Mastery in Mathematics (6): Research and lesson adaption to fit the new GCSE curriculum

An Action Research project by Rory McMahon (Mathematics)

Aims of the Project

The aim of this project was to research ‘Mastery in Mathematics’ and the implications its’ introduction would have on our Faculty in terms of:

  • The new AQA Curriculum
  • Adjustments to the Scheme of Work
  • Alterations to lessons to promote ‘Mastery’

Background and context

This project started in response to the recent changes to the Maths curriculum which take effect from the 2017 GCSE’s. As a Faculty we looked to change our practice in light of the recent changes. The curriculum changes are as follows:

  • There is more content to teach with harder topics being introduced.
  • There is a greater emphasis on problem-solving and mathematical reasoning, with more marks in the GCSE exams being allocated to these higher-order skills.
  • The total examination time is increasing with all exams taken at the end of the course.
  • Students will also have to memorise formulae.
  • There is a new grade structure from 9 to 1, with fewer marks at the lower grades and more marks at the higher grades.

Actions taken

Peer observations to gauge the level of Mastery evident in lessons in September/October

As a Faculty all teachers took part in peer observations during Term 1 in an attempt to see good practice in action as well as gauge the level of ‘Mastery’ evident in existing lessons. Positive and constructive feedback was given and a discussion on how ‘Mastery’ could become more visible in lessons was held during Faculty meetings.

Scheme of Work changed from Kangaroo to AQA

The decision was made in January to make the switch from the Kangaroo scheme of work to the new AQA scheme to attempt to get pupils used to the new format in time for the start of the 2016-2017 academic year. Although it was thought to be a better move in the long run, there were some challenges to this approach. Firstly, a comparison of the schemes had to be made and topics which were covered already had to be crossed off.  However with the level of many topics increased, we needed to pick out sections of topics which students had not been previously been exposed to and teach those separately. Secondly, the increased difficulty of concepts and the change in focus to ‘Mastery’ proved to be difficult for students to adjust to. We were hoping they would adapt quickly to the problem solving nature of lessons as this was a style which they had not been previously used to.

Adaption of End of unit tests to support Mastery

End of Unit Tests now include Mastery style questions to build up resilience and retests are available and encouraged, so that students now have the key skills needed to succeed at this form of questioning. This is a work in progress which has been embraced by the pupils as they can see progression from the first sitting of the test to the second. It also gives them more opportunity to sample the type of examination questions they will be expected to answer in the coming years.

Further peer observations planned to see how Mastery is developing and lesson adjustments

Again in Term 3/4 the Maths Faculty undertook peer observations to observe the increase in focus towards ‘Mastery’ in lessons as standard practice. The Faculty was unanimous in the conclusion that Mastery questions were most easily integrated into the bell-work phase of the lesson or alternatively and possibly most effectively, during the Plenary phase. Personally, I found giving the students a ‘Mastery’ question as their plenary always challenged the pupils to think about the skills they had learnt in that lesson in a different way. Once the students spotted this they began to widen their horizons in terms of spotting links between different concepts learned. Some examples of Lesson alterations can be seen below.

Example 1

Our pupils in this case would have spent the majority of the lesson learning about the sum of the interior angles of polygons. In this question, they have to apply that knowledge but also represent their answers as fractions in their simplest form.

interior angles

Example 2

Factorising 1

A standard lesson on Factorising Expressions would concentrate on embedding the relevant skills needed as above. However, the Plenary to this lesson looks like the following slide below.


The students are encouraged to use a skill learned in the lesson to solve a different style of problem, thus establishing links between different concepts.

 Adoption of Eastern Asian styles of teaching (learning information)

 It is widely recognised that the countries of Eastern Asia out-perform their UK counterparts in relation to attainment of Mathematics in primary and secondary schools. International tests show that in these countries the percentage of 15-year-olds who are functionally innumerate – unable to perform basic calculations – was more than 10 percentage points lower than in England. As recently as 12/07/2016, news broke of a £41m support for 8,000 primary schools in England to adopt the approach which is used by the leading performers in Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The Eastern Asian method has the following features:

  • Emphasis on problem solving and comprehension, allowing students to relate what they learn and to connect knowledge
  • Careful scaffolding of core competencies of :
    • visualisation, as a platform for comprehension
    • mental strategies, to develop decision making abilities
    • pattern recognition, to support the ability to make connections and generalise
  • Emphasis on the foundations for learning and not on the content itself so students learn to think mathematically as opposed to merely reciting formulas or procedures.

As a Faculty we have tried to integrate the techniques of embedding skills in the minds of our students and then getting them to apply these skills to problems. Previous lessons would consist of teaching skills and then getting pupils to practice these skills for the remainder of the lesson. Now, our attention has changed to using and applying these skills to problem solving for real-life situations. 

On-going adaption of the Scheme of Work to include NRICH activities to further develop Mastery 

Before the focus on ‘Mastery’, the Maths Faculty always felt that problem solving was a crucial attribute for students to develop. This was enhanced by our used of ‘The Nrich Project’ from the University of Cambridge.

“NRICH is a team of qualified teachers who are also practitioners in RICH mathematical thinking. This unique blend means that NRICH is ideally placed to offer advice and support to both learners and teachers of mathematics.”

NRICH aims to:

  • Enrich the experience of the mathematics curriculum for all learners
  • Offer challenging and engaging activities
  • Develop mathematical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Show rich mathematics in meaningful contexts
  • Work in partnership with teachers, schools and other educational settings

For teachers of mathematics, NRICH:

  • Offer free enrichment material (Problems, Articles and Games) for all ages that really can help to inspire and engage learners and embed RICH tasks into everyday practice.
  • Help to promote RICH thinking in classrooms by offering on-line and face-to-face support at Primary and Secondary level.
  • Deliver professional development courses and workshops in rich mathematics.
  • Help teachers to think strategically about ‘next steps’ and progression in problem solving.

In 2014-2015 ‘NRICH lessons’ were held once per term to help enhance the problem solving skills of students. In 2015-2016 it was felt that the Faculty should conduct NRICH lessons once per fortnight as the shift in focus was becoming apparent at that stage. Moving forward, the Maths Faculty has created a bank of NRICH lessons to be used in conjunction with the new Scheme of Work for the academic year 2016-2017. Some snapshots of how these were integrated can be seen below.




As a Faculty, we have discussed the possible impact of our endeavours to adjust our teaching and learning to the new and challenging ‘Mastery’ curriculum. As this style of teaching and type of examination questions have been rolled out, students have become more familiar with the concept. Therefore, we can say there has been definite progress in the students’ familiarity with the style of future exam questions.

Secondly, we can state that the confidence of our pupils has increased with regard to structuring an answer for these questions. At the beginning of the year, receiving answers from students for bellwork and plenary ‘Mastery’ questions was a difficult ordeal! Gradually through practice and knowing they should be able to use some of the content they had covered in lessons, many were then able to attempt a reasonable answer. This developed over time so now we not only have our highest attaining students putting answers together but our bottom sets are also successful.

Finally, the AQA practice papers were an invaluable resource. As with the previous strategies, students found the change in structure and expectations very difficult to deal with. Therefore, we gave students the practice paper to attempt and gave them a grade. Once the papers were handed back, students could then go through the mark scheme with green pens to see where they could have picked up more marks. Also, answers that had four, five or even six steps were often broken down by the teachers for the class. Students then had the opportunity to re-sit the examination as a confidence building exercise. Slowly but surely the results for the first sitting of the tests began to improve but as a Faculty we realise this is a work in progress.


  • The new AQA Curriculum has been rolled out and used for six months this academic year (2015-16) allowing teachers the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the format and tests.
  • The new Scheme of Work has been adjusted to accommodate ‘NRICH’ lessons which we see as crucial to embedding a culture of problem solving across the department.
  • New lessons have been created and existing lessons have been amended to include ‘Mastery’ questions in the bellwork or plenary phases.
  • There is a confidence in the Faculty that we are ready to begin the 2016/2017 secure in our knowledge of the new requirements to ensure the continued progress of pupils in the Mathematics Faculty.


Department for Education (DfE). (2013a). National Curriculum in England: Framework Document. London: Department for Education.

Kilpatrick, J. Swafford, J. & Findell, B.(eds.)(2001). Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. Mathematics Learning Study Committee: National Research Council.

NCETM (2014a). Developing Mastery in Mathematics. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2014b). Video material to support the implementation of the National Curriculum. Available from: [Accessed 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2015). National Curriculum Assessment Materials. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 28th September 2015]

Ofsted  (2015) Better Mathematics Conference Keynote Spring 2015. Paper presented at the Better Mathematics Conference, Norwich, Norfolk.

Featured image: original image ‘Map of Mathematics Poster’ by Dominic Wallman, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0




Using E-Learning as an intervention tool for GCSE Science with Year 11 Students

An Action Research Project by Tom Nadin (Science)


The objective of this project is to research and implement e-learning strategies as a means of improving the progress and outcomes of key marginal students in GCSE (Core) Science.


As a school, we operate a key stage four model in which historically, the majority of students complete the GCSE Science course in year ten and GCSE Additional Science in year eleven. We also have a group of students completing the Separate Sciences course. Using this model, the majority of students are entered for all GCSE units and accreditation at the end of year ten. The exception to this is students who we do not feel to be ready to sit their exams at this point. Each year we also have a number of students who sit their GCSE examinations at the end of year ten but who are re-entered for these exams in year eleven. Almost always this is either at the school’s request because a student’s overall GCSE Science grade is below that expected, or because students or parents request a re-sit in order to improve their overall grade, in order to access college courses.

In the academic year 2014-15 the school entered 122 students for their GCSE Science exams at the end of year ten. Having consulted with teachers, parents and teachers, the decision was made to withdraw 18 students from these exams with a view to entering them at the end of year eleven. Although overall, the GCSE Science results for this cohort were pleasing the further decision was made to re-enter 29 students to re-sit their GCSE Science exams at the end of year eleven.

This presented the Science faculty with a particular set of challenges. 47 students were due to sit their GCSE Science exams alongside their GCSE Additional Science exams in the summer of 2016. This would place significant extra demands on these students, in terms of the number of science exams they would sit and especially in terms of the bulk of knowledge they would need to retain in order to achieve successful grades. By definition this group of students overwhelmingly consisted of students who either had not achieved, or were not on track to achieve their targeted grade at the end of year ten. This was for a variety of reasons but often underpinned by a failure to successfully access the curriculum and support offered to them in year ten, or by difficulties in retaining and applying the bulk of knowledge required. In other words, this group consisted largely of the very students least likely to be able to successfully overcome the challenges facing them.

As a faculty we were not in a position financially or logistically to offer significant additional in class support to these students so needed to think creatively about out of class solutions which would help these students to access and retain the knowledge required to succeed in their exams. Online E-learning packages such as SAM learning (to which the school subscribes), seemed to offer an avenue through which support could be provided and monitored effectively.


SAM learning is an online package consisting of student activities and online tests. Many of these are self-marking and can provide immediate feedback to both students and teachers. Activities can be set by teachers but can also be accessed independently by students. The school has subscribed to SAM learning for several years prior to the period of this investigation, and although it has been used by staff and students, for example for homework tasks and independent revision, it was yet to be used systematically by the Science faculty.

The functionality and accessibility of SAM learning seemed to provide a means through which interventions could be put in place for our targeted group of Y11 students. In addition to this, I was aware anecdotally of examples of SAM learning being used effectively to support revision and exam preparation at KS4, both in other departments in our school and in other local institutions. Although there appeared to have been little research done specifically in to the use of SAM learning as an intervention tool, there did seem to be robust evidence to support the view that consistent and regular use of SAM learning could lead to an improvement in student outcomes overall.

One of the most comprehensive studies into this area was conducted by the Fisher Family Trust (FFT). They investigated the effect of SAM learning on the progress and outcomes of 258 599 UK students between 2009 and 2011. The findings of this study seemed to suggest a strong link between the use of SAM learning and an improvement in student outcomes. For example the study found that on average 10 plus hours use of SAM learning led to students achieving 12.3 capped points scores higher than expected and that, although less significant, as little as between 2 and 10 hours study on SAM learning could lead to a measurable improvement in student outcomes as shown in figure one.

Fig 1

Figure 1. The actual and estimated attainment of students, with regards to their usage of E-learning.

This study also suggested that the group of students whose outcomes were improved most significantly by the use of SAM learning were those with the lowest achievement at KS2. This is summarised in figure 2. This was particularly interesting as many of the students in our intervention group were relatively low achievers at KS2.

Fig 2

 Figure 2. Value added performance with usage of E-learning in relation to prior attainment.

Most interestingly the results of the FFT study seemed to indicate that as little as two ten minute sessions per week could have a measureable impact on outcomes in Science and that more than ten hours spent on SAM learning would on average, improve outcomes by a third of a grade. These findings are summarised in figure 3.

Fig 3

Figure 3. Value added performance in core subjects with usage of E-learning.

Other research appeared to support the view that SAM learning could act as a valuable intervention tool, especially for students with a back ground of lower or under-achievement. For example an American study (Jorgensen, 2010), stressed the potential effectiveness of SAM learning in providing accessible interactive and scaffolded learning. She also stressed the program’s potentially positive impact on disengaged learners in academic and content-rich subjects such as Science.

The research seemed to suggest that SAM learning was worth exploring for use as an intervention tool with our targeted group of students in Y11.


Having made the decision to use SAM Learning as an intervention tool, it was essential to devise a programme through which it could be effectively introduced and delivered to students and monitored by members of staff. I also felt that the interventions were likely to be most effective if they integrated a range of resources and activities, drawing on existing best practice, rather than using SAM learning as a stand-alone intervention. As such, the faculty and I decided on the following actions;

  • Each student in the intervention group would be allocated a member of teaching staff as a mentor. This member of staff would ensure that the student had access to appropriate resources and would monitor and support their use. They would also be the first point of contact with home.
  • Each student would be provided with a paper revision guide and GCSE Science workbook. The staff mentor would discuss this with students and monitor their use.
  • Each student was provided with a content specific, personalised learning checklist (PLC). This had been modified so that once students had identified specific areas of need, they could reference the appropriate activities both in the revision guide/workbook and in SAM learning. Figure 4 provides an example of such a PLC

Fig 4b

Figure 4. PLC, showing specific links to revision guide and SAM learning activities

These PLCs were designed to make students’ use of SAM learning (and other revision resources), more effective by allowing them to target their efforts on the areas of greatest need.

  • It proved relatively easy to set up a group in SAM learning which contained all of the students in the intervention group. This enabled me to set the relevant tasks for the students concerned. I made the decision to set all of the Core Science tasks up front, giving students the opportunity to complete them at their own pace. I felt that this would allow them to use their PLCs to identify and then work on key areas of the subject content.
  • The interventions were tracked at the faculty level though mentors regularly updating a central spreadsheet indicating when actions had taken place. Figure 5 shows an excerpt from this tracking grid.

Fig 4a

Figure 5. An excerpt from the faculty interventions tracking grid.

  • Mentors regularly met with the intervention students in order to discuss their exam preparation and their use of resources. Having set the SAM learning tasks, I was able to monitor their usage online.


Initial analysis of the GCSE Science headline figures in 2016 suggested that the results were pleasing. Overall, students had exceeded national expectations in terms of outcomes and progress. This is summarised in figure 6.

Fig 8

Figure 6. Summary of achievement in GCSE Science 2016.

These results also suggested a modest, but significant improvement in results from those achieved and/or predicted by/for these students in the summer of 2015. Taking into account the predicted grades of the students who were not entered for GCSE Science in Y10, the percentage of students achieving A* to C grades had increased from 52% to 57% and the percentage of students making at least three levels of progress has increased from 51% to 57%. Both of these gains were particularly significant as they pushed faculty outcomes above national expectations.

It was clear that students had made limited, yet significant gains. It also appeared that the interventions we had put in place had had some impact. Of the 47 students in the intervention group, 16 (34%) had improved by one or more grade from year ten to year eleven in GCSE Science. Interestingly, of the 18 students that we did not enter for GCSE examination in Y10, only 4 (22%), improved their grade, whereas 12 of the 29 students (41%), who did take GCSE Science in Y10, but re-sat in Y11, improved their grade.

It also appeared that the use of SAM learning had had some impact on student outcomes, both for the targeted intervention group of students and perhaps unexpectedly, across the whole year group. SAM learning usage reports in June 2016 suggested that use of SAM learning across the year group in Science had increased by over 200% on the previous year, and that students in our school were on average marking greater use of SAM learning than the national average. Although it is impossible to link this usage with outcomes across the faculty, the research suggests that it is likely that it did have a positive impact. It seems likely that the raised profile of SAM learning and the distribution of resources such as the amended PLCs to students outside the target group led to increased use of SAM learning across the year group.

Specific analysis of the outcomes of students in the targeted intervention group also proved to be very interesting, especially when compared to usage of SAM learning. This is summarised in Figure 7.

Fig 6

* Based on national transition matrices.

Figure 7. SAM Learning usage and change in GCSE Science grade from year ten to year eleven.

Indicates where a student did not sit GCSE Science in Y10. The grade shown here is the teacher assessed grade.

Although there does not appear to be a direct correlation between use of SAM learning and an improvement in outcomes (and detailed statistical analysis would be needed to show this), there do appear to be some patterns.

  • 14 of the 16 students who had improved their grades had spent at least some time on SAM learning.
  • Of the 24 students who had spent at least 30 minutes on SAM learning 12 (50%), had made an improvement in their grade.
  • Of the 23 students who had spent less than half an hour, or no time on SAM learning 4 (17%), had made an improvement in their grade.
  • 2 of the 3 students with the highest usage of SAM learning made no improvement to their grade.
  • It appears that girls were more likely than boys to use SAM learning, with girls accessing SAM learning for an average of 2.40 hours and boys for an average of 1.45 hours. Twelve boys did not access SAM learning at all compared to 7 girls who did not. Interestingly this difference seemed to correspond with a slight but not significant difference in improvement of outcomes with 7 out of 24 boys (29%) and 9 out of 23 (39%) girls improving their grades.


It does appear that the interventions used with this cohort of students had a limited, yet significant (in terms of improved outcomes for the faculty), effect on students’ grades between year ten and year eleven. This view is supported by analysis showing that 34% of students in the intervention group improved by at least one grade. This improvement was more marked in girls (39%), than it was in boys (29%). It was also notable that more students improved their grade having first taken the exams in year ten (39%), then re-sat in year eleven, than those who were withdrawn in year ten and sat for the first time in year eleven (22%).

It is impossible to demonstrate a causal relationship between these improvements in grades and the use of SAM learning. No attempt was made to control other variables which may have had an impact on student outcomes. All students had access to a range of intervention resources, for example revision guides and work books as well as SAM learning. In many cases students who had high usage of SAM learning also regularly accessed and used other resources. Indeed, those students who were most willing to access and use SAM learning were usually those who were best motivated in general and most willing to seek support from their mentors and indeed to access other resources. However, there does seem to be a tentative relationship between use of SAM learning and an improvement in grades. Fourteen of the sixteen students who made an improvement in their grades had spent some time working on SAM learning with 50% of students who accessed SAM learning for more than half an hour seeing an improvement in their grades. A gender difference in SAM learning was also apparent, with girls being much more likely to use SAM learning and likely to spend longer using it in total, than boys.

It seems at least possible, although it is by no means proved by this piece of research, that the use of SAM learning has had a positive impact on outcomes for students retaking GCSE Science in our school. However, further more detailed research, with an attempt to control other potentially contributing variables, would be needed to demonstrate a positive correlation, let alone a causal relationship.

Next steps

This piece of action research has provided me with the opportunity to learn some valuable lessons in to how to provide effective interventions. I will be able to apply this learning and improve the package we offer to the current year eleven. It has also raised some interesting questions that could form the basis for further research.

Learning, to be applied to the current year eleven:

  • SAM learning is a valuable intervention tool. It allows students to access and assess learning independently. We will be using it again with the current year eleven
  • SAM learning is especially effective when combined with a self-diagnosis system, such as the PLCs as this allows students to direct their effort to the areas where it is most needed. Again, we will make sure that these are available for use with the current year eleven.
  • This research supports the view that SAM learning has a positive impact on student outcomes, although it by no means proves it. We will make sure that current students are aware of this and of the potential gains to be made by the regular use of SAM learning.
  • Girls appear to be more likely to access SAM learning than boys. In the current Y11, boys will need more monitoring and support than girls.
  • Out mentoring was not always effective in leading students (especially boys), to consistently use SAM learning. We will need to consider more effective ways in which mentoring and support can be offered.

Possible areas for further research:

  • Is there a causal relationship between the use of SAM learning and improved outcomes in GCSE Science, especially for previously underachieving students?
  • What is the relative effectiveness of SAM learning as an intervention tool compared with more traditional paper based resources, for example revision guides and work books?
  • Are girls more likely to access SAM learning than boys? Why might this be?

References and further reading

Fisher Family Trust (2012), Impact of E.Learning.

Jorgensen M. (2010), An intervention that works – SAM Learning.

Featured image: By GNOME icon artists (HTTP / FTP) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or LGPL (, via Wikimedia Commons

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)

The Awkward Mole

A sharing best practice post by Jodie Johnson (Mathematics)

This activity sharpens up pupils’ ability to precisely follow a particular process to complete a specific task.  These examples come from Maths but they could apply equally well to any process in any subject.  For instance, ‘constructing a perpendicular bisector on a line’, ‘bisecting an angle’, ‘drawing an equilateral triangle’ etc., etc.


Step 1: Pupils A and B sit back to back with Pupil A facing the teacher/board with an incomplete worksheet (see above)

Step 2: The teacher silently demonstrates the process to complete a task on the board.  Pupil A copies the teacher’s demonstration onto their worksheet.

Step 3:  Without changing position Pupil A now explains to Pupil B how to complete the process on their worksheet by giving clear verbal instructions (they are not allowed to look at what Pupil B is doing)

Step 4: Pupil A and B look at the results and discuss the instructions given (were they specific?, were they clear?, how could they be more precise? how could they be improved), in order to refine and perfect them.

Step 5: (Here is where the ‘awkward mole’ comes in!)  You now invite a ‘random’ pupil to come up to the front and follow the instructions they are given by another member of the class to demonstrate how to complete the process in front of the class.  Unknown to the rest of the class you have primed the ‘random pupil’ to be your ‘awkward mole’ and instructed them to be as awkward as possible when following the other pupil’s instructions – to take instructions literally, to deliberately ‘misunderstand’ ambiguous instructions and so on.  The onus is then on the pupil giving the instructions to refine their thinking and instructions until they succeed in getting the mole to ‘get it right’!

In one case a pupil instructed the mole to ‘draw an arc’, so that’s what he did with Noah and the animals too!

You can prime more than one pupil to be your mole in the lesson and don’t forget to reverse the roles for pupils A and B so they both get a turn.

Featured image: Mick E. Talbot, Mr Mole, CC BY-SA 3.0


Establishing a Framework to Support Independent Revision

An Action Research Project by Darragh McMullan (Humanities)


The focus for this will be year 10 students going into year 11. From previous experience and with the increasing demands on students to undertake exam revision, I feel students need to be clear what areas of a course they are weaker in and what areas they need to focus on more specifically for revision. This is not taking away from the fact that students still need to revisit the whole course but it can enable them to attend specific revision sessions and target certain areas in the run up to exams.


I set out to use PIXL to track students’ knowledge of topics in year 10. This was achieved by creating simple 10 question knowledge tests on the key points for that unit. Based on what students achieved they would receive a Green, Amber, Red rating. This was recorded in their books for their reference and also on an Excel spread sheet. This would enable targeting of students at revision time.


Students can then prioritise attendance at revision sessions for areas of weakness. In these sessions I do not want them to be a similar lesson to the one taught the previous year. I feel the best way for students to revise independently is using learning mats (see below). This includes all the key questions students need to know for particular units. Students can find and discuss these questions in revision sessions with the teacher becoming a facilitator, helping students, answering questions and stretching students.


Next Steps

Taking this further I have begun to look at exam questions and how this can be tracked to enable students to see what questions they need to concentrate on. I have also started to develop revision packs that include these questions as HW.


This will enable HW to be set as a revision task with students looking at the different types of exam questions to enable them to practise these throughout the year. These questions will include mark schemes and suggested sentence starters so students are clearer about what is required for that particular question. This can again be recorded and students can be guided to practise certain questions that they are weaker on.


The aim will be to ensure that at the end of the course students are clear what knowledge they need to revise, what questions they need to practice and will have the revision materials (learning mat, revision guides) to complete independent revision.


Featured image:   Adams Monumental Illustrated Panorama of History (1878) By Creator:Sebastian C. Adams [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Silent Conversations

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Jodie Johnson (Mathematics)

“Shhh! We’re going to have a silent conversation…”

An unusual instruction to a class but one that can help to focus thinking and forge collaboration amongst pupils.  How?  Well listen in…

Working in pairs, the class are given a series of questions of varying levels of difficulty.  Their challenge is to answer the questions in silence.  Partners can ‘ask’ each other as many questions as they like, as long as they do so in writing.  At the end of the activity pairs can then demonstrate to their peers or to the class, how they would solve the problem…in silence just like they will have to do in an exam!

By taking it in turns to solve each step of the problem everybody is engaged and by being allowed to ‘ask’ questions they can help each other get ‘unstuck’ when necessary.  The focus on the written demonstration of the solution helps cement the process needed to reach the solution.

Here’s an example of some worked solutions shared (in silence) by pupils with the rest of the class:


Featured image:  ‘Silence’ (original image) by Alberto Ortiz on (license CC-BY-NC-ND 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.


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.


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).


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).


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.


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?


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).


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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Original image: Teaching Assistant Orientation (TAO 2012)


Encouraging pupil motivation in MFL through email and project exchanges with schools in Spain

An Action Research project by Iranzu Esparza (MFL)


To encourage pupils’ motivation, progress and interest in MFL through an email and project exchange with a Spanish speaking school

Background and context

It is important to bring language to life through engaging teaching and learning materials and through direct contact with native speakers. Although some of our students have the opportunity to travel to Spanish speaking countries with their families, not all do, and those who go on holidays tend to stay in English and international resorts where the need to speak in Spanish to communicate is minimal. Therefore, I decided to set up an email and project exchange with a school in a Spain to provide the students with the opportunity to communicate with native students of their age with the a view to encouraging their motivation and enhancing their progress.  Also, two of my GCSE students had approached me and asked about conversation lessons with native speakers to further develop their speaking skills. I thought ‘ePals’ could help them.


The first exchange with a school in Málaga

I registered with ePals (a safe, on-line platform for project exchanges between schools all around the world) and was contacted by a school in Málaga.

We paired the students from both countries with individuals of similar abilities and interests. It was agreed that each student would write a presentation about themselves in the language they were studying and would add a final paragraph in their mother tongue.

On a practical level a number of problems arose during the process:

1) The teacher with whom the link was made was not the teacher of the Spanish group involved, but the coordinator for extracurricular activities. Any decision or plan had to go through her to the class teacher, who did not have the same motivation or time for the project as she did.

2) The Spanish school was very small and had limited ICT facilities, which made any direct Skype exchange between students on pre-prepared questions and answers impossible. They could not take a whole class to an ICT room at a time either therefore Spanish students could not complete their presentations and email them from school. As a result, some of my pupils were getting messages and others who had less motivated Spanish ePals, were not.

3) Problems with the ePals site for a period of time meant that the students lost the spontaneity to exchange messages with their Spanish ePals directly, since all exchanges had to go via their teacher email, who had to forward them to the teacher in the other country. This generated a considerable workload for the teachers too.

Conclusions from this first exchange

For future exchanges to work effectively:

1) The partner school needs to be interested exclusively in an exchange of work between students.

2) The school needs to have sufficient ICT facilities.

3) The teacher involved in the partner school needs to be the teacher of the students to avoid delays and also to agree on the topics, dates and activities.

4) An alternative platform to ePals had to be found to enable students to exchange emails directly with their e-partners safely. This system also had to enable teachers to monitor the messages in the interests of e-safety.

Impact of the first exchange

Although the overall result of this first exchange was not as successful as hoped, my students produced some lovely compositions about themselves in Spanish for their ePals. They enjoyed getting their ePals’ messages and finding out about them. They also exchanged Christmas Cards and swapped parcels with typical Christmas foods from both countries.

Some students in the class were highly motivated writing or skyping in Spanish and gaining confidence at communicating with native speakers of their own age.

The second exchange with a school in Lleida

I discussed with our Network Manager possible alternatives to ePals and we decided new school Google accounts and passwords could be created for my students. These could be safely monitored by the school. Then I set out to find a new partner school. I established contact with a school in Lleida, Catalonia. The Spanish teacher was the Head of MFL and an expert who had been running educational projects and exchanges for many years. She was very motivated and committed and so we decided to embark in a new, challenging but exciting, Prezi exchange project.

My year 10 students and their Spanish counterparts would be working in groups of 3 or 4 with their classmates producing Prezi presentations for their partner group. The Spanish teacher would guide me through a process she was familiar with. We would produce two presentations on topics that would fit in with the requirements of the GCSE syllabus of my year 10 group. The topics were: Myself and personal interests/ My school.

The Prezi programme is free for schools enabling them to create group presentations where each member of the group can upload contents individually. By clicking on the different images and texts you navigate through the group page. Thanks to our Network Manager’s technical support, each student uploaded a text presentation about themselves in the target language and also in their native language. They added their voice recording to the texts in languages, pictures and some even video clips of themselves showing what our school is like. The Spanish teacher sent me models of previous Prezis her students had made. Our network manager also created Google accounts for each of the groups to send me their presentations to be checked. The idea was that they would also be able to use these accounts to communicate with their Spanish partner group.

The final outcome and presentations were highly impressive. This is a sample of what my students produced:

Unfortunately the process to produce them was less enjoyable than the outcome and we met a good number of problems along the way.

The Spanish school students were familiar with the Prezi format and met outside lesson time or worked independently from home uploading their work. I took my group to an induction to Prezi programme session in our ICT room. They grouped themselves although I chose who would be the leader in each group. Our network manager led the training and by the end of the session they had all created the Prezi group main page and understood the basics of the programme.

The computer room was only available once in a fortnight in the timeslots I taught the group. That meant the students had to finish the presentations independently as homework. They were using the same texts they had emailed their previous pen pals in Málaga, therefore initially it seemed a straight forward task. There were problems in trying to record and upload sound files and the network manager had to record most of the students in lesson time.

Since the students were preparing a presentation without having met their pen-pal group and without having had any contact with them, it felt just like working on a group project. By the time the groups had swapped presentations many of my year 10 group had lost motivation: they were also facing exam pressures. The whole process became demanding and was taking away focus and energy from GCSE preparation.

Conclusions from the second exchange

1) Email and projects exchanges have to be carried out with year groups when they do not have exam pressure to avoid interference with assessments and preparation. A year 9 would have been ideal. Alternatively a year 8 group would have also been suitable.

2) Prezi is a fantastic programme for MFL enabling students to add texts, voice and video in the target language and in their own language for the partner school to listen to. However it would have been better to start with an email exchange between groups and then proceed to the Prezi exchange. Had the students been in contact with their ePals before embarking on a demanding task, their motivation would have been higher to impress and communicate with them.

3) To produce Prezis it is necessary to have access to the computer room for a number of consecutive lessons to ensure they are completed. It is also necessary to have ICT support unless you are familiar with the program. These projects require and encourage independence in the students. The students love working cooperatively in groups, each individual doing research composing a paragraph on a different aspect of the topic and then assembling them all together in a final presentation.

4) It is preferable to plan the number and type of exchanges (video/email/Prezis) beforehand and when it is suitable to carry them out making them fit within the scheme of work. For example, in future exchanges I would start in September with a simple email exchange where students introduce and write about themselves in the target language. Then the students could send written tasks composed in the ICT room at the end of the Autumn and Spring terms on a topic already covered in lessons, for example a PowerPoint or Word presentation about my home town, my hobbies etc. Then, at the end of the year, in July, there would be time to embark on a more demanding project like a Prezi exchange or making a video.

5) For these exchanges to work out, the contents of the messages and projects need to be what has been covered in lessons. This also enhances motivation to learn, since the students know their ePals will be the recipients of what they have been producing throughout the term.  This simpler approach would make them a more realistic activity for busy teachers.

5) Again, like with the first exchange, it is important to emphasize to the partner school what type of projects you are interested in to ensure a match.


In a survey of pupils, when asked how motivating they had found the exchange projects as part of learning Spanish, 7% said ‘highly motivating’, 57% ‘motivating’, 29% ‘of little motivation’ and 7% ‘not motivating at all’.

Pupils also felt that, school trips, feeling they were making good progress and interesting and fun lessons, were the three most motivating factors in learning Spanish.

Email exchange projects, better career opportunities and the possibility of using the target language on holidays, were valued factors for a good number of students although a minority of pupils did not consider these to be as motivating.

In a questionnaire about their experience of the exchange projects the feedback was as follows:

64% of students only communicated with their ePals when the teacher gave a task related to the project, 14% communicated on a regular, almost daily basis and 29% communicated with their ePals weekly. The majority had only contacted their epal via the email provided by the school, but the most used media after that was instagram with one student using Skype on a regular basis. Two students had also exchanged MSN messages and used Whatsapp.*(see note about e-safety)

Regarding the choice of language, the majority of our students wrote in Spanish and their epal replied in English, followed by a good number that wrote in English and received replies in English too. This second choice is not so conducive to learning Spanish! A minority wrote in English and received replies in Spanish or even wrote in Spanish and were answered in Spanish. However, most students used 2 of these 4 alternatives instead of only 1 consistently.

Most conversations revolved around the topics of friendship, interests, hobbies and school, with only 2 students asking their ePals for support with their Spanish homework.

The majority of the students felt it helped them improve because “I made the effort to understand them”, “I had actual conversations”, “I could talk to them about my daily life”, “It was fun”.

The three students who felt unmotivated explained that they were writing in English and their ePals replied in English, therefore there was no learning or excitement about the exchanges.

Regarding what could have been done differently these were cited; “better suited ePal partners”, “more chances to talk to them during lessons and on Skype” activities taking place in class and not as part of homework”.

The majority of the students enjoyed the exchange with Malaga more because it was more personal and they communicated more often. They also valued the exchange of typical Christmas foods. Two of the students preferred the exchange with Lleida because they enjoyed working with their friends in groups making the Prezis and they felt it was more structured.

Therefore, it is clear that an exchange where students can communicate independently via a safe platform that can be monitored is clearly preferable to more complicated group presentations using Prezi. Also, students value more one to one exchanges because they are more personal to group work exchanges.

Although both projects ran their course and finished, they have been an invaluable source of information about our students’ preferences and how to successfully carry out email or ICT based exchanges taking into account the demands of the curriculum and the demands they make on teachers’ time.


Maintaining e-safety throughout the exchange was a priority, with information and consent forms shared with parents, expectations clearly laid out with students and platforms used which allowed interactions to be monitored. However pupils’ knowledge and use of social media meant that a number of students did use other media, such as Whatsapp and Instagram to communicate with their partners.

Sources/ Links/References

– What research says about using ICT in Modern Foreign languages:

-Key Motivational Factors and How Teachers Can Encourage Motivation in their Students Aja Dailey, University of Birmingham,

-To find partner schools:

The British council website:

The ePals website:

To get started with the Prezi programme

Nurturing and Developing Artistic Creativity at KS3

An Action Research project by Matt Hodge (Art & Design)

Aim of the project:

The aim of this project is to develop strategies for developing individual creativity on male pupils at KS3.


  1. Examine where the differences lie between the theoretical art education and actual art education in England.
  2. Investigate the nature of good practice from the perspective of creativity and compare to good practice under the current framework for high schools.
  3. Develop a strategy for increasing creativity in schools within the current framework.


In 1999 John Swift and John Steers wrote A Manifesto for Art In Schools. The paper called for a new form of Art education in our schools that promoted difference, plurality and independence of mind. These desires and thoughts have been echoed by others interested in the study of Art education and justification for the inclusion of Art education in National Curriculum, for example Burgess and Addison (2000) and Siegusmund (1998). Many issues raised in the manifesto have already been addressed, specialist teachers appear at primary level and the previous National Curriculum for Art primarily addressed creativity, confidence and cultural awareness (The National Curriculum, 2007). Whilst Art education may have appeared to move towards a freer model, the reality painted by teaching colleagues is different.  The limiting assessment criteria, that pupils and teachers have to abide by prevents true creativity and relies upon formulaic progression of activities (Hardy, 2002) and evidenced by the current GCSE assessment criteria. In order to achieve good grades, teachers put pupils through a tried and tested formula with minimal room for individuality.


Initially the project was to focus on boys’ progression but engagement in the project through the originally planned extracurricular clubs after school was minimal. The club was attended by a handful of pupils but they soon dropped off. Opening the club to male and female pupils saw numbers briefly increase however these numbers soon tailed off. The open nature of pupils finding things they were interested in may have been too challenging. Pupils would easily find an image they wanted to turn into a piece of Art but struggled to consider technique and methods. This is where pupils needed much tighter instruction.

To adapt the project to produce viable outcomes I adapted my teaching strategies to focus on assessment rather than instruction at KS3, taking the role of ‘facilitator’ rather than front and centre teacher. Initial direction and themes for projects were given to pupils of both sexes but from this point the majority of instruction came through assessment rather than teacher led direction. This allowed pupils to complete work at a pace they were comfortable with, which in some cases, particularly among female pupils, has driven up quality. They still seek guidance and help but this has become much more of a two way conversation about ways progression is possible rather than what do I do now.

Photographs and commentary

Pictures 1,2,3

Outcomes from a project based on Harry Potter Death Eaters. Pupils developed individual ideas in response to a field trip, using generic instructions for what is expected to be seen in a design task. Pupils were required to gather their own resources and develop their own ideas drawing on a number of sources. Pupils were given basic instruction in how to construct the mask but once completed had to develop their own methods for adding details.


Picture 4

Pupils independently chose and studied a variety of Artists before being tasked to appropriate techniques to a portrait of a member of staff.


Pictures 5,6,7

The same generic task assessment sheet was used multiple times to familiarise pupils with the expectations of the assignment. This allowed pupils to best explore their techniques and methods as they knew the framework they would be assessed against in detail. The process allowed pupils to manage their own time and expectations of progress between tasks.



Picture 8, 9, 10

Resources and initial design ideas produced by pupils to inspire their Harry Potter Death Eater masks.


Picture 11

Clear and explicit outcomes requirements allowed the pupil to find a personal hook to maintain their interest. The pupil was able to succeed as they could pick their own topic / theme within the intended outcome.

Next steps

  1. Develop a foundation based curriculum to build initial directed skills in early KS3 covering basic needed skills and techniques.
  2. Develop further independence, confidence and resilience in self-directed study.
  3. Offer pupils a range of starting points for projects (artist or subject based) to allow them to develop their own course of study, fitting assessment criteria into the tasks, not the task into the assessment criteria.


Burgess, L. and Addison, N. (2004, 2nd ed.) Contemporary Art in Schools: Why Bother? in R. Hickman, (Ed.) Art Education 11-18 – Meaning, Purpose and Direction. London: Continuum.

Hardy, T. (2002) AS Level Art: Farewell to the ‘Wow’ Factor? Journal of Art and Design Education. Vol.21 No.2

QCA (2007) The National Curriculum. London: QCA

Siegesmund, R. (1998) Why Do We Teach Art Today? Conceptions of Art Education and Their Justification. Studies in Art Education. Vol.39 No.3.

Swift, J and Steers, J (1999) A Manifesto for Art in Schools. Journal of Art and Design Education. Vol.18 No.1


Approaches to Teaching in a Knowledge Based Curriculum

An Action Research Project by Daniel James (Computing)

Focus of Project

In deciding on a focus for my Action Research (AR) Project I had to consider what were the biggest influence and challenges that I would face as a teaching professional over the next 12 months or more. It was with this hat on that I decided the biggest challenge would be the move from a skill-based ICT KS4 curriculum to a knowledge based Computing curriculum.

It is worth noting that as teachers I believe we would say we have always been teaching in a knowledge based curriculum, with our main goal being to provide students with the information (and skills) that will assist them in the future. However in 2013 Michael Gove brought this area of education centre stage. As a result, what we once considered to be a knowledge based curriculum did not contain enough knowledge. The new knowledge based curriculum was born.

At first the approach I took to my action research project was to look through some well known teaching pedagogies, including; de Bono’s Hats[1], Solo Taxonomy[2] and The Flipped Classroom[3]. Although these provided ideas for specific teaching approaches; such as providing students with different perspectives within which to approach tasks or different levels by which to structure understanding. I believed they muddied the water of how to approach teaching in an increasingly knowledge based curriculum because they focused on other aspects of learning and in particular would have needed embedding with students before they impacted upon learning.

It was with this research in hand that I decided that my focus would be on two generic approaches to teaching, that of the independent student-led approach and the teacher-led approach. The outcome of which would be the answer to the question: How best to teach in a knowledge based curriculum?


The objective of this Action Research is to investigate approaches to teaching within the new knowledge based curriculum. I will be investigating the learning differences between a teacher-led approach and a student-led approach. The end objective is to determine which approach facilitates more effective learning from the students.

The Knowledge Based Curriculum

In March 2011 Alison Wolf produced The Wolf Report[4] reviewing the state of vocational education. This report led the way to the GCSE and vocational reforms seen over recent years. The Wolf Report concluded that “Good vocational programmes are, therefore, respected, valued and an important part of our, and any other country’s educational provision. But many vocational students are not following courses of this type”[5].

This then paved the way for the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to announce changes to the curriculum across all stages of education. He detailed that students needed to have a “stock of knowledge”[6] and that “unless you have knowledge … all you will find on Google is babble”.

The impact of this was the slimming down of the number of accredited GCSE and vocational subjects, increasing the knowledge needed for the courses that remained to be accredited and the introduction of a new attainment and progress standard for schools (Attainment and Progress 8[7]).

In September 2015 the first of these new GCSE’s was being taught in Maths and English, with the rest of the curriculum to follow in 2016. The subsequent Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, outlined the importance of this new knowledge curriculum in a speech delivered in January 2015. “At the heart of our reforms has been the determination to place knowledge back at the core of what pupils learn in school”[8]. From this point onwards it was clear that knowledge over skills was going to be the academic currency on offer.

This educational change seemed to be at odds with the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI), where they were insisting that there was a skills shortage from young people leaving education. In 2015 the CBI published a report into the educational climate; this report was titled “Inspiring Growth”[9].

The report suggested that the government reforms should provide young adults with the correct attitudes for work. Findings included that employers looked for attitudes and aptitudes before formal qualifications and that employers look for a combination of academic and vocational studies. You can draw your own conclusions from the study but I see it as a counter argument for the wholly knowledge based curriculum that all students must complete; it seems to be at odds with such a curriculum.

Educational Pedagogies

Joe Kirby, in Pragmatic Education December 2013[10], suggests that there is a distinct difference in the approaches to skills and knowledge and that “These are contrasting mind-sets; they result in different pedagogies”.

He argues that knowledge based learning “prioritises memory, instruction and practice”, with the aim for pupils being to “know, understand, remember recall…connect their knowledge”.

Kirby suggests that skill-led learning facilitated by constructivism provides variety at the expense of clarity; he says “Cognitivism and knowledge-led instruction prioritise clarity and memory to avoid confusion and forgetting”. He advocates the knowledge approach: “In a nutshell, variety [constructivism] is a distraction”. Knowledge-led learning is best because of its scientific approach in which there is a formulaic approach to learning with a tried and tested method of delivery (e.g. the three part lesson). This approach is also backed up by Scott[11] on his blog, where he discusses skill based versus knowledge based learning.

Headguruteacher[12], in 12 principles of effective teaching January 2016, highlights, in his blog, that one of the 12 principles of effective teaching as being “Tool them up”, which commented on providing the students with the resources to enable them to learn with or without a specialist teacher in the room, however he noted “not all students can use these materials readily and need to be shown how.”

Headguruteacher also commented that teaching for memory was an important principle, “They [students] need strategies to do this; primarily lots of practice”. Interestingly the 12th and final principle of effective teaching centred on the two approaches I investigated during this Action Research project. He titled it as “Get some balance”, in which he recommended that teaching should be 80% “Mode A” teacher which is straight, rigorous cycles of explanation, model content, practice and feedback. The further 20% was “Mode B” teacher which uses awe and wonder and open-ended exploration to achieve deeper learning.

These studies stood out among the reading completed for this research as they had direct relevance for my classroom focused project. I used a combination of these in my own approach. This is detailed in the next section.

My Approaches and Actions

Having chosen to look at both student-led and teacher-led approaches I decided to split my two approaches over two periods of time so as to get direct comparisons. The first approach was a student-led approach. The idea behind this was to provide students with a guide as to what information they needed to know and what knowledge they needed to acquire (success criteria).

The emphasis in this approach was on the students being independent in finding out the knowledge, researching and clarifying ideas and theories in their own way.


figure 1

An example of this approach is the Frog VLE page (figure 1) in which success criteria are provided and the task set was for students to develop their own understanding in the three main areas as outlined in the blue file link boxes.

This approach was continued over a number of lessons until an end of topic test was complete. This provided evidence about the students learning under this method.

The next approach was to use a teacher led approach in which the students made notes from the teacher presentations while verbal explanation was also provided. This was then cemented by questions about the content they have just heard.

This approach negated the need for independent work and concentrated on the students’ ability to process the information they have just received.

An example of this approach is the series of slides taken from the KS4 computing module on data representation (figure 2 and 3). In this topic the knowledge element was very high and beyond what students had done before in computing. The combination of teacher led knowledge and questions to cement knowledge were used over a number of lessons.

figure 2                                                        figure 3

At the end of the trial of both approaches undertaken, the students were, as a class, interviewed and their results used alongside work scrutiny and classroom observation to formulate the findings which are detailed below.


The student-led approach had a variety of impacts on student learning. The first being that those students who had been resilient when finding this approach challenging found that they were better able to understand a topic. They believed that “they were better able to put it into their own thinking”. Some of the students who struggled with this method said that they liked the openness of tasks but that they needed more boundaries as it was “easy to go off task”. They felt that if a worksheet had been provided to place the information in they may have had more chance of progressing well.

The work scrutiny backed this up but I found that even when a worksheet was given, some did not complete it due to the openness of the task and the challenging nature of having to find the knowledge for themselves. (See image evidence below).

A student’s work without worksheet guidance: success criteria and then independent research and production of evidence of completing task. It is worth noting this is a B grade target student who at this point was working around the C grade (figure 4).


figure 4

A student’s work with worksheet guidance: This allowed students to concentrate on their own knowledge acquisition. As you can see there are gaps which had to be filled with teacher explanation as the student lacked the resilience to continue with their own research (figure 5).


figure 5

The second notable impact of the student-led approach was the effect on students extended knowledge. Students were able to explain in detail the areas they had successfully investigated but this was usually at the expense of other areas of the topic. Students felt that there was too much information available and that they often got caught in learning about an area in too great a depth. This depth was not needed for the current course; which itself creates another dilemma. How do you stop students going into too much depth? Or even, should we stop them in their pursuit of knowledge?

Evidence of the issue of depth versus breadth of knowledge was shown through their end of module tests where the results were below that of their target and showed a greater depth of knowledge in some areas which was lacking in others (figure 5 and 6).

figure 5                                                    figure 6

Both of these tests were examples of core knowledge gained in one particular area but not in others. The student on the left scored well in input, output and storage devices whereas the one of the right scored well in The CPU element.

In researching the teacher led approach I decided that I would provide the information, meaning students having to make notes and then answer questions around it. This was also supplemented with structured note sheets (figure 7 and 8).

                                        figure 7                                                     figure 8

The findings from this were very interesting. From a pupil voice perspective they found the teacher led lessons “a bit boring” but they said they understood more of the topic and in greater detail because they had been explained by an expert first. The students liked the note sheets; in particular the boys as this circumnavigated the need to be tidy in the books as it was already done for them.

For my view point I had the ‘safety blanket’ of knowing that the course content had been provided for the students but also the knowledge that the explanation was directly relevant for the content of the GCSE. However the preparation that went into these lessons was much greater in thinking about how best to explain the content, design the lesson materials and the subsequent assessment tasks.

The end of module assessments with the teacher-led approach had shown a marked improvement from the first approach taken. There was greater knowledge across the class with the answers in the assessments being of a consistently higher quality (figure 9).


figure 9

Executive Summary and Next Steps

As a result of the action research there are a number of things I will focus on doing differently. Firstly, lessons will primarily be planned around the teacher-led approach in which content is delivered by me and then further questioning and tasks are designed to aid memory recall. In the creation of the teacher-led lesson the resources will be differentiated and allow for progression of knowledge at a pace that will be appropriate for the class.

Where possible I will also use the student-led approach but limit the resources that the students have to find the answers. This would then avoid the issues around the depth of knowledge at the expense of breadth whilst still encouraging student-led learning.

One of the key areas from this research that I will be taking forward is not being afraid to ‘teacher talk’ as this has been shown to be the most efficient way of students gaining knowledge in certain circumstances. This does need to be punctuated with questioning and mini-tasks so as to avoid student disengagement.

In the future I will avoid doing student-led lessons where the knowledge content is too specific. The reasoning for this is because a student-led lesson may result in students researching areas that are not specifically associated with the qualification, therefore not gaining the necessary knowledge for the exams.

In the planning and delivery of lessons my thinking has changed from primarily providing an engaging lesson to a lesson that provides the students with the academic opportunities to shine. This shift in thinking has meant I have concentrated more on the content of the teacher presentation than on the tasks that the students would do. The reason for this is because without the correct knowledge shared by me the students will not be able to complete any task fully, irrespective of delivery.

Finally, to answer the question: How best to teach in a knowledge based curriculum? There is no ‘right’ way to teach a knowledge based lesson and a variety is needed to get the most out of all students. However this research has found that a teacher-led approach produces better student results.

It is worth noting that in the initial research Headguruteacher commented that 20% of teaching should be ‘mode B’ teacher, this is what I am aiming for in the future.

In summary:

  • Teacher-led and student-led teaching approaches were used across a number of modules. Students interviewed and assessed at the end of modules.
  • Student-led lessons had increased pupil engagement and interest however it was found that acquisition of knowledge was incomplete and as a result module test scores were lower.
  • Teacher-led lessons had increased pupil results and understanding of the topic but led to a decrease in pupil engagement (more compliance than engagement).

Next Steps

  • Continue action research model on a bigger class with different ability levels.
  • Investigate the impact and work on resilience to challenge learners as a tool for improving student knowledge acquisition.

Sources and references

[1] De Bono’s Hats (

[2] SOLO Taxonomy (

[3] Flipped Classroom. (

[4] Wolf Report (

[5] Wolf Report- Executing Summary. Paragraph 2/3.

[6] Gove Sets out ‘Core Knowledge’ curriculum plans (

[7] Progress 8 Measures (

[8] Nicky Morgan: why knowledge matters (

[9] Inspiring Growth (

[10] Pragmatic Education: How best to teach: Knowledge-led or skills-led lessons? (

[11] Sscott (

[12] Headguruteacher: Principles of Effective Teaching (

Featured image: ‘Study time concept’ courtesy of