Why training teaching assistants is vital to improve standards in literacy and numeracy

Why training teaching assistants is vital to improve standards in literacy and numeracy

When it comes to driving up standards in basic subjects, teaching assistants have a key role to play in the classroom.

Studies by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) in 2014 found that when used in a focused way, teaching assistants helped to improve outcomes for pupils who had been struggling with reading, writing, and mathematics.

A series of trials involving 6,800 pupils at 238 English schools showed that pupils who had not attained expected levels of literacy and numeracy in their first year of secondary school benefitted from the support of teaching assistants.

In one trial of the Switched On Reading programme in 19 schools over ten weeks, which involved one-to-one reading sessions delivered by teaching assistants, pupils made on average an extra three months’ progress. More than 300 pupils were involved. Those who had been struggling previously made even better progress, the study found.

The Catch Up Numeracy scheme involved more than 300 pupils in 54 schools over 30 weeks, offering one-to-one maths support for children aged between six and 11. Teaching assistants delivered the sessions twice a week and also delivered one-to-one sessions with children in a control group getting normal lessons.

The EEF study found that pupils in both the Catch Up and other one-to-one sessions gained an average of three or four months’ progress compared with children receiving normal lessons without one-to-one support. In fact, the EEF found there was “little evidence” that the Catch Up approach gave more benefits than one-to-one support alone.

The foundation says its studies show the importance of using and training teaching assistants effectively – something which could deliver major benefits for children who have been struggling with the basics.

So how can schools best use their teaching assistants?

The EEF recommends:

  • TAs should add value to teachers, rather than being used as a cheaper way of replacing them.
  • TAs should help pupils develop their independent learning skills and help them manage their own learning – using open-ended questions and promoting individual pupils’ responsibility for their own learning by giving minimal help at first.
  • TAs should be trained in planning and assessment alongside classroom teachers, know the facts being taught and skills being applied, and the expected outcomes.
  • The interventions they carry out to help pupils improve progress should be structured and linked to classroom teaching.
  • A good TA will make pupils feel comfortable with taking risks with their learning and will give the right amount of support at the right times.

For many in education, a TA is no longer simply seen as a support worker for teachers, photocopying class work or setting up the classroom. It is a profession in its own right.

There is also career progression. Several schools now have different grades of TA – from trainee to experienced senior teaching assistant.

Leading the way – good practice at English Bicknor CE Primary School, Gloucestershire

This school was praised for the seamless way in which teaching assistants work with class teachers.

TAs and teachers know each of the pupils individually and liaise weekly to make sure that detailed plans match pupils’ abilities.

Teachers send plans to the TAs with links and information about resources at the start of the week – so TAs have as much information about the planned work as the teachers.

TAs and teachers take part in progress meetings together and bring combined plans to the headteacher.

One TA now has a managerial role and liaises with special educational needs experts, bringing back strategies and advice from meetings to their colleagues.

Ongoing training is vital to ensure schools get the maximum benefit from their TAs. See our NSM courses and resources for teaching assistants and support staff here: https://www.nsmtc.co.uk/services/support-staff-training/

NSM Training & Consultancy provides expert training for headteachers, teachers, and school staff. Read more about the work here: https://www.nsmtc.co.uk/

The company was established by international education consultant and teacher Nicola S Morgan. She developed a reputation for excellence in dealing with the most difficult pupils and now runs training courses for schools and parents and is a published author in the field.