Making Best Use of Our Brilliant Teaching Assistants

31 October 2016

There are over a quarter of a million Teaching Assistants (TAs) in our school system and they have become an integral part of school life to support learning. No teacher or school leader estimates the importance of the role they can play.

With all those TAs though comes a bill of over 4 billion pounds – more than we spend on our nations’ roads. As we are still feeling the pervasive chill of an ‘age of austerity’, such school funding becomes ripe for the chop from hard up councils and schools.

In County Durham, low paid support staff and TAs are busy campaigning against damaging cost cutting plans that will see TAs up to £5,000 a year worse off. They aim to cut holiday pay for already lowly paid TAs, whilst also cutting small beneficial treatment of weekly hours.


Now, we should scrutinise all of our public expenses, auditing our existing practice. Sometimes there is little more damaging as the words, “we have always done it this way”, as the saying goes. And yet, the evidence shows that the old-fashioned stereotype of TAs as well-meaning mums, providing little more than emotional support for our more vulnerable students, should be banished for good. We’ve always done it this way.

We know from the burgeoning evidence from the ‘Education Endowment Foundation’ that TAs, well led and well trained, can have a substantive impact on the outcomes of our students.

Rather than the laboured stereotype of TAs providing a cheap and easy teaching resource for the lowest attaining students, we know that they should supplement rather than replace teachers. In fact, they can support teachers to spend more time with the most vulnerable students in the class, rather than the opposite.

We know from the evidence that too many TAs are not employed effectively in schools. Students who are supported for most of the time by TAs can, perhaps paradoxically, make less academic progress than a similar student not supported by a TA. But we also know that the problem of ‘spoon-feeding’ TAs can be quickly ended if they are trained to promote independent learning.

This is a matter for school leadership. TAs, trained and deployed well, can make a substantial positive impact for huge numbers of our students. The evidence shows that when TAs are trained to deliver programmes to support literacy and numeracy catch up, for example, they can support students – often our most vulnerable students – to make rapid gains.

The evidence on TA deployment should give school leaders and the council in County Durham a lot of thinking to do. Rather than dumping TAs and making short-term budget gains, we should look to best deploy TAs and see our vulnerable students benefit most in the long-term.


In our Research School role, we are committed to using the best evidence so that our brilliant TAs are well trained so that our students really benefit from their expertise. We will draw upon a wealth of evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation, the expertise of experienced trainers like Diane Heritage, Claire Constantopoulos and Alex Quigley, alongside pooling the wisdom of schools.


You can book your place for a school leader and advocate now. This programme meets the new DfE Teachers’ Professional Development Standard by being based on robust evidence, external expertise, whilst supporting collaboration and sustained in a ‘rhythm’ of two terms. Find out more by clicking on the link.


Coming soon is a blog on how TAs can better foster independent learning. 


Feat image courtesy of Centre for Teaching at Vanderbilt University: 

Posted on 31 October 2016
Posted in: Evidence, Training and CPD
Tags: , , ,