpinned by high-quality teaching and is compromised by anything less.”

It adds: “High-quality teaching, differentiated for individual pupils, is the first step in responding to pupils who have or may have SEN. Additional intervention and support cannot compensate for a lack of good quality teaching.”

A further concern raised by researchers is about training. The study reports gaps in both teachers’ and teaching assistants’ knowledge of how to meet the needs of SEN pupils.

The report adds: “Some new teachers can be ‘overwhelmed’ or ‘don’t know how to start’ with SEND, raising concerns over whether initial teacher education coverage and in-service professional learning is sufficient.

“Induction training for teaching assistants seems rare, with some ‘picking it up on the job’. Typically, training opportunities for teachers and teaching assistants tend to be on types of SEND, with attendance voluntary. On a practical day-to-day level, teachers and teaching assistants lack time to meet, plan, prepare and feedback either side of lessons. The general busy-ness of schools and teaching assistants’ hours of work falling in line with the school day are seen as impediments to creating liaison time with teachers.”

A further concern raised by the research is what may happen to this teaching assistant-based SEN provision in the future given that many schools are cutting teaching assistant numbers in response to funding pressures. Department for Education data shows that the number of teaching assistants working in secondary schools deceased by eight per cent between 2013 and 2016.

Co-author of the study, Rob Webster, said: “Currently, teaching assistants who do most of the work with children with SEND are holding the system together. It is unclear how schools will respond to meeting the needs of pupils with special needs if teaching assistant numbers decrease further, as many expect.

“We also found that teachers and teaching assistants are often not adequately trained in teaching pupils with SEND. Many staff were unsure how to best deal with the challenges and sometimes-complex difficulties posed by pupils with EHCPs.”
The report suggests that schools avoid streaming or “hard” setting strategies for SEN pupils while also avoiding approaches that result in less time with teachers for pupils who have high-level SEN.

For a summary of the SENSE study (June 2017), visit http://maximisingtas.co.uk/research/the-sense-stud...


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