Teachers and Teaching Assistants – Entrenched Confusion

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) report (edited by Neill 2002) explored the teachers perception of the teaching assistant and showed that teacher felt that teaching assistants provide pastoral support to targeted pupils. However, there has been a move over the past ten years to assessing the teaching assistants impact based on their contribution to the academic gains of the students they support.  This has led to controversial headlines, none more so than the findings of Blatchford et al. (2011) who indicated that the more support a student receives the less academic progression they will make.

When we consider that 80% of high school teachers felt that they had no training to work with teaching assistants and 50% of these teacher believed that they required additional training to support the teaching assistant within the classroom, Neill (2002). We begin to see the emerging issue, confusion.  Teaching assistants themselves (59%) have highlighted that teachers do not have the required training to use them effectively within the learning experience, ATL survey of teaching assistants (2013).

What is clear, regardless of the pending changes outlined in the white paper, is that teachers have a responsibility to ensure that the teaching assistant(s) within the classroom are directed and actively contributing to learning, Ofsted: School Inspection Handbook (2013).

Quality of teaching grade descriptor – Good

Teachers and other adults create a positive climate for learning in their lessons and pupils are interested and engaged.

Quality of teaching grade descriptor – Outstanding

Teachers and other adults authoritatively impart knowledge to ensure students are engaged in  learning, and generate high levels of commitment to learning across the school.

On one hand, teachers saying that teaching assistants are in the classroom to support the pastoral and emotional development of the student(s).  Whereas teaching assistants are saying that they can and want to directly and actively contribute to the students learning.  Ofsted, are saying at teaching assistants have to ensure that students are engaged and learning.  However, there are barrier which are preventing this ideal fusion of the teaching assistant and teacher, such as:

Teachers felt that they need (Neill (2002)):

  • Training relating to the deployment of teaching assistants
  • Joint planning time
  • Training relating to recording and assessment

The biggest issue which teachers from primary and secondary school highlighted as a barrier is:

The teaching assistants lack of skills and subject knowledge

Research has shown that professional and specific training for teaching assistants has resulted in an increased performance of the teaching assistant and development of the supported student (Bourke (2009)Farrell et al. (2010)Rose & Forlin (2010)).  Making opportunities like joint planning absolutely critical as they allow the teacher to impart subject specific knowledge and teaching assistant to provide specialised differentiation knowledge specific for targeted student(s) within the class. 

Implications for all schools is that if you want to achieve an Ofsted rating of good or outstanding you need to establish a robust and specifically targeted training program for both the teacher and the teaching assistant.  Personally and based on experience, I would recommend that this specialised training is implemented separately from ‘whole school staff development.’

This blog could go on for another ten pages discussing issues and their implications within the classroom and the school but I will stop here. The next time you are working with another adult in the classroom (teacher or teaching assistant) take a step back and remember that we are all as confused as each other but we all want the best for our students.