Word Triangles

A ‘Sharing Best Practice’ post by Caroline Hill (SENCO)

Reading time: 2 minutes

Supporting pupils with learning needs around literacy and dyslexia is a challenge most teachers face.  For some pupils the need to master key words is the issue, for some it is the technical vocabulary required for a particular subject and for others it may be the growing volume of vocabulary demanded by new exam specifications.

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One simple strategy that can support pupils in this is the use of word triangles.  Quite simply these are triangles, subdivided into three sub-sections which contain: 1) The key word to be learnt, 2) the definition of the key word, 3) a visual representation, prompt or reminder of the word.

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Pupils can be engaged in the production of the cards or they could be prepared for them, as their needs require.  Once a series of cards have been produced, challenge can be increased by cutting up the cards and using them like jigsaws, reinforcing the learning of each word and its definition.

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A bank of such cards can then serve as a valuable revision resource or as an activity which can be used by a teaching assistant in lessons to reinforce learning if working with the child in class, or used during one-to-one/small group interventions.

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Featured image: ‘Abstract/Mosaic’ by Vanntile on Pixabay. Licensed under Creative Commons Public Domain CC0

Scaffolding and Differentiation

An Action Research project by Teresa Howe

My action research project was born out of a realisation that as a primary trained teacher I would naturally scaffold and differentiate for the pupils in my class. I could quickly establish their needs, and therefore adapt my teaching style and resources (often overnight). Transferring to teach in a secondary setting, teaching Year 8 and 9 English as well as SEND pupils in a nurture class, highlighted that scaffolding and differentiation were paramount in lesson planning. I felt that my skills in Scaffolding and Differentiation needed refreshing. I was also aware that there were many approaches that I still had to learn and try.

Rebecca Alber in her blog post ‘Scaffolding lessons- six strategies’ on Edutopia.org explains both the difference and connection between the two clearly. Scaffolding is ‘breaking up’ the learning into chunks and then modelling or explaining the tool to help. For example, when scaffolding for reading you may do one or many different things prior to work on the text. You may discuss the nature of the text and key vocabulary. Alternatively, you may chunk the text and read and discuss each part as you go. Differentiation might involve you giving a different piece of text to a pupil, or you may give a shortened or altered version. You may also modify the writing task associated with the text.

In my opinion, there are many approaches used in primary teaching that are useful tools in secondary teaching. The most important approach, I feel is flexibility. It is having the confidence to adapt and change set lesson plans to best suit an immediate pupil need.

I heard a fabulous example of this given by a PGCE tutor, who observed a student using a block of post it notes. During a task, the student would assess the progress of pupils and jot a note of help/advice/challenge to pupils and pop it on the desk next to them.

The student explained this as ‘instant differentiation’.

One of the classroom management tools I find very effective, no matter what level a pupil is working at, or whether they have a particular learning need, is a visual lesson plan displayed to the class giving a brief LIST of the steps or activities to be completed in the lesson. This helps pupils (and you) to focus on what to expect and acts as a reminder as to how far the lesson has progressed. I have used this with all my classes, small groups and when teaching individuals. It has  worked especially well with challenging groups of boys who have a reading intervention with me.

I’ve also found this useful when needing to ‘change’ the lesson content / order / recording method to suit the needs of the group (flexibility). The pupils appear to appreciate that their needs have been taken into account when you are crossing through your ideas and writing the new ‘agreed’ task.

Scaffolds and differentiated tasks, including visual aids, benefit all pupils. I’ve found that when pupils become familiar with the variety and range of activities that form part of your everyday lessons, they are not seen as ‘the easier option’ but rather, a different way of working. A good way to introduce this is by using a ‘tick-tack-toe’ or ‘noughts and crosses’ grid. This gives the pupils a choice of 9 activities (on a 3X3 grid). They have to choose 1 activity from each row but they make the choice. (You select tasks that you know give all pupils in your class the ability to access the lesson and use prior learning). Other consolidating or starter activities could be loop games, matching activities or sequencing tasks.

Since starting my action research, I have become more interested and stimulated by the needs of Dyslexic Pupils, primarily, when I began working with a statemented pupil and others who showed strong dyslexic tendencies, particularly with regards to literacy. As a result, I adapted my activities (scaffolding and differentiation) for intervention with these pupils and assessed their impact. The area that is crucial for such pupils before expecting them to complete tasks is to ensure that they are organised in preparation for both their learning and then recording. The lesson plan plays an important role, as does giving them model answers and creating opportunities for shared writing. Mostly for me, this would be teacher/pupil shared writing which proved very successful with groups of boys. Shared writing is not cheating but a way in which a group can learn from and teach each other.

One important fact became evident from my initial work with groups.  I was not always ‘chunking’ information into small enough steps, I assumed too much as far as the skills a secondary aged pupil would have. I found myself revising initial tasks set, chunking information into smaller steps. I ensured step by step instructions with model sentence starters. Diagrams and mind maps proved to be essential in allowing the pupil to both access and complete the task. Another crucial discovery was that the time needed to complete an extended task was at least doubled. I became more realistic about the quantity of work output as well as the amount of practise time needed before independent work would follow. Consolidation exercises, such as loop games, were essential in raising the self-esteem of dyslexic and other SEND pupils.  All of these scaffolds and differentiated tasks contributed to the groups progress.

Conclusions

The most ‘obvious’ point I learned when trying new approaches in my teaching is to not expect the pupils to ‘know’ what or how they want to do something – without first giving them choices and ideas. With a few hints and scaffolded activities they develop the confidence to ‘have a go’ and follow their own instincts. They know that, using my lesson plan, I will keep them focused if they go ‘off piste’.

The resounding success was the lesson plan/structure.

Next Steps

During my research, particularly of the US websites, I regularly heard the phrase ‘having a growth mindset’. I liked this quote which made its meaning clearer for me.

Carissa Romero’s Tch blog post:

“People with a fixed mindset believe intelligence is innate. This belief can make school a threatening place. It becomes a place to go to learn how smart you are — or how smart you’re not. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe intelligence can be developed. For these students, school can be an exciting place, as it provides them with an opportunity to learn and develop their intelligence.”

This will be the focus for my on-going research, with the hope that my teaching provides children with positive support and I contribute to school being an exciting place.

HELPFUL WEBSITES

http://www.mentoringminds.com/blog/how-to-pair-scaffolding-and-differentiation/

http://edglossary.org/scaffolding/

http://www.edutopia.org/topic/learning-styles

https://www.teachingchannel.org/growth-mindset/?utm_source=newsletter20160903/

Featured image: ‘Scaffolding’ by 3112014 on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0 Public Domain

The effective deployment of Teaching Assistants in the classroom to maximise the progress of pupils with identified SEND

An Action Research Project by Aleisha Woodley

Context and classroom development of differentiated approaches to assessment for those pupils operating well below their peers.

As line manager of the SEND team and in conjunction with the SENCO the need to research this topic was two-fold. After teaching staff Teaching Assistants (TAs) are the second biggest staffing cost in most schools, so deploying them in line with the latest research to maximise their impact on and in supporting pupil progress is vital in gaining value for money.  Secondly, after establishing how they should be deployed the best practice from teachers in engaging, supporting and directing this valuable resource is essential. The research phase was undertaken as a combination of a literature review of current research on models of deployment and impact studies on pupil progress as a result.  This led to a clear model in the context of St Bernadette’s for deployment of our TAs after observation of the current model and impact.  With the following aims:

  1. Teachers should be more aware of their responsibilities towards low attaining and SEND pupils
  2. Increase quality of TA interactions with pupils
  3. Create quality teacher and TA liaison time
  4. TAs have a clearer understanding of lesson plans, objectives and how to support pupils in meeting them
  5. Increase TAs self-esteem, value and confidence with a more clearly defined role.

This work was written up in full by the SENCO and implemented at the beginning of 2016-17 academic year. The quality of dialogue and parallel research meant that on-going discussions in learning focus time (CPD time allocated to staff across the school year) and line management time was clearly understood and developed a joint understanding of what was needed to improve deployment of TAs in class and for interventions.  The SENCOs project then focussed on developing the understanding for teachers and how they can best direct, support and deploy the TAs with the most advantage in their classroom to improve the progress of pupils.

My consideration for my own classroom practice then focussed on the targets in green (see exemplars below) and on classroom implications for those pupils that work well below the levels/grades of the rest of the class. In the academic year 2015-16 I taught a number of pupils operating well below the rest of the class academically who had a variety of learning difficulties preventing them from fully accessing and operating at the expected level of their peers. I interviewed pupils about their difficulties and how best to assess their understanding rather than their ability to record their understanding.  This produced key questions that would assess pupils’ learning and bridging the gap between their understanding and that of their peers as a key assessment tool in class.   The pupils’ preferences and recommendations were taken into consideration when developing and implementing these ideas.

Background & Literature Review of TA deployment

The school context:

The school is an 11-16 mainstream Catholic Comprehensive that has 750 pupils on roll with a wide ability range from pupils on P levels to working beyond A* at GCSE. 84 pupils were on the SEND register in the academic year 2015-16. This is 10.76% of the school population which is slightly below the national average. 8 pupils were covered by a statement of Special Educational Needs or an Educational Health Care Plan.

The primary need of each pupil is stated and shared with all teaching staff along with suggested strategies for meeting these needs in class. Specific strategies and external agency advice is sought and shared for those with complex needs or those pupils whose progress is very slow.  These external agencies range from ASDOT who are the Autistic Spectrum Disorder Outreach Team; BIS Behaviour Improvement Service: Speech and Language Team; Hearing Impairment Service etc.  The use of these additional agencies is identified according to the need of the pupil and their barriers to learning.

The SEN D code of practice states “Special educational provision is underpinned by high quality teaching and is compromised by anything less.” The school has for a number of years required teachers to publish ‘pen portraits’ for each class that highlights the needs of pupils in the class it highlights pupils on the SEND register; Pupil Premium or Disadvantaged; high ability; English as an additional language EAL. Teachers’ highlight the needs of pupils in each category as well as strategies they will employ in meeting those needs in the classroom.  This has sharpened the focus on meeting the needs of different groups of pupils and has proven successful in helping to reduce gaps.

Teaching Assistant deployment in class

The 1981 Education Act was the first legislation that outlined the responsibilities of Local Authorities (LAs) and schools in meeting the needs of pupils with Special Educational Needs. (SEN) The right of parents to request a mainstream primary or secondary school educate their child rather than a special school with a population of all SEN children was enshrined in law. Hence the birth of inclusion of pupils with significant additional needs in mainstream schools often referred to as inclusion. Statutory statements were also introduced that set out for pupils with significant or complex needs what help and support should be provided for them. Other SEN pupils without statements were also recognised and the need for teachers to ensure that they make adequate progress made clear. This inclusion of SEN pupils into mainstream schools led to an increased workload for teachers and for former volunteers or helpers to be paid to support SEN pupils in the classroom.  These early TAs were often unqualified and many of them were mothers, as school hours fitted around child care.  Although the first survey of the impact of TAs was not undertaken until 2009 with the DISS project. (Deployment and Impact of Support Staff) It demonstrated that TAs often worked with the lowest attaining pupils to support and help them access their work.  This conversely also meant that teachers spent the smallest amount of time with these pupils.  TAs with the least specialist training were working closely with those that arguably, needed the most help.  DISS also found that TA interaction with the teacher relieved the teacher’s stress, as they were able to complete administrative tasks and support but did not aid the progress of the pupils in their care as their training was not sufficient to develop their interaction with these pupils adequately.  The (MAST) Making a Statement Project found that TAs often had “more responsibility for planning and teaching statemented pupils that teachers.” Pg2.  TAs were expected to plan and differentiate on the spot once a lesson had started with little or no guidance from the teacher, (Webster and Blatchford 2013) concluded that one of the reasons was that teachers had/ have limited knowledge on how to meet the growing needs of the pupils in their classrooms, claiming that little or no additional training in their initial teacher training (ITT) courses (EEF 2015)

EEF 2015 showed that the more support an SEN pupil had from a TA the more likely that they would not make as much progress as someone similar with little or no support (Webster and Blatchford 2012) This was not the fault of the TA but how they were deployed and what additional training they had (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2016). The DISS project had highlighted the lack of TA preparedness, they turned up to a lesson with no idea of what was being taught and how. The TA often had to respond as quickly as the pupils and support the SEN pupil to complete and record tasks often having to modify content as they worked. Using TAs in this way has been highlighted as poor Quality First Teaching in the Code of Practice 2014, which highlighted that the skills of the teacher are needed to focus on the SEN pupil. Blatchford 2012 highlighted the TAs lack of training hindering open questioning and not promoting higher order thinking skills. He went as far as to say that if this was not addressed then it would continue to hold back the progress of learning for those with SEN. Other studies have found that where TAs are trained and do know the content required then they can have a positive impact on progress and confidence of pupils with SEN.  Education for Everybody 2015 found that TAs inspire confidence in children, encouraging them to take part and helping them feel safe to participate.  Having an additional adult in the classroom also allows teachers to be risk takers, improvising creative ways and practical tasks rather than traditional seated work. (Alborz et al 2009)

Webster 2013 stated “TAs can only be as effective as teachers enable them to be. TAs need to ask what skills or knowledge the pupil they support should be developing and what learning teachers want them to achieve by the end of the lesson.”

The COP 2014 goes further by stating that “teachers are to be wholly responsible and accountable for SEN students in their classroom. Providing high quality teaching and differentiation for those requiring additional support in class; even with support staff in the classroom, and understanding the needs they have.”  It is from this point that I considered how best to meet the needs of pupils in my classes and their individual preferences in types and timing of support in lessons.

Context and classroom development of differentiated approaches to assessment for those pupils operating well below their peers:

After completing the literature review and analysis of effective deployment of TAs, as well as the role of the teacher in Quality First Teaching I began to consider the effectiveness of my own practice in differentiating for and effectively assessing those pupils at Key Stage 3 and 4 that were operating at levels 1 to 3 in Key stage 3 and pre GCSE grades equivalent to levels 2 or 3 at Key stage 3 or grades G and F at GCSE. The Code of Practice for SEN states:

A pupil has a learning difficulty if:

  • They have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of other pupils of the same age or;
  • Have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools.
  • Under the Equality Act 2010. Schools must not discriminate and they must make reasonable adjustments for disabled young persons.
  • The definition of disability in the Equality Act includes children with long term health conditions such as; asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, and cancer. These children may not have Special Educational Needs, but there is a significant overlap between disabled children and young people with SEN.

It also states the school must:

  • Be able to identify the young persons with Special Education Needs and assess their needs
  • Adapt the curriculum, teaching and learning environment and access to ancillary aids and assistive technology
  • Assess and review the young person’s progress towards outcomes
  • Support the young person in moving towards phases of educations
  • Enable the young person to prepare for adulthood.
  • Secure expertise among teachers to support the young person with Special Educational Needs – This should include expertise at three levels; awareness, enhanced and specialist
  • Assess and evaluate the effectiveness of the provision for the young person with Special Educational Needs
  • Enable the young person with Special Educational Needs to access extra-curricular activities
  • Supporting emotional and social development of the young person with Special Educational Needs
  • Ensure the young person with Special Educational Needs takes part in actives with children who do not have Special Educational Needs as far as possible

Obviously some of these criteria have direct application in the classroom and must inform planning, teacher development and training to instil these skills and attributes in every classroom and teachers’ day to day practice.

The COP also spells out the direct responsibilities of the teacher in relation to pupils with SEN.

  • Teachers are responsible and accountable for the progress and development of the pupils in their class, even if they have support staff or a Teaching Assistant present.
  • Where a pupil is not making adequate progress teachers, SENCO and parents should collaborate.
  • High quality teaching, differentiated for individual pupils with Special Educational Needs must be provided.
  • Additional intervention and support cannot compensate for lack of good quality teaching.
  • Schools should regularly and carefully review the quality of teaching for teaching for pupils at risk of under-achievement.
  • Schools should regularly and carefully review teachers’ understanding of strategies to support vulnerable pupils and their knowledge of Special Educational Needs most frequently encountered.
  • The quality of teaching for pupils with Special Educational Needs and the progress made by pupils should be a core part of Performance Management / Appraisal. Special Educational Needs should not be regarded as sufficient explanation for low achievement.

The COP goes on to spell out what adequate progress is for pupils on the SEN register especially if they have low starting points:

  • Similar to that of peers with similar starting points or baselines
  • Matches or betters the child’s previous rate of progress
  • Closes the attainment gap between the child and their peers
  • Prevents the attainment gap growing wider

The school system at St Bernadette’s for setting target levels or grades ensures that each pupil is intended or targeted to make at least expected progress even those with low starting points. The challenge for me in my teaching in a mixed ability class is accurately assessing and developing their progress to the next level or grade when the majority of peers are working at a higher level.  Targeted oral questioning is one way it has been addressed as well as assessing written tasks of all pupils against success criteria.  The use of TAs in some cases to support pupils has also traditionally been used to gauge pupil progress.  TA support is not always possible and is often targeted at those pupils with a statement or EHCP as their support is statutory.  Concerns in many of the studies have also been raised including this one.  “The most vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils receive less educational input from teachers than other pupils” (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2016 P18). To maximise the time spent and the impact with these pupils and to accurately assess their lesson by lesson progress was a real priority.  In order to establish current practice and the actions to be undertaken I interviewed the pupils I taught in 2015-16 who were operating below the average range of their peers.  All of the pupils I taught were also on the SEN register that were in this category.  All of them were receiving additional literacy support outside of the classroom.

Actions

To focus on the pupil perceptions of their progress and strategies that supported them to do well. I have summarised the most useful comments below each question.

“What do you like that teachers’ do in class to help you?”

  • Come and check if I have understood the instructions
  • Always have the same routine in class at the beginning and end of lessons
  • Come and sit with me
  • Give me time to think of an answer
  • Read through worksheets or information together
  • Point to where you are on the screen
  • Make reading simple.
  • Help me with presentation

“What don’t you like that teachers’ do to try and help you?”

  • Give me different work
  • Ask me a question I cannot answer
  • Tell me off if I’m asking someone for help because I’m stuck
  • Tell me in front of everyone just do this bit
  • Give me different worksheets
  • Never ask me questions in class on my opinion
  • Move on too quickly if I don’t know

“What do you find the most difficult in class to do or try?”

  • Lots of writing
  • Answer questions in front of everyone I am not prepared for
  • Read out loud without help
  • Read on my own
  • Write simplified information without help
  • Complete lots of written questions.
  • Answer yellow stickers
  • Read teacher’s handwriting on the board or in our book

“What makes you feel successful or happy in your work?”

  • Teacher praise
  • If I’m asked for my opinion
  • Leading something I’m good at
  • Completing a task well
  • The teacher checking on me and saying good stuff

As a result of the unscientific but helpful discussion with 6 of my pupils I decided to focus on the beginning and end of my lessons. All 6 pupils were working below the average range of the their peers for age related expectations, were all on the SEN register for mild learning difficulties and had received or were in receipt of literacy intervention outside of the classroom.  Pupils were all really clear they never wanted to be given a different worksheet or work to do.  They were quite happy to start on easy questions that got harder and try to do the more difficult ones if they could.  They also did not want to do lots and lots of writing every lesson.  Three boys in Year 8 all stated that thinking about writing as well as the question slowed them down.  The school expectation is that a lesson objective is shared with pupils for every lesson as well as success criteria and these are used a benchmarks of success at the end of the lesson.

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Figure 1. This is the type of slide used at the start of every lesson that highlights the objective as well as the success criteria. These are referenced to new GCSE measures.

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Figure 2.  These pre-planned or targeted questions have become part of my routine planning to assess the pupils in my class that would normally be operating below the age related expectations. Although I now have a TA for this class I sit with the pupils and assess their knowledge and am able to push their understanding further if they have grasped the basic concepts.  I then note progress towards the success criteria.  Pupils said they found writing plenaries quite difficult.

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Figure 3.  This is in addition to above in the application of the required knowledge. Again, verbal questioning and recording by me as the teacher ensures an accurate picture of the pupil’s assessment level in that lesson.  It is described and written in this manner so a TA would be familiar with it and could use it if necessary.  This planning takes little time, max 10 minutes per lesson and when it has been done it can be used again for different classes.  This has become their routine and allows me time to correct really fundamental flaws but also to celebrate their successes.

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Figure 4. Success criteria used with the whole class. This is still used with SEN pupils and they can tick where they have succeeded i.e. identifying bulbs or battery in a circuit is possible for them.

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Figure 5.  These key questions and exemplars break down for the TA or remind the teacher what can the pupil do and what does this mean in relation to the success criteria. It also helps the TA during the lesson to ask relevant questions to help the pupil access the learning.

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Figure 6. These three plenary slides have also been used for summative capture at the end of the module etc. The pupils reported fatigue by the end of a lesson so they want to use simple but effective strategies to summarise their learning.

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Impact & conclusion

The strategies for questioning at the correct level, developing TAs expertise in questioning and the plenary approaches are all simple tools that have been effective. Some of the pupils I am teaching for the second year will select their own plenary tool or ask for more direct help than they used to if it is not public.  A barrier to recording their understanding does not mean they do not understand and their verbal responses can demonstrate their higher understanding.  Spending more time with these pupils during the lesson means they become less frustrated and will engage more as evidenced with one pupil that I have taught for two years.  He has not received any negative referrals as his level of engagement have risen using these techniques.  I have a full record for all of these pupils of how they have performed in each lesson via verbal questioning as well as written assessments produced independently which measure their ability to capture this information.

I routinely use this planning and plenary tasks and this certainty helps the pupils to demonstrate their learning more effectively. Previously, I would have relied on the few verbal questions they do answer in class and their written work.

Sources/ References

Alborz, A, Farrell. P, Howes, A., Pearson. D, (2009) The impact of adult support staff on pupils and mainstream schools. London HMSO

Black. P and Williams. D (1998) Inside the black box: raising standards through classroom assessment. London GL Assessment Ltd

Bland. K and Sleightholme. S (2012) Researching the pupil voice: what makes a good teaching assistant? British Journal of Learning Support Nasen

Blatchford P., Russell A., Webster R.(2012) Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants. How research challenges practice and policy. Routeledge

DFE: (January 2015) Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years – Statutory guidance for organisations which work with and support children and young people who have special educational needs or disabilities

(Featured image: GotCredit, Education key keyboard, CC BY 2.0)

Models of Deployment for the Most Effective use of Teaching Assistant Time

An Action Research Project by Caroline Hill (SENCO)

This study looks at how TAs have been recruited and deployed over the last 30 years especially in regards to supporting SEN students. It looks at policy and legislation and how events have evolved over time, drawing on current literature for models of best practice and the implications of training.  In addition it suggests a model of deployment that research says would be the most effective use of TA time.

Introduction

Historically, teaching assistants (TAs) have been perceived as ‘The Mum’s army’ of education. According to the Teaching Development Agency (TDA 2003). They have been the helpers, who listen to children read, put up displays, wash paint pots and do some photocopying for the class teacher. However, as time has evolved, so has their role. TAs today are now expected to take some pedagogical role within the classroom, focusing on learning outcomes, modified language techniques and analysing data (Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) 2015).

This study will draw on existing theories and current research to discuss best practice for the deployment of teaching assistants, within the guidance of the new Code of Practice (CoP 2015) within mainstream schools. It will scrutinize provision both for students with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEN/D) and for the positive impact TAs can have on teaching and learning not only in the classroom but outside of it as well.  In addition, it will look at some of the difficulties that may arise within a school setting when having to make changes to a structure of deployment that is over 30 years old.

Summary

Following critical analysis of the information gathered, it is advocated that TAs can have a significant impact on student attainment, especially when they have been trained effectively and when there has been collaboration and training for all staff. A clear school policy with defined outcomes, promoted and jointly designed by the head teacher and other senior leaders (including the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) if not already a member of the Senior Leadership team), ensures a workforce that supports SEN/D students in all aspects of their education journey.

Time line of events

In 1978, Mary Warnock was approached to write a report on education provision for students who had some form of additional need, including physical difficulties they may have, and the barriers they faced every day. The outcome of these findings were then to be used in considering the most cost effective way of resourcing support for these students so that they could enter the world of employment alongside their peers (Warnock 1978).

The recommendations made in her report were the basis of the 1981 Education Act (Department for Education (DFE 2003)). This was the very first piece of legislation that considered and required Local Authorities and mainstream schools to provide targeted support for SEN/D children. In this Act, parents were given new rights. They could request that their children were taught in mainstream lessons within a mainstream school.  There was also the introduction of the Special Educational Needs (SEN) framework and the introduction of statutory statements (Education Endowment Foundation (EEF 2015)). Warnock anticipated just 2% of students would require statements but in reality the national average in 1997 was more than 3% (DFE 2003). This in turn, put a vast amount of additional pressure on teacher’s workload and ‘parent helpers’ began to get paid for the time they gave (Webster 2012).

As standards in schools improved and more SEN students were accessing mainstream education, workload for teachers became high on the agenda for teaching unions and head teachers (Blatchford 2012). This was due to the difficulties of retaining teachers in the profession due to work load and stress (EEF 2015).  The SEN CoP (2001) was released and gave directives on procedures that needed to be followed to ensure the inclusion of SEN/D students within any setting.  “The focus is on preventative work to ensure that children’s special educational needs are identified as quickly as possible and that early action is taken to meet those needs” (p2 CoP 2001). The National Agreement (2003) was introduced to alleviate the growing pressures teachers were facing; due to the new guidelines on evidencing outcomes and to being held to account for the attainment of students in their care (Office For Standards in Education (OFSTED 2010)). At that time schools used TAs as a way of supporting the teacher with their work loads, often by doing administrative jobs such as photocopying, providing displays for the classroom, as well as listening to students read (EEF 2015).

The Lamb report (2009) was another significant review of SEN/D. The recommendations made underpinned Warnock’s report (1978) and emphasised the need to communicate, inform and include parents in their children’s educational journey. In addition he stated that;

“I intend that the extension of the core offer to all schools and children’s services will create a cultural shift in the way schools and services interact with parents. Many of my subsequent recommendations are framed in the context of this new contract with parents. They do not work without it.” (p10)

As expectations grew, so did the need for a larger workforce and TAs were employed to promote educational standards (Webster 2016).

The first real study about the impact of TAs came in 2009 with the Deployment and Impact of Support Staff Project (DISS). The report revealed that TAs had a positive effect on teacher’s job satisfaction, helped reduce stress, helped to prevent disruption in the classroom and provided personal qualities and skills. Conversely it found that TAs did not improve attainment in the classroom because they were often supporting low-attaining students. This meant that quality time with the specialist (classroom teacher) was significantly less than that given to students without support (Sutton Trust 2011). This led head teachers to seriously consider reforming the way TAs were deployed and monitoring the impact they were having (Webster 2016).

In 2011 another report was written, The Effective Deployment of Teaching Assistants (EDTA) following the findings of the DISS project (Webster 2013). The purpose of it was to show that how TAs were deployed, significantly impacted the outcomes for SEN students and low achieving students and it brought about a call for an essential change as to how TAs are deployed in our schools (Russell, Webster and Blatchford (2016). One of their key findings was that before this project, schools had “unhelpful mindsets” on TA deployment, especially with regards to SEN students (Webster (2013). After the project the feedback was very positive, professionally, teachers felt more informed about their responsibilities towards TAs and had a structure to use within their day to day practice (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2012).  In addition, teachers became more aware of their responsibilities towards SEN students in their classrooms.  The outcome of this was that both teachers and TAs felt more valued, relationships with the adults in the classroom developed, empowering TAs to be more confident in their role within the classroom setting and feeling appreciated for their contributions (Bosanquet, Radford and Webster 2016).

In addition the Making a Statement Project (MAST) revealed that TAs often had “more responsibility for the planning and teaching of statemented pupils than teachers.” (p2) In the study it highlights a high intensity of work outside of the classroom for statemented students which the majority of TAs were expected to plan and differentiate on the spot, with little or no guidance with the teacher (Webster and Blatchford 2013). It is believed that one of the reasons for this is that teachers have limited knowledge on how to meet the growing needs of the students in their classrooms, claiming little or no additional training in their Initial Teacher Training (ITT) courses (EEF 2015).

In this next section I will look at the qualifications required for TAs and how they have developed over the last 30 years.

TA Qualifications

When the 1981 Education Act was passed, there was an increase in Special Educational Needs (SEN) children being taught in mainstream schools (Bach, Kessler and Heron 2006). Schools found that their ‘helpers’ were now taking on roles that involved struggling learners and began to formalise arrangements of support by paying a salary and giving them a title e.g. Teaching assistants or learning support assistants (LSA) (DFE 2000). The change in legislation not only changed the dynamics of inclusion but also it had an enormous impact on the school workforce (Blatchford and Russell and Webster 2012).

In the 1980s and 1990s there was no requirement for any formal qualifications to be had, when applying to work in a school as a TA (Bosandquet, Radford and Webster 2016). What was often required, was an ability to come alongside children, encourage them, motivate them, or have good interpersonal skills and an empathy towards learning (Warhurst, Nickson, Commander and Gilbert (2014). Often, mothers of younger children found that the hours offered by schools would suit them and offered help to classroom teachers; reading with children, clearing up craft areas and putting up displays (Webster and Russell 2016). With no formal qualifications expected, some head teachers encouraged those already supporting the school to apply for paid positions.  This way they could gauge the quality of personnel applying for vacancies offered (Bach et al 2006).

By early 2003 the workload agreement in England and Wales wanted to improve and raise standards in schools (DFE 2003). Teachers were struggling with their work loads and retention of teachers was a government concern (DFE 2013). TAs began to take on more pedagogical roles which led Local Authorities (LA) to introduce Maths and English qualification requirements for the role, especially those TAs applying for Literacy or Numeracy support posts (Lee 2002).

Today, schools still set their own entry requirements and the experience for which they are looking (DFE 2014). For example previous experience or further qualifications, level 2 in supporting teaching and learning,  Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) status, experience in youth work or early years, volunteering as an additional helper in schools can be valuable when looking to be a TA in primary or secondary schools (National Careers Service 2016).

Training

In this section I will be exploring how training for TAs has evolved and the importance of further training to improve the impact TAs can have.

As the role has evolved so has the training and in 2003 the HLTA status was introduced (Best Practice 2016). This enabled some TAs to take on more responsibility within the area of pedagogy, not only increasing their knowledge of how children think and learn, but also in the delivery of interventions and booster groups (Burgess and Mayes 2009). The aim of the HLTA post was to undertake an enhanced role within the classroom (TDA 2003). Carefully constructed standards were introduced and candidates had to show evidence of competency in all 30 areas. HLTAs can undertake a wide variety of roles within a school setting.  Some work across the curriculum, offering targeted support in specific areas of expertise e.g. Maths or English.  Some act as specialist assistants for sports, music or catering.  The work varies according to the needs of the students within each individual setting of the school (HLTA National Assessment Partnerships 2015). Some HLTAs wish to progress even further and Universities have welcomed candidates with this status to gain a Foundation Degree which could then lead in to a full BA Hons degree (Bristol UWE 2016). Conversely there were those who did not want to progress further and therefore the diversity in skills and qualifications for TAs became even greater (Warhurst, Nikson,Commander and Gilbert 2014).

Once a TA has been employed schools can offer developmental training and specific targeted training as part of their whole school development plan. This can put additional pressure on already tight budgets, however schools need to consider what long term outcomes the training will have on their students and whether they feel this is cost effective (DFE 2013).

Webster, Russell and Blatchford (2016) believe that being ‘prepared’ is the key to excellent TA support. Therefore training TAs to be prepared is something a SENCO will have as a high priority.  Being part of the leadership team in this instance allows SENCOs to have a direct impact on training requirements for their team and allows them to deliver ‘in house’ training during inset days or departmental meetings (Gross 2015, Brown and Devecchi 2013).   In addition, regardless of how or where TAs have originated from, Brown and Devecchi (2013), believe that TAs need to understand pedagogy as part of their role and this would give a truer measure of their capabilities.  They state:

“Any movement in this direction would also require policy makers to recognise the need for a professional development structure that values the contributions TAs can make to an individual pupil, the school or its community.” (p385)

Pay for TAs and the impact of it

With the increasing expectation that TAs contribute to the pedagogical section of support, (Wilson and Bedford (2015), it is important to reflect on the pay and conditions that TAs face when entering this profession. Currently the average pay for a TA nationally is £11,805 a year.  94% of TAs are women and just 6% are men.   The graph below shows how, even with many years of experience, TAs pay does not increase much at all. In fact most TAs with over 20 years experience, move on to higher paid jobs, for example early years or teaching (Pay scales 2016).

ch-graph

Today there is still no clear pay and conditions formula for TAs to follow (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2016). Generally speaking, schools make their own judgements on recruitment and use Local Authority (LA) job descriptions and pay scales as a guide (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2012). When broken down into an hourly rate TAs earn approximately £7.94 per hour (Pay scales 2016).  Even while having such a low rate of pay with no requirement for qualifications, TAs are sometimes expected to walk into a classroom, differentiate on the spot, while having no idea what is being taught or what the teaching outcomes are and often to support the lowest ability groups or SEN children with high needs (EEF 2015, Warhurst, Nickson Commander and Gilbert 2014). Within a secondary school setting, many TAs were developing an expertise which was superior to that of the teachers but with no pay progression (Wilson and Bedford 2008). This meant that once TAs were at the top of their pay scale and had developed on the job training and experience, they often looked for a change in direction of  career which did offer pay increases within a defined structure. This is particularly true for young men (Unison 2013).

In the next section I will be investigating the impact of TAs over time and the implications this has had on teachers, TAs and schools.

Impact

Over the last 30 years, there has been a significant increase in teaching assistants (Webster 2014, Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2012, EEF 2015). With the Workforce Reforms in2003 TA numbers grew again. This increase continued to be a trend and by 2010 numbers had risen to a staggering 194.2 thousand (Webster 2014). Today there are over 255.1 thousand TAs working in the UK (DFE 2015).

When TAs were first introduced, some teachers felt that their jobs were being undervalued due to TAs being allowed to take classes (Webster Blatchford and Russell (2003)). However, Bach, Kessler and Heron (2006) believe that as workload and administrative duties increased, many teachers welcomed the additional support, relying on TAs to help with classroom behaviour and differentiating tasks for SEN students.

Negative impact

It wasn’t until the highly acclaimed Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project was released that head teachers began to reflect on the impact their TAs were having (Farrell, Alborz, Howes and Pearson, (2010) EEF (2015)). The study showed that the more support an SEN child was given by a TA the more likely that they would not make as much academic progress as someone similar but with little or no support (Webster and Blatchford 2012). This was not the fault of the TA but an error on the part of management with how TAs were deployed and what additional training they had (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2016).

In addition, the DISS project highlighted the lack of ‘preparedness’ emphasising the observations on TAs in the classroom and the way that they came to lessons without any information or knowledge on what was being taught, often having to differentiate, modify and record tasks given to SEN students ‘on the spot’ (Blatchford et al 2009). This emphasised the lack of knowledge which newly-qualified and pre-existing teachers have with regards to managing teaching assistants and delivering Quality First Teaching (QFT) to students with additional needs.

Furthermore, Blatchford (2012) would suggest that many TAs do not use the correct language or higher order questioning that teachers do, therefore students relying on these TAs for guidance, can sometimes be misinformed or not challenged to expand their thinking. If this is not addressed, TAs will continue to hold-back the progress of learning for those with SEN, especially if schools continue to use TAs fundamentally for low achieving students and those with SEN (Lee 2002).

Positive impact

This may all sound very worrying with regards to academic progress and yet Ward (2014) found that when TAs are ‘specifically trained and prepared’ for curriculum input, they have a positive impact on progress. Teachers also appreciate the additional adult in the classroom as most would argue that without a TA, some SEN children get far less work done and struggle to record their work in their books. Having a TA helps boost confidence in the children to participate fully in the lesson and not to be afraid of asking questions (Helm 2015).

In a recent article, TAs were praised for their ability to be ‘sensitive,’ understanding the difficulties that some children have in just coming to school (Education for everybody 2015).  It goes on to say that TAs inspire confidence in children, encouraging them to take part and helping them feel ‘safe’ to participate.  Having an additional adult in the classroom also allows teachers to be risk takers, improvising creative ways and practical tasks rather than seated work (Alborz et al 2009).

Some teachers argue that without support in their classroom, their stress levels grew, behaviour in the classroom deteriorated and SEN student’s needs were not being fully met (Helm 2015).

Blatchford and Webster (2012) state TAs running targeted intervention programmes for Literacy or numeracy has had a significant impact on attainment. They go on to suggest that; small groups of children removed from their class for a specific amount of time, focusing on a specific area can improve progress by almost 50% National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) (2011) comments that TAs who have been trained specifically to deliver specific interventions are very successful and Giangreco, Suter, & Graf, (2011) tell us, “the earlier you can identify the needs, the bigger the impact of closing of the gaps that have emerged”. Brook’s (2013) has done an intensive study on literacy interventions that work and many schools now adopt some of these interventions for TAs to deliver during the school day.

It is essential to remember however, that over-reliance on TAs to support the most disadvantaged whether socially, emotionally or academically, is likely to have a detrimental effect on outcomes due to assigning the least qualified staff to the most complex learners (Giangreco 2013).

So what is the most effective deployment model that has the biggest impact on student attainment?

Deployment

Deploying TAs effectively has been high on schools agendas since the damning reports on attainment first surfaced back in 2011 (Sutton Trust 2011). Since then, some schools have introduced targeted intervention programmes and other small group work to meet the growing needs of the children in their care (EEF 2015).

Many schools deploy TAs to the classroom, supporting the most vulnerable and often the least able (Blatchford et al 2009).  This has a significant impact on the students in their care but not necessarily on attainment (Giangreco, Suter and Graf 2011). The Effective Deployment of Teaching Assistants (EDTA 2010) highlight 3 main components “deployment, practice and preparedness” This Webster, Russell and Blatford (2012) believe will bring change that both teachers and TAs are in agreement with and will bring greater results.

Some schools use HLTAs to run nurture groups within the mainstream setting, under the guidance of the head of department. This provides better opportunity to repeat information, differentiate further, modify texts and language to smaller groups with lower ratios of adult to student , concentrating on behaviour for learning and social interaction (Nurture groups 2015). However some Unions would argue that HLTAs are being exploited and should not take whole classes.  They  argue that: “pupils should have the benefit of the availability of a qualified teacher” (Unison 2009).

The Training and Development Agency (TDA) (2010) have produced guidelines for schools to consider how they deploy TAs to gain maximum effectiveness. They challenge senior leadership to look carefully at how both teachers and TAs work together and how training and Continued Professional Development (CPD) can improve outcomes.  Focusing on these areas and being prepared to remodel are crucial to moving forward in teaching and learning, ensuring that all students learning is personalised and tailored to the individual (Bedford et al 2008).

The government does not have a list of standards for TAs. In 2010 the TDA, in collaboration with school leaders, began to develop a number of occupational standards that could be used when recruiting or training TAs to support teaching and learning in the classroom.  The idea was to have guidelines of what skills are required to be a TA and a development programme that helped individuals understand more fully the roles that they were taking on (TDA 2010). With the change in government, Nick Gibb confirmed that the government were not going to publish these standards and they were withdrawn (DFE 2014). The reason for this they said was:

“The government believes that schools are best placed to decide how they use and deploy teaching assistants, and to set standards for the teaching assistants they employ. The secretary of state has therefore decided not to publish the draft standards”. (p1)

With the importance of deployment placed fully back with head teachers, Webster, Russell and Blatchford (2012) believe that conducting an audit of current practice in settings and observing TAs in their current roles is paramount in making effective change. With this in mind, the following paragraph will look at the different roles TAs could have and how schools have moved from a non-pedagogical role, to a pedagogical one.

Roles and Responsibilities of a TA

Research suggests that there are many roles for which TAs have responsibilities and it is difficult to ascertain if roles are specific to titles. For example, HLTAs have their own classes or are used as cover supervisors, TAs run interventions and LSAs support in class. It could be more important that skills have been identified over time and head teachers now feel confident in allowing any support staff to take on these roles (Giangreco 2013).  First and foremost TAs are there to enhance the teaching of the classrooms they support (Warhurst et al 2014). Some TAs support the specific needs of high band students within classrooms to ensure inclusive practice and scaffold the learning for low attainers and some TAs provide targeted intervention for small groups or one to one work (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2012, Giangreco 2013).

As research has already stated, TA roles differ from school to school (EEF 2015). It will also depend on whether TAs are employed in a primary or secondary setting.  For the purpose of this study, I will just be looking at the roles of TAs in a mainstream secondary setting. This is not to devalue what TAs in a primary setting, nursery or Further Education are doing, rather to go into greater depth in one specific area.

During the DISS project and the research covered by Lee (2002) and the NFER (2005), TAs roles could cover the following:

In class support, which involves shared lesson plans by the teacher or head of faculty, team teaching, where, after discussions TA take a group within the class and then teachers would also take that group either later in the same lesson or the following lesson to ensure all students had the expertise of the teacher as well as further support from the TA.

Monitoring and recording the work that students had completed and making recommendations/contributions to either an Individual Education Plan or the equivalent.

Being responsible for the displays in the classroom (under the guidance of the teacher), photocopying worksheets, ordering in resources for students to use, collecting in money for trips, dealing with poorly or sick students, taking the register.

Working with or being responsible for specified groups or individual pupils for example aiding the movement of disabled students around the school, running interventions for behaviour or social skills. This could either be outside of the classroom or inside the classroom (depending on the nature of the support required).  Being a qualified first aider. Being on duty at break and lunch times.

The DFE (2015) put it in a different way:

  • Support for the teacher
  • Support for the pupil
  • Support for the school
  • Support for the Curriculum

Although many teachers now accept and realise that TAs can be an additional tool to support learning, their views on the roles and responsibilities of a TA are sometimes different to those mentioned above. Some teachers believe that TAs are fully responsible for any SEN student in their classroom (Webster 2014), others believe that TAs can be more of a hindrance than a help, talking over them, shouting unnecessarily, undermining directives without the knowledge or the skills to do them (Guardian 2013).

On the other hand Webster (2013) clearly believes that teachers need to make the role what they want it to be. He states:

TAs can only be as effective as teachers enable them to be. TAs need to ask what skills or knowledge the pupil they support should be developing and what learning teachers want them to achieve by the end of the lesson. (p1)

Furthermore, teachers felt that the TA was the ‘expert’ when it came to special educational needs (SEN) and statement students. Unfortunately research has proven this not to be the case. It was found that TAs often had very poor knowledge on the needs of the child and lacked the related skills and knowledge as to how to support them Webster (2014).

So who has the say in deciding what roles TAs should take? Webster, Russell and Blatchford (2016) believe that Head teachers and SENCOs should meet to discuss and agree options so that when change happens, teachers are on board quicker because it has been a whole school priority. Gross (2015) agrees and makes the point that successful change in roles and responsibilities for TAs incorporates many members of staff but must include senior leaders and head teachers.

Following on from this, the new Code of practice (2015) has brought stringent guidelines on supporting students with SEN/D. This section looks at some of the implications for schools and how TAs can play an integral role in ensuring the directives are met.

The Code of Practice 2015

In 2014 the government published the draft new statutory CoP for young people aged between 0 – 25. This was considered to be the biggest change in education in over 30 years (Webster 2014).  There was a significant shift towards ensuring that young people and their families were at the heart of this code and at each stage of support, young people were included in the discussions and decisions about their futures (Nasen 2015). Instead of assuming that support equalled more TA time, the code emphasises the importance of outcomes for each individual, relying on alternative ways of meeting the needs of students through the graduated approach and addressing the misconceptions parents may have early in the assessment process (DFE 2014).  Educational professionals, Health professionals and Social Care joining together to allow parents to tell their story just once is seen as a positive way forward. It takes away the need to repeat everything every time a new agency is introduced (Parent Carers 2016). However, organisation of these collaborative meetings can be an added strain on SENCOs already busy schedules and responsibilities (Gross 2015).

One of the most significant directives in the CoP is understanding that teachers are to be wholly responsible and accountable for SEN students in their classrooms; providing high quality teaching and differentiation for those requiring additional support in class; even with support staff in the classroom, and understanding the needs that they have. As the DFE 2014 states:

“Additional intervention and support cannot compensate for a lack of good quality teaching.” (p8)

This is an area where head teachers need to be prepared to devote quality time to Continued Professional Development (CPD). In a recent study, 75% of teachers commented that they had received no formal training on how to effectively use support in their classrooms or how to support particular SEN students (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2012). Is it any wonder then, that research shows that TAs have very little impact on student attainment (Webster and Blatchford (2013), Sutton Trust (2011), Blatchford, Bassett, Brown, Martin, et al (2009)). As Blatchford, Russell and Webster (2012) mentions, this is not the fault of the TA, rather the schools policy and leadership in the effective deployment of support staff.

The Code also strengthens the fact that not all students making slower progress have special education needs. Sometimes there are gaps in knowledge or poor attendance. This could have a significant impact on how TAs are deployed in school, especially if teachers are regularly assessing and monitoring progress (DFE 2015).  This also empowers teachers to open intrinsic dialogue with the SENCO when discussing further support in their classrooms or initiating targeted intervention (Gross (2015), EEF (2015)).

The new code highlights four areas of difficulty that SEN students are likely to fall into;

This helps teachers understand what additional resources or differentiation they may need when teaching and TAs can use their knowledge of the individual to work collaboratively with teachers to ensure the student has the personalized support; that will aide progress, not only academically but socially and emotionally as well (Lee 2002).

In addition the Code provides guidance on “The graduated approach” which in time, could reduce the amount of corridor conversations, or emails the SENCO may receive for support in classrooms where the recommended Assess, Plan, Do Review has not been adhered too (Gross 2015). This would allow SENCOs to deploy TAs more effectively rather than responding to a problem that, with a bit of thought, could be addressed by the teacher themselves (Bedford et al 2008).

With the introduction of Education Health Care Plans (EHCP) it is even more important for teachers to understand and to be able to support SEN students in their classrooms as “most pupils with SEN or disabilities will have their needs met through school support”(DFE 2015).  In certain areas, for example, Bristol, schools would not apply for an EHCP unless they felt the student required a specialist placement as additional funding to support the student would come through a top-up application and outside agency support would be funded in this way as Bristol City Council, Trading with Schools (2014/15) states:

“As part of the Code of Practice 2014, schools/settings have a statutory requirement to use their school based funding (Element 1 AWPU, Element 2 notional SEN- total £10,000) to make sure that any child with SEN gets the support they need. If a school considers that a pupil’s needs cannot be met by provision from existing school based funding, then they may apply to the LA for Top Up funding (Element 3 High Needs Block funding – HNB) via the Special Educational Needs team (SEN).” (p4)

Therefore ensuring that teachers have specific SEN training to enable them to provide QFT is essential for inclusive practice (Webster, Russell and Blatchford 2012).

Using the information gathered from this study I now want to look at best practice concerning the effective deployment of TAs with regards to the literature available to establish the best ways of supporting students to make the most progress, both academically and socially.

Moving forward

From the beginning to the end of this study, it will be seen that research has clearly stated that leading change must come from the head teacher (Blatchford et al 2009, EEF, 2015, Alborz, Howes, Farrell, Pearson 2009, Russell and Blatchford 2016). This is not a rare finding, there is a wealth of research about head teachers being the driving force for change (Hallinger 2003), however in this context, reform can often be left to SENCOs or other members of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) if the SENCO is not part of it (Weber, Russell and Blatchford 2016). By taking the lead, head teachers can propose the new model, entwine it with the school vision and explain the desire to include, which ensures that TAs contributions are effective and bring results (Gross 2015).

Once this is in place SENCOs and head teachers need to strongly consider which model of support works best for the school. As previously discussed, there is no statutory procedure for TAs to follow, but there is evidence to show that early identification and targeted intervention can have a significant impact on SEN students’ attainment (Bach, Kessler and Heron 2006). This would suggest a more pedagogical role, which in turn, would trigger the need for training and CPD (Webster, Blatchford and Russell (2012), Bosanquet, Radford and Webster 2016).

Recognition of support staff and their role within a school setting was seen as ‘critical’ in Bedford et al (2008) research. It also mentions the relationship between teacher and TA. They go on to say that effective practice comes from an amalgamation of skills, systems, personal relationships and organisational culture. This would require additional training for Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) and existing teachers to make sure that their planning includes how they propose to use TAs to secure quality outcomes for all and that TAs are not becoming ‘substitute’ teachers for the lowest ability students (Warhurst, Nickson, Commander and Gilbert 2014).

One of the key findings of the DISS project was the importance of preparedness. Schools must consider appropriate time for planning with teachers and TAs to ensure collaborative working and effective management of TAs in the classroom (Blatchford et al 2012, Bedford et al 2008, Bach et al 2006). There are likely to be barriers surrounding the cost implications of finding additional time. However the long term impact on attainment will be more beneficial and a mutual respect of roles established (Wilson and Bedford 2008). To enable this to happen, schools need to give teachers and TAs planning time together and feedback time to discuss individuals or what the next steps are for everyone. If this is not given, it is unlikely that progress will be made and the job of the TA becomes ineffective (Bedford, Jackson and Wilson 2008).

Once a model of deployment has been agreed, SENCOs and senior leaders will then have to look seriously at support within the classroom (Bach, Kessler and Heron 2006). TAs need to understand the importance of higher order questioning and of allowing independence to grow over time. Bosanquet, Radford and Webster (2016) highlight the issues that TAs tend to give solutions or closed questions to SEN students in the classroom setting, rather than open questioning which encourages personal thinking. This could encourage dependency on additional adults. Webster, Blatchford and Russell (2013) raise concerns that TAs feel the need to ‘talk’ or complete tasks for students with SEN when they were not able to keep up with the rest of the class.  Without additional training, TAs will understandably revert to what they already know, even if it is detrimental to the students learning and encourages ‘learnt helplessness’ (Giangreco, Suter and Graf 2011).

Learning how to assess and monitor students to maximise their future learning, is a skill TAs will need to be taught (Bosanquet et al 2016). TAs are not qualified teachers, and so they will need to be shown the importance of ‘access, plan, do review’ which is considered best practice within the code of practice (DFE 2015).  Black and William (1998) agree and suggest that it is essential to collect information on all areas of students’ performance to gauge where they are in their current learning. In addition, teachers will need to use the monitoring done in their classrooms to inform their future planning, making it vital for continual dialogue between teachers and TAs.

Measurable, targeted interventions that are personalised to the needs of students need to be clearly identified and appropriate training given to those who will be delivering them (Bosanquet et al 2016). In addition, interventions need to be trustworthy and have research behind them with regards to impact, recording and analysis. Alongside this, Brooks (2013) explains:

“The outcome of Wave 2 intervention is for learners to be back on track to meet or exceed national expectations at the end of the key stage.” (p13)

With no formal qualification required to be a TA (DFE 2015) deploying TAs to their strengths  i.e. Literacy, Numeracy, Social Skills, Speech and Language, is going to have a far greater impact on outcomes than expecting TAs with a fixed mind-set that they do not have the relevant skills in e.g. Maths to lead interventions in this field (Blatchford, Russell and Webster (2012), Wilson and Bedford (2008)).

With classroom support and targeted intervention, adopting the Wider Pedagogical Role (WPR) requires a well thought out balance of time with regards to learning (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2012). SEN students must not fall into the trap of ‘separation’ from the highly skilled teachers they meet, lesson to lesson, but at the same time, they must have their needs met by targeted intervention if appropriate (Wilson and Bedford (2008), Radford, Bosanquet, Webster and Blatchford (2014)).

With the introduction of the Code of Practice (2015) schools will need to reflect on the relationships they have with parents. SENCOs will need to think creatively about how to share information with parents and incorporate additional meetings into their yearly plans (Gross 2015).  The government’s new White Paper (2016) identifies the importance of good communication between home and school and intend to open an online ‘parent portal’ which hopes to inform parents about the way their school works, what it offers and what they can do to help their children on their educational journey (The Key 2016).  With the correct training, TAs could be deployed to build trusting relationships with parents to help overcome some of the barriers parents have around the support of their children within school and the purpose behind the support offered (DFE 2011).

But what about the students’ voices? Schools have encouraged students to voice their opinion on many areas of teaching and learning (DFE 2013). School councils have been set up, where students lead meetings; discuss what is going well and what improvements they would like to see.  However, some research suggests that schools fear what might be said and have a sometimes overwhelming desire to ‘stay in control’ (Fielding 2001).

TAs are in an excellent position to encourage student voice (Briggs and Cunningham 2009, Bland and Sleightholme 2012). As research has shown, TAs spend the majority of the time with low achieving and SEN children (Blatchford et al 2009).  If they have a good relationship with the students they support then Fielding (2001) believes students will open up more fully because they like and trust the adult with them. In the past SEN students’ voice has been tokenistic, perhaps filling in a form or a tick sheet, rather than a dialogue and joint planning with those involved with them (Gross 2015). Most importantly, the student voice must be considered when statements are being reviewed or when transferring to an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) (CoP 2015). The TAs’ contribution to the whole process is crucial, especially if they have been monitoring students and discussing areas of concern with the class teachers (Gross 2015).

Conclusion

In this study, I have researched and discovered that TAs are on an evolving journey. There has been a significant increase in TAs since 2003 making up almost a quarter of today’s workforce in schools (DFE 2015).  The National Agreement was put in place to reduce work load, stress and retention for teachers and, upon reflection, this has been a positive move forward (OFSTED (2010), Webster, Russell and Webster 2016).  However, in times past, TAs have taken on a pedagogical, frontline role with little or no effect on the attainment of students, especially those children with SEN or having a statement (Blatchford et al (2009), Sutton Trust (2011)).  This is not because of the TA, for instance, Bosanquet et al (2016) have expressed how in their research TAs have been perceptive about the need for development in their practice, how they work conscientiously hard and how they are committed to supporting children in their care. Therefore the responsibility comes back to leaders who manage and deploy TAs within schools (Webster, Russell and Blatchford 2012). To ensure this TA journey is an enriching one for the students they support, change must start from the head teacher (Blatchford et al (2009), Gross (2015) Bosanquet et al (2016)).  In addition, senior leaders, teachers, TAs, parents and students, all need to be on-board and fully understand the model being put in place, confident that students will get the very best support towards being independent learners (Warhurst et al 2014).

The Wider Pedagogical Role (WPR) model is classed as best practice (Bosanquet et al 2016). Adopting this model could have a significant, positive impact on the whole school, ensuring that separations from teachers (the highly qualified specialists) are kept within reasonable limits (Webster, Russell and Blatchford 2016) Focusing on deployment, practice and preparedness for teacher and TAs embeds QFT, which is a statutory requirement of the code of practice (2015).  In addition the model emphasises the importance of quality assured interventions that are measurable and have impact (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2012).

Training TAs to lead and deliver effective interventions and monitor and record the progress made will empower TAs and raise their profiles (Giangreco, Suter, & Graf (2011), Webster (2013), Webster Russell and Blatchford 2016). Training TAs is crucial around ‘talk’; what to say when, when not to talk, when to prompt or model, the importance of letting the student become as independent as possible, looking at their understanding rather than their completion of tasks (Bosanquet et al 2016).

Time needs to be given to teachers and TAs for meaningful dialogue and feedback, once interventions have been completed, so that new skills can be applied in the classroom and sustained over time (Blatchford et al 2009). Time needs to be given to parents to help them understand why support is being given to their children and the outcomes that schools are hoping to achieve.  Parents need to be involved at every stage and given the opportunity to express their concerns and to be involved with the support given to their children (Code of practice (2015), Gross (2015)).

Children must have a voice in how they are supported. They need to know why they are taking part in interventions or why they have support in class (Bland and Sleightholme 2012). It is so that they can become independent and leave school prepared and able to join the workforce (Wilson and Bedford 2008).

Caution must be adhered to, however, as change does not come overnight.  It is much more a journey over time with peaks and troughs along the way (Bosanquet et al (2016), Blatchford, Russell and Webster (2016), Webster, Russell and Blatchford (2012).

 

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Bedford.D, Jackson. R, and Wilson. E (2008) New Partnerships for Learning: developing professional relationships with teaching assistants in England. Oxen. Routledge.

Best practice 2016 HLTA role and assessment. Available at: http://www.bestpracticenet.co.uk/hlta (Accessed 17 January 2016).

Black. P and Wiliam. D (1998) Inside the black box: raising standards through classroom assessment. London. GL Assessment Ltd.

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Original image: Teaching Assistant Orientation (TAO 2012) flickr.com