JOHN WALMSEY / EDUCATION PHOTOS
‘A FUNDAMENTAL RETHINK OF TEACHING ASSISTANTS IS REQUIRED’ It’s hard to overplay the significance of school support staff. Teaching assistant and higher-level teaching assistant (TA/HLTA) numbers have tripled over the past 10 years. A quarter of the English school workforce is a TA, with the proportion rising to one in three in Wales. Furthermore, 43 per cent of pupil premium money is being used to fund new or existing TA/HLTAs in primary schools. The status quo exists because of an assumption that support staff help to raise pupil standards. However, some studies, such as the five-year deployment and impact of support staff project (DISS), have cast doubt upon that assumption. The DISS report found a significant negative effect from TA support in both English and maths in almost all of Years 1-10. The report’s authors, which include Peter Blatchford and Rob Webster of the Institute for Education, University of London, are at pains to stress that this is not the fault of TAs, but of organisational, structural and situational factors over which TAs have little control. Indeed, many work extra hours unpaid. They also add that it’s unrealistic to expect TAs to be as effective as teachers without the same professional development and pay. They have a clear message for heads: “Addressing TA deployment is a school leadership issue. A fundamental rethink is required if schools are going to get the best use from their TAs, and help pupils.” One of their main assertions is that TAs should not routinely support lower-attaining and SEND pupils. Problems also occur when TAs are given an ill-defined remedial role.
Among the report’s headline findings are: • 75 per cent of teachers have no allocated planning or feedback time with TAs (95 per cent for secondary teachers). As a result, many TAs are under-prepared and tend to rely too heavily on the teacher’s talk for content and instructions. • 75 per cent of teachers have no training in how to work with or manage TAs, yet 55 per cent train support staff. • 59 per cent of TAs are only educated to GCSE level. The report also found that when TAs talked to pupils, explanations were sometimes inaccurate or confusing, that TAs were more likely to prompt pupils, and that they more frequently supplied pupils with answers. They were also more concerned with task completion. The authors advise that TAs should be taught to ask open questions, offer case studies, record answers, model the use of equipment and do experiments in class. Although, obviously, this requires more liaison with class teachers. Some schools have addressed the problem by adjusting TAs’ working hours so that they start and finish earlier. This allows more time for talking to teachers, by using assembly time, for example. Other schools have allowed TAs to join teachers for their PPA time. • With special thanks to Nasen’s Leadership Conference 2013, held in January (www.nasen.org.uk) • The Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project was funded by the DCSF and Welsh Assembly • The May/June edition of LF will feature a review of the NAHT SEND Conference 2013, being held in Nottingham. For advice on SEND and Ofsted, visit www.naht.org.uk
MARCH/APRIL 2013 ● LEADERSHIP FOCUS
Leadership Focus March/April 2013