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Evidence check: Teaching Assistants

Education Committee

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16 Contributions (since 18 November 2014)
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Total results 16 (page 1 of 2)

Kathryn James, NAHT

15 December 2014 at 10:24

The NAHT welcomes the opportunity to comment on this DfE memorandum. The use of TAs in schools has increased significantly and, where deployed effectively, undoubtedly contribute to the success of the school and its pupils. We are, however, concerned that the evidence used by the DfE is limited. There have been other research projects carried out and the evidence from these should be taken into account. Although some of this evidence is contradictory, nevertheless it has a validity that should not be ignored. While effective deployment of TAs is undoubtedly positive, there appears to be conflicting evidence as to what effective deployment looks like. Schools in similar circumstances with similar pupil intakes and which use TAs in similar ways do not always have the same outcomes. The structure of many of the research projects has varied, with different aspects being considered. Some of the earlier research which was undertaken in this area (around 2006), for example, looked at the work of TAs in a very limited way. We therefore welcome the fact that the DfE is beginning to review more widely the use of TAs. However, it is important that a comprehensive piece of research is carried out into all aspects of teaching assistants and their deployment.

Jon Richards and Joanna Coates

15 December 2014 at 09:56

UNISON is by far the largest union for teaching assistants, representing over 150,000 teaching assistant members (and rising). Firstly, it needs to be made clear that only a limited amount of research has been done on teaching assistants and so any decisions made on the basis of such limited research need to be treated with caution. Interestingly, the DfE ‘Evidence check’ references only two reports and one set of legislation. This seems very light for an evidence check. There are a number of other important research papers which report on the effectiveness of teaching assistants. UNISON would be happy to provide details of these to the Education Select Committee. Not only is the evidence limited but the main focus of recent evidence has only been on the direct impact by TAs on ‘pupil attainment’. Whilst direct impact on attainment is of course important, other vital areas of TA impact have been ignored, such as pastoral care, behaviour management and the administration of medicines. The performance of these roles by teaching assistants assists in allowing teachers to teach, so that they can have an improved direct impact on pupil attainment. There is also a need to take into account the environment in which TAs work, be it a primary, secondary, or special school, or a rural vs a metropolitan area. Each of these will require a different set of TA skills and different deployment strategies. We have continuing concerns about the debate on teaching assistants that resulted from research by the Institute of Education (which surprisingly is not referenced in the DfE evidence check), a report by Reform and the first version of the EEF/Sutton Trust toolkit. Some mis-interpretation of this research led directly to some TAs being made redundant, as employers only looked at the headlines and top line statistics (as predicted by UNISON). There is a real danger, particularly when evidence is limited, that research does not give a full picture and has unintended consequences. We welcome the subsequent clarifications by the Institute of Education and the EEF, and are pleased that subsequent research has created a more nuanced context within which to discuss TA impact. We also welcome the further research work being proposed by the EEF in this area and we have met with them to discuss how we can help. UNISON has conducted several surveys recently looking at workplace issues and produced a specific report ‘The Evident Value of Teaching Assistants’, based on the views of school leaders. We also heard from 8000 teaching assistants in a 2013 survey. These can be read on the Skills for Schools website ( The DfE ‘Evidence check’ states that central government has no role in making decisions on pay and conditions. However, the previous government did recognise a role and set up the School Support Staff Negotiating Body (SSSNB), which UNISON and the other support staff unions - GMB and Unite - played a key role in. The Labour Party has committed to re-introduce the SSSNB should it be re-elected, which we obviously welcome. One of the key pieces of work that the SSSNB had begun was producing role profiles for specific posts, which were intended to enable school leaders to achieve clear and consistent roles. UNISON, GMB and Unite, working with the Local Government Association under the auspices of the National Joint Council, have now agreed the profiles, including five levels for teaching assistants and three levels for additional support needs assistants. Section 4 of the memorandum also refers to the Specified Work Regulations, where TAs can cover for teachers. It is unfortunate that the national resources and funding to support/assess this work and the higher level teaching assistant (HLTA) role were archived/withdrawn. We cannot understand why useful national training materials were archived. It is interesting to note, however, that the number of posts designated as HLTA has risen, yet the training and assessment process that supports this is no longer clear. The National College for Teaching and Learning has also abandoned support for teaching assistants, which is not going to aid the improvement of TA practice. We are pleased (section 14) that the government has picked up proposals by UNISON that there should be professional standards for teaching assistants (UNISON had discussed this with Ministers and officials for some time and had begun work with the National Education Trust on this area). We intend to play a full role in their development. In the absence of government support for school support staff, UNISON has re-launched our Skills for Schools website - - which is our on-line guide to careers, training and development for all support staff, open to all. This work was originally jointly funded by UNISON and the Training and Development Agency for Schools, the predecessor to the NCTL. The site is linked to by the National Careers Service.

Dr Julie-Ann Edwards

12 December 2014 at 12:22

A recent longitudinal research study undertaken by the mathematics education team at the University of Southampton confirms points 11 and 12 of the DfE Evidence check on TAs. Our evidence indicates that mathematics learning is enhanced in secondary schools where TAs are deployed to work as subject specialists in mathematics departments and where the deployment of these TAs is directly managed and monitored by mathematics departments in accordance with students' mathematics needs (rather than more generic social, emotional or psychological need). Similarly, in situations where TAs are professionally recognised as a valued team member in the mathematics department, where appropriate subject knowledge support and professional development is provided for them and where joint preparation and planning time for mathematics teachers and TAs is timetabled, outcomes for students are measurably positive.

The Education Endowment Foundation

12 December 2014 at 11:17

The Teaching and Learning Toolkit, produced by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), the Sutton Trust and Durham University, has summarised a range of existing studies on teaching assistants (TAs), including a number of randomised controlled trials conducted in English schools. Overall, evidence suggests that TAs can have a substantial positive impact on attainment, but it is likely that in many schools this potential is not currently being reached. Research that examines the impact of TAs providing general classroom support suggests that students in a class with a TA present do not, on average, outperform those in one where only a teacher is present. In some cases teachers and TAs work together effectively, leading to increases in attainment. In other cases pupils, particularly those who are low attaining or identified as having special educational needs, can perform worse in classes with teaching assistants. Where negative impacts have been recorded, it is likely that support from TAs has substituted rather than supplemented teaching from teachers. Where positive impacts have been recorded, it is likely that support and training will have been provided for both teachers and TAs so that they understand how to work together effectively, e.g. by making time for discussion before and after lessons. We are not aware of any high-quality evaluations that have explored the impact of efforts which explicitly seek to improve general deployment of TAs. However, this appears to be a worthwhile area for future intervention and study. Research that focuses on TAs who provide intensive one to one or small group support in structured interventions shows an average positive benefit of between three and five additional months’ progress, most commonly when support is based on a clearly specified approach which TAs have been trained to deliver. In early 2015 the EEF will publish an extended review of evidence related to teaching assistants, including practical recommendations to help schools maximise the impact of their teaching assistants.

David Gough

12 December 2014 at 11:14

This account of how research has informed policy does not seem to include some highly relevant research; for example, that by Professor Peter Blatchford on deployment of TAs funded I believe by the DfE itself.


12 December 2014 at 11:07

I have conducted 2 research projects exploring how TAs can be training and supported in order that they impact on children's learning outcomes. I KNOW that TAs can make a significant impact on outcomes in literacy - but only when they are provided with initial and on-going training and support through high quality professional learning opportunities. Where they are monitored and supported they can have a negative impact - teaching the incorrect information - modelling inaccurately. I am concerned about the high numbers of TAs teaching children with SEN without sufficient training and monitoring from the classteacher. All children need to have access to a teacher for the substantive part of each day.

Robert Slavin, Institute for Effective Education

11 December 2014 at 11:29

The Department for Education’s ‘Evidence check’ memorandum on teaching assistants is consistent with the evidence in stating that the impact of teaching assistants on pupil attainment depends on how they are used. However, I think it could be much clearer in clarifying which uses have been found to be most effective. Evidence in the UK and the US has consistently found that simply adding teaching assistants to a school does not enhance overall attainment. In the famous Tennessee Class Size Study, for example, pupils throughout Tennessee were randomly assigned to classes of 25 without teaching assistants, classes of 25 with teaching assistants, or classes of 15. In the early primary grades there were significant benefits of classes of 15, but no benefits of adding a teaching assistant. In contrast, numerous studies have shown that teaching assistants can be effective if they work one-to-one or with small groups (usually 2-6) using structured, phonetic literacy programmes to help struggling readers in the early primary grades. A smaller number of studies has found similar impacts in maths. Especially in reading, it has been found that teaching assistants need to be trained to use structured, phonetic approaches. Informal, as-needed assistance is not sufficient.

Nansi Ellis ATL

10 December 2014 at 16:04

The evidence cited here suggests that Teaching Assistants can make a difference when deployed effectively. DfE cites two pieces of evidence, both reported in 2013/14, one of which is very specific about impact on literacy and numeracy. While these are important pieces of evidence, it is not clear what policy is being implemented on this evidence. There is no discussion of any research from before 2013 - selective evidence is not good evidence. Citing ‘internal work done by the department’ does not provide any kind of evidence check. As there is no link to any research report, it is impossible to know what methodology was used, how many respondents there were or the strength of feeling around the issues. Building a policy on two pieces of research and an internal review does not seem to represent the best of ‘evidence-based policy’. A review of evidence on effective deployment will be very useful. Hopefully it will enable government to consider its policy in finer detail - whether there should be more TAs with SEN specialism - whether generally or more specific needs, or with behaviour support; whether it is useful to deploy TAs to support pupils in areas other than literacy and numeracy; what training is available (or should be available) for teaching assistants. However, the EEF review will produce a toolkit for schools - it is not intended to provide evidence on which government should base policy. Government surely already has access to this evidence. The overarching principle should be that evidence is used to guide the policy development - it is not clear from this memorandum what policy has been or is to be developed.

Department for Education

10 December 2014 at 14:41

1. The Department for Education wishes to correct a statement made in paragraph 13 of the published memorandum, which indicates that the department commissioned the Education Endowment Federation to undertake a review of the evidence on effective deployment of teaching assistants. This is not the case. The work by the EEF is independent of the department, although we have an interest in the outcome. A corrected paragraph will be published as a supplementary memorandum.

Susan Graves

05 December 2014 at 11:33

There is plenty of evidence internationally which shows that well qualified and supported TAs can make a difference to outcomes in the classroom. However, the evidence also shows that this is dependent on schools deploying and supporting TAs effectively. The ad hoc nature of TA employment and deployment in many schools can lead to a situation where the least qualified member of staff in the classroom provides primary support to children with the most need. Indeed, the deployment of TA and HLTAs to support pupils with SEN in mainstream classrooms is an area which needs urgent attention as inadvertent discrimination of children with special educational needs can be a result of TA deployment offering ‘alternative’ provision as opposed to ‘additional’ support. In order for schools to deploy TA/HLTAs effectively there needs to be a whole school approach which ensures that all staff are well qualified, trained and work together to support learning in the classroom.

Total results 16 (page 1 of 2)