Using TAs effectively
Support for SENCOs
There are currently more teaching assistants (TAs) in schools than ever before (more than 340,000) and they fulfill a range of roles and duties; the vast majority, however, are tasked with ‘supporting’ pupils with SEND, in one way or another. Recent research into the effectiveness of TAs by academics at the Institute of Education* concluded that the pupils with most TA support made less progress than those without any TA support. The reasons suggested for this are that:
- pupils receive a different (diluted) educational diet from TAs, with less attention from the qualified teacher
- TAs are insufficiently trained in knowing how to develop pupils’ thinking, understanding and independence
- teachers are insufficiently trained in how to direct TAs and use their skills to maximum effect for all pupils.
Most teachers are very happy to assign children with SEND to the care of a TA, safe in the knowledge that there is ‘differentiation by support’. But is this approach really helping learners?
Most teachers are very happy to assign children with SEND to the care of a TA, freeing them to focus on the rest of the class, safe in the knowledge that there is ‘differentiation by support’. The TA can repeat instructions and explanations, provide tricky spellings and suggest ideas when none are forthcoming. But is this type of approach really helping learners? The research by Blatchford1 and his colleagues suggests that TAs tend to focus on completion of the task, rather than the cognitive processes in play. In some cases, this may involve the adult actually ‘doing it for’ the pupil to some extent (I have certainly witnessed this on many occasions).
How then can you, as SENCO, address these issues and work towards a situation where TAs become true partners in the teaching process? You may already have a formal induction process for new TAs, but think too about an ongoing programme of professional development. Taking the three points highlighted above, we suggest some starting points below.
Quality of input
- Children and young people who experience difficulties with learning may benefit from a small amount of time with a skilled teacher, rather than a lot of time with less-skilled assistants. Can you provide ‘expert’ tuition each week from specialist teachers for children with specific needs? This may be Reading Recovery or teaching by a BDA-trained teacher or specialist maths coach.
- Is there an ethos of inclusion where teachers understand their responsibility for every child in a class and accept that each one must be properly catered for?
- Where small-group and individual interventions are delivered outside the classroom, does the class teacher understand what is going on, monitor progress and endeavour to help children transfer and consolidate new learning?
- Where a TA delivers interventions, is there training for him or her, regular reporting of progress and evaluation of the programme’s effectiveness?
Training for TAs
Can you instigate or provide regular, focused training sessions for TAs on the skills involved in providing high-quality support in the classroom? These might include:
- subject-specific knowledge and techniques and an understanding of the underlying skills involved in different disciplines
- language development and knowing how to reframe questions and explanations
- strategies that develop independence, e.g. ‘look, say, cover, write, check’ for learning spellings
- drawing out ideas and solutions from pupils and helping them to shape and refine their responses, rather than providing hefty ‘prompts’
- knowing how to use technology to empower and motivate learners with SEN
- having the confidence to ask for help and to admit to pupils when they don’t know something.
Training for teachers
Teacher training courses often overlook the important management element of deploying TAs, with the result that many young teachers actually defer to a ‘more experienced’ TA
Teacher training courses often overlook the important management element of deploying TAs, with the result that many young teachers actually defer to a ‘more experienced’ TA. How can you support colleagues in using TAs creatively and efficiently so that they enhance learning, for children with SEN and others too? You can use the table below with staff to start a discussion. In addition, think about how you can:
- arrange for teachers to accompany TAs in training sessions
- focus on TA deployment for performance management observations
- share good practice
- facilitate good two-way communication between teachers and TAs, eg ensuring that TAs know about learning objectives and lesson content before a lesson begins
|How to use a teaching assistant effectively|
|Enabling an alternative starter activity for a small group (perhaps the middle or high achievers, enabling the teacher to work with an SEN group)|
|Working with a small group or an individual pupil on an extension task (high ability) or catch-up programme (SEN)|
|Preparing displays and resources: word walls, record sheets or writing frames, modified activity sheets, a visual timetable|
|Managing behaviour issues: keeping pupils on task and supporting the development of concentration skills|
|Supporting language development and encouraging children to ask or respond to questions and participate in discussion or a plenary (rehearsing their feedback, using talking frames, etc.)|
|Helping pupils to organise and sequence thoughts and answers (eg using mindmaps, highlighting key words)|
|Explaining, rewording or recapping on concepts, objectives or instructions|
|Listening to pupils read and developing skills and understanding, eg reading instructions to them to enable them to access the task|
|Overseeing work on computer and supporting teaching and learning through the use of ICT|
|Monitoring achievements (with reference to IEPs)|
|Helping to model or demonstrate (e.g. role play with teacher )|
|Playing educational games with children and encouraging younger children to learn through play|
1Blatchford, P et al. (2012) Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants: how research changes practice and policy, Routledge