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There are many important component parts that lead to the successful running of a school. Sure, teachers and SLT are important, but without other key groups within the school, working as they do, life wouldn’t run so smoothly and the opportunities for young people wouldn’t be so abundantly available.

Hurray for TAs!

One group that plays a massive role in supporting young people is Teaching Assistants. Whether a TA (Teaching Assistant) or HLTA (Higher Level Teaching Assistant), it’s fair to say that as educators, we wouldn’t be able to do the great job we do if it wasn’t for their work.

In recognition of the hugely valuable contribution TAs make in our schools, back in 2014, popular cover provider organisation, Teaching Personnel, started the National Teaching Assistants’ Day.

With this knowledge and reflecting upon my time in the classroom, I know that my job as a secondary school teacher and middle/senior leader would have been significantly more difficult without their support. And having that reflection, I thought it would be helpful and pertinent to share some approaches to working with TAs that have served me well.

Recommendations

For schools to get the best out of their TAs, the EDTA project (Effective Deployment of Teaching Assistants) suggests that there are three key factors:

  1. Their deployment
  2. Their interactions with pupils
  3. Preparedness

Conversely, although with many elements that chime with the EDTA project, the 2015 report from the Education Endowment Foundation on ‘Making the best use of Teaching Assistants’ shares seven key approaches, reinforced by research evidence, into how to go about this. The following graphic summarises its recommendations:

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You can access the summary document here: bit.ly/tasintheclassroomsummary

You can access the full report here: bit.ly/tasintheclassroomreport

  1. TAs should not be used as an informal teaching resource for low attaining pupils

This advice is paramount. It can be so easy to see the role of the TA as being one to support low attaining pupils, however this activity, as the report rightly shares, removes both the TA and the learners from the classroom, peers and their teacher. This is not as helpful or as good a use of their time. The recommendation is to “systematically review the roles of both teachers and TAs and take a wider view of how TAs can support learning and improve attainment throughout the school.” So yes, if it is imperative that one-to-one support or small group instruction is required, then on occasion that might be better taking place in a place or space away from the classroom, but adopting evidence-based interventions are more likely to have impact.

  1. Use TAs to add value to what teachers do, not replace them

When organising TAs’ time to support pupils with one-to-one or small group interventions, this can often end up with the TA effectively duplicating the job of the teacher, The guidance suggests that TAs would be better placed “delivering brief, but intensive, structured interventions” following on from the initial teacher delivery.

  1. Use TAs to help pupils develop independent learning skills and manage their own learning

An issue often faced by learners who may require TA support in the classroom is that around managing their learning.

As the report shares: “Research has shown that improving the nature and quality of TAs’ talk to pupils can support the development of independent learning skills, which are associated with improved learning outcomes. TAs should, for example, be trained to avoid prioritising task completion and instead concentrate on helping pupils develop ownership of tasks.”

With this in mind, taking a strategic approach to the work undertaken with those students supported by TAs will better support learners to take control of their own learning and complete tasks assigned by their teacher.

  1. Ensure TAs are fully prepared for their role in the classroom

One thing I was always mindful of was to ensure that TAs knew well in advance of lessons what their role was going to be, and, if required, any professional learning they needed to best support pupils with their activities. As a teacher of a technically complex subject, Computing, it was important that TAs knew in advance of lessons how to undertake the activities themselves. Thinking creatively about when that can take place might mean you have meeting time together before or after school, during assemblies, department meetings and more.

The guidance recognises this and shares that:

“During lesson preparation time ensure TAs have the essential ‘need to knows’:

  • Concepts, facts, information being taught
  • Skills to be learned, applied, practised or extended
  • Intended learning outcomes
  • Expected/required feedback”
  1. Use TAs to deliver high quality one-to-one and small group support using structured interventions

The key point of the advice in this part of the guidance (and reinforced by positive effects as shown by the research) is that in order to gain actual benefit from the intervention with one-to-one or small group support options, they need to be undertaken in structured ways following high-quality support and training. Without it, they say. “When TAs are deployed in more informal, unsupported instructional roles, they can impact negatively on pupils’ learning outcomes.” So, be mindful!

  1. Adopt evidence-based interventions to support TAs in their small group and one-to-one instruction

The guidance shared here is pretty explicit. “Schools should use structured interventions with reliable evidence of effectiveness.” If schools don’t, then they should be mindful that, “if schools are using programmes that are ‘unproven’, they should try and replicate some common elements of effective interventions.”

This makes perfect sense, and the report goes on to share some of those common elements of effective interventions, such as: structure, clear shared objectives, high-quality support and training for TAs, connections made between in-class activities and those in the smaller groups, among others.

  1. Ensure explicit connections are made between learning from everyday classroom teaching structured interventions

Making complete sense, this final section of the guidance shares that any interventions with TAs with one-to-one or small group sessions should explicitly link between what has happened in the classroom previously and the support being provided in these extended sessions.

So what?

All in all, you should be able to clearly see not only what a vital role TAs can play in supporting learners but also that their important role be recognised and supported by high-level and high-quality training and support. Without these, the inroads in supporting learners that could be made, most likely won’t be. And that’s the key – invest in your TAs, make sure they’re involved and aren’t a bolt-on to support those children who pose challenging behaviour, but are instead empowered to provide timely support interventions linked to classroom activities with the wrapper of care that they can bring.

So in keeping with it being National Teaching Assistants’ Day, why not reflect back on these points, see if they can help you make the most of these precious, important and integral members of staff – and don’t forget to wish them a happy National Teaching Assistants’ Day!

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