When you're planning a lesson or unit of work, one of the things you'll be thinking about is how to make the best use of the resources available. Aside from educational equipment, this also includes expertise in the shape of teacher aides and other classroom support staff.
In the UK, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), an independent charity with a remit to help raise standards in challenging schools, says evidence suggests teacher aides (known in England as teaching assistants or TAs) can have a positive impact on student achievement.
In 2015 it issued a guidance report setting out seven, evidence-based recommendations primarily for Principals and other school leadership staff, but also classroom teachers who need to make decisions on the use of classroom support staff.
The report reminds school staff that, of course, they need to think about their own students' needs: ‘There is no ‘one size fits all' solution; as a school, you will need to arrive at solutions that draw on the research and apply them appropriately within your context.' It also recommends leadership teams take at least two terms to plan, pilot and develop an approach for use in their local context before moving onto the implementation stage.
It says there's a need to act because research suggests the way teacher aides are often used in schools ‘does not represent a sound educational approach for low-attaining pupils or those with [Special Educational Needs]'.
The seven recommendations
TAs should not be used as an informal teaching resource for low-attaining pupils – the report says the needs of all students should be addressed ‘first and foremost through excellent classroom teaching' and this should drive decisions around deployment of support staff. Think about whether it is expected that your TAs will have an instructional teaching role (in which case they need appropriate PD and support) or offer non-pedagogical support such as helping students develop ‘soft' skills – good working habits and perseverance for example.
Use TAs to add value to what teachers do, not replace them – avoid assigning TAs to specific students for long periods of time and ensure students who need the most support spend no less time with the teacher than other members of the class. The report adds teachers should think about how to make support staff more visible during whole-class delivery ‘for example, by using them to scribe answers on the whiteboard or to demonstrate equipment'.
Use TAs to help pupils develop independent learning skills and manage their own learning – the report includes ensuring TA's use strategies that encourage independent learning. Things to avoid include high use of closed questions and over-prompting or ‘spoon-feeding'; strategies encouraged include helping students take ownership of a task by giving the least amount of help first, and helping them feel comfortable taking risks with their learning.
Ensure TAs are fully prepared for their role in the classroom – school leaders should think about how they can create time for teachers and TAs to liaise outside of lessons. In one project EEF reviewed, working hours were changed so TAs could start and finish the day earlier, making time for meetings with teachers before school. Advice for teachers includes ensuring support staff have the lesson plan ‘need to knows' (such as student learning outcomes and skills being learned/applied/practised/extended) in advance.
Use TAs to deliver high quality one-to-one and small group support using structured interventions – the report says latest research shows delivering structured interventions one-to-one or with small groups is where there's the strongest evidence for them having a positive impact on student achievement. A further recommendation in this area is: Adopt evidence-based interventions to support TAs in their small group and one-to-one instruction.
Ensure explicit connections are made between learning from everyday classroom teaching and structured interventions – don't leave it to the student to make links between intervention, the curriculum and what's happening back in the classroom. The report suggests: ‘In secondary schools, giving English and maths departments the responsibility for coordinating the day-to-day roles of TAs will help ensure teachers have full control of the variables they need to plan effective provision. In primary schools, teachers should be supported to capitalise on TA-led learning by aligning the content of strategically selected intervention programmes with wider coverage of literacy and numeracy.'
Sharples, J., Webster, R. & Blatchford, P. (2015) Making best use of teaching assistants: Guidance Report. Education Endowment Foundation
As a school leader, how can you create time for teachers and classroom support staff to liaise outside of lessons?
As a classroom teacher, do your teacher aides use strategies that encourage independent learning? Can you offer additional support in this area?