What a turnaround: New book shows how schools can get better value from teaching assistants

23 November 2012

Teaching assistants can make a significant contribution to the way pupils learn and achieve, says a new book from the team behind the prestigious Deployment and Impact of Support Staff in schools (DISS) project at the Institute of Education, London. But schools must fundamentally rethink TAs' role and give them proper support

In 2009 a five-year study from DISS (the largest study of TAs worldwide) showed that children who received the most help from TAs consistently made less progress than similar pupils who received less TA support. This was in part because these children, often with special educational needs, received less attention from teachers.

Given that TAs comprise some 25% of the school workforce, it is important to make the most of this valued resource, they say. Especially as many schools are choosing to invest their Pupil Premium money in TAs, as a report from Ofsted recently found.

In their new book, Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants: Guidance for school leaders and teachers (Routledge), published today, the DISS team shows how schools can make marked and productive changes to the way TAs are deployed and prepared, and how they can interact with pupils to achieve higher standards.

Writing on the IOE London blog today (November 23), Rob Webster, Peter Blatchford and Anthony Russell say:

"Defining a new role for TAs – one that can add value to what teachers do – was the basis for our collaborative Effective Deployment of TAs project. 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."

They stress the importance of schools thinking about how to improve the depth and scope of talk between TAs and pupils, because the quality of verbal interactions is at the heart of good teaching and learning.

Read the full blog post here.

For more information please contact the IOE press office: Diane Hofkins, 020 7911 5423, d.hofkins@ioe.ac.uk or James Russell, 020 7911 5556, j.russell@ioe.ac.uk
The Effective Deployment of Teaching Assistants (EDTA) project was funded by a grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and was conducted over the 2010/11 school year. For more, visit http://www.schoolsupportstaff.net/EDTA.html

The Institute of Education is a college of the University of London that specialises in education and related areas of social science and professional practice. In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise two-thirds of the Institute's research activity was judged to be internationally significant and over a third was judged to be "world leading". The Institute was recognised by Ofsted in 2010 for its "high quality" initial teacher training programmes that inspire its students "to want to be outstanding teachers". The IOE is a member of the 1994 Group, which brings together 12 internationally renowned, research-intensive universities. www.ioe.ac.uk