The last session of the Hampshire County Council SEN Conference was entitled “Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants” and led by Rob Webster, Principal Special Needs Officer

HCC governor services

Working in HCC since April 2013.  Was at the Institute of Education in London before that.

Some aims:

  • Understand why schools need to examine how TAs are used
  • Take a closer look at factors that affect TAs effectiveness
  • What is the role and purpose of TAs?
  • Explore things shcools could do different.  Maximising the impact of TAs.


There is an assumption that TAs help raise pupil standards, but there had been little systematic research on impact over long-term and under everyday classroom conditions – there had been bits on literacy interventions etc.  The Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project (2009) focussed on all support staff, especially TAs.  This then led to the Effective Deployment of TAs (EDTA) in 2011.

Scale of the DISS project

  • 17,800+ biennial national questionaire survey.
  • Analysis of impact of TA uspport on 8,200 pupils in 153 mainstream schools.
  • Observations of 680+ pupils and 100+ TAs in 114 schools.
  • Detailed case studies in 65 cschools.
  • Interviews with 280+ heads, SENCos, teachers and TAs.
  • Analysis of adult-to-pupil talk (teacher and TAs) in 16 lessons

Comparison of TA Support verses non TA Support within a classroom environment.

Year National Curriculum sub-level
English Maths Science
1 -1.5 -1
2 -1.5 -1 -1
3 -2 -2
6 -1 -0.75 -1
7 -2 -1.5
9 -1 -0.75 -1
10 -1*


  • expressed as 1 GCSE grade


  • Pupils with Statements profoundly affected by current arrangements: those with the most TA support, made the least progress.
  • Used statistical techniques that control for variables known to affect attainment (e.g. SEN, FSM, prior attachment).
  • It is NOT the fault of TAs
  • Organisational and structural factors over which TAs have little or no control.

Issues of

  • Conditions of employment
  • Preparedness
  • Characteristics

DISS: Which pupils do adults work with


Interaction by pupil level of SEN Teacher TA
Non-SEN 55% 27%
School Action 24% 32%
School Action Plus or SEN statement 21% 41%

TAs rarely worked with middle and higher attaining pupils.  The higher the level of need, the more interaction with TAs and the less interaction the teachers.

  • Teachers spent more time explaining concepts.  TA explanations were sometimes inaccurate or confusing.
  • Teachers provided more feedback.  TAs more likely to prompt pupils and supply answers.
  • Teachers linked current lesson to pupils’ prior knowledge, promoted pupils’ thinking and cognitive engagement in a task.  TAs more concerned with task completion.
  • Teachers ‘open up’ talk; TAs close talk down.


  • 75% teachers have no training to work with/manage TAs
  • 75% teachers no allocated planning or feedback time.
  • Teacher-TA meetings depended on TA’s goodwill.
  • TAs underprepared: having to tune into teachers talk for content/instructions.

Key messages from the research

  • Pupils with SEN receive more support from TAs than teachers
  • TA support is alternative to teacher support – not additional
  • Pupils with SEN separated from classroom, teacher and peers
  • TAs have main responsibility for teaching pupils with statements
  • Training for teachers key factor in current arrangements
  • TAs pedagogical input is well intentioned, but unlikely to narrow attainment gap
  • Currency of statements seem problematic as written in hours for TA.

Implications for practice

  • A fundamental rethink is required if schools are going to get the best use from their TAs – and help pupils.
  • Organisational and strucutral factors need attention:
  • Deployment of TAs (and teachers)
  • Practice: TAs interactions with pupils
  • Preparedness of teachers and TAs.

Rethinking the TA’s role

  • Pupil Premium is built on spending the money leading to outcomes, but that isn’t the case.  It is how and on what you spend it than can cause outcomes to be met.

Effective Deployment of TAs Project

  • Collaborated with 40 teachers and TAs in 10 schools (20 pairs) with the aim to develop and evaluated alternative strategies to TA preparedness, deployment and practice under normal funding.
  • Developed over one academic year, spending one term on each of the three areas.
  • This has become the basis for Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants which has a programme of work that any school can work through and examine how they use TAs.

Conduct an audit

  • Changes cannot be decided until you know what requires change.
  • Decision-makers: make sure you know what you think you know.
  • Obtain objective and subjective pictures of current practice.
  • Opportunity to identify and build on existing good practice.
  • Check out

Decisions about deployment

What do you want the role and purpose of TAs to be?  Teaching role and non-teaching roles (admin, SEAL, mobility, class organisation).  This is a collaborative process of challenge and change – not about assessing how effective TAs are.  The problem arise when TA role “drifts” from non-teaching towards teaching.  25% of the school workforce are currently TAs.

Key questions

  • Can/should TAs be as effective as teachers without the same professional development?  Or pay?
  • Should TAs routinely teach pupils with the most demanding SEN?
  • If TAs can be as effective as TAs then teachers should be worried as they cost a lot less!

TAs and Pupils with SEN

What OFSTED are looking for:

Quality of teaching – Inspectors must evaluate the use that is made of TAs.

The Teacher is responsible for progress and development of all pupils.

TAs and Interventions

When TAs lead interventions they often get positive outcomes.  Why does this impact get lost in the terms of wider/annual attainment?  There often seems to be the world of the Classroom and the world of the TA with the pupils having to make the link themselves.  Teachers and TAs need to help them make sense of this.  An interventions health check:

  • Are we using good intervention programmes, are we using good programmes badly?
  • Do we need to update the training?
  • How effective are our reporting mechanisms to teachers?
  • Do teachers engage with interventions and progress data?

Making best use of TAs time

A third of the time teachers are just being part of the classroom audience – that raises questions around value for money.  The TA repeats word-for-word the teachers instructions for a specific child, creating “stereo-teaching” – the child is now trying to listen to two voices instead of one.

Decisions about Practice

Set TAs free from unhelpful patterns of behaviour that underpin less effective types of talk:

  • The impulse to complete tasks
  • Not allowing time for pupils to think and respond
  • Taking peer role of “talk partner”

Teachers use more open ended questions than TAs who used closed questioning.    Need to reflect on forms of questioning that keep responsibility for learning with pupil.  Pupils can become dependent on TA, they can almost not engage with work unless TA does the work for the pupil.  Changing this helps to avoid spoon-feeding and pupils developing independence.

Key Findings

All the schools involved made widespread changes “no going back” to how things were.  Teachers spent more time with pupils with SEN – a professional satisfaction.

  • Teachers made better use of TA time in lessons.
  • TAs questioning improved.
  • Quality and clarity of lesson plans improved; less “going in blind”.
  • TAs feel more valued, appreciated, more confident about role.


Questions, Comments, Discussion

  • In your research were TAs more effectively used in Primary than Secondary given they more often stay in 1 classroom?  The research seems to suggest not, but there are greater challenges in secondary schools moving from classroom to classroom, where inconsistency is much more of an issue according to the research.
  • Where were the schools located?  The first study was from England & Wales and representative of the population, e.g. rural v urban.


Further reading

  • Reassessing the impact of Teaching Assistants – that’s the research
  • Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants – designed for Head Teachers and Teachers
  • Teaching Assistants: A guide to good practice – download at
Married to the amazing Sarah and raising Jakey, Daniel, Amelia, Josh & Jonah in our blended family. Passionate for Jesus, social work & sport.

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