Schools and teachers are allowing teaching assistants (TAs) to become the primary educators of children with SEN to the detriment of these pupils, according to a new book by academics at the Institute of Education, London.
Building on their major research project into the role of the TA, the book’s authors claim that teachers are happy for TAs to assume this role because they can then get on with teaching the rest of the class whilst ensuring that those with special needs get one-to-one attention. However, results from the study found that pupils who received the most support from TAs consistently made less progress than similar pupils who received less TA support.
“The fault is not with TAs, but with decisions made – often with the best of intentions – about how they are used and prepared for their work,” the authors argue. The numbers of TAs have more than trebled since 1979 and they now make up a quarter of the school workforce. “But the more support pupils get from TAs, the less they get from teachers”, the authors claim. “Supported pupils therefore become separated from the teacher and the curriculum.”
The book calls for schools and policy makers to make radical changes to the ways in which TAs are deployed in schools. It argues that TAs should not be routinely used to support those with SEN, that teachers should use TAs to “add value” to their own teaching and that teacher training should include how to work with TAs. Schools should also establish a formal induction process for TAs and should facilitate more joint planning and feedback time for teachers and TAs.
The findings of the five-year study of 8,200 pupils, the Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project, are published in the book Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants: How Research Changes Practice and Policy by Peter Blatchford, Anthony Russell and Rob Webster.