Teaching assistants' role must change to achieve maximum impact, research finds

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Teaching assistants can make a difference to pupils' achievement, but schools must "fundamentally rethink their role" to focus more on learning skills rather than pedagogy, academics have warned.

Teaching assistants can make a difference to pupils’ achievement, but schools must “fundamentally rethink their role”, academics have warned.

A new book – Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants – also says that TAs must receive “proper support” from their schools in order to be effective. 

The book has been published by the team behind the five-year Deployment and Impact of Support Staff in schools (DISS) project at the Institute of Education in London.

In 2009, the study found that children who get the most help from TAs “consistently made less progress than similar pupils who received less TA support”. This was partly because these children, often with SEN, got less attention from teachers. 

However, the DISS team maintains that if schools make “marked and productive changes to the way TAs are deployed and prepared, and how they can interact with pupils”, they can achieve higher standards. 

This is essential, they argue, because TAs make up around a quarter of the school workforce and research has shown that many schools have been spending their Pupil Premium funding on them.

Writing in the IOE blog, academics Rob Webster, Peter Blatchford and Anthony Russell said: “We found that a particularly productive starting point for rethinking the TA role was in terms of developing pupils’ independent thinking skills; to inculcate a particular habit of mind that helps pupils to figure out what to do when they don’t know what to do. 

“Our research shows that problems occur when TAs find themselves in a pedagogical role for which they have not been adequately prepared. 

“Crucially, a role as the ‘guide on the side’ is less about teaching and more about helping pupils to internalise and practise valuable skills of self-sufficiency. What’s more, these skills are transferable; TAs can reinforce them across the curriculum.

“If school leaders explicitly set out a vision for role and purpose of TAs, and properly prepare and support them, we believe they can make a significant contribution to the way pupils learn and achieve.”

The full blog post can be read at http://ioelondonblog.wordpress.com/


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