5 ways to make the most of your TAs

An in-depth review of research on teaching assistants helped this teacher to identify ways they can be better supported
7th December 2020, 11:15am
Jodie Smith


5 ways to make the most of your TAs

How Schools Can Better Support Their Teaching Assistants

I recently undertook a generous literature review on teaching assistants (TAs) as part of a research project for my master's in education.

Specifically, I am exploring the experiences, perceptions and needs of TAs with regards to their professional development - an area in which there is a scarcity of research, as gauging their perspectives directly has been grossly overlooked.

This work involved reading and critically analysing over 30 papers, evaluating research reports and informally discussing professional development with TAs to determine the current picture.

The rise of teaching assistants

One clear finding was the rapid growth in TAs across schools worldwide.

The rise was attributable to factors such as a desire to reduce teacher workload, an increase in pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, a progressive change in policies for schools to become more inclusive and mounting demands for children to reach precise English and maths benchmarks.

Because of this, the scope of TAs' roles has transformed in equal measure; once an "extra pair of hands", they are now expected to fulfil a pedagogical responsibility and be heavily involved in the whole teaching and learning process.

We must therefore ask: are TAs receiving adequate training and professional development opportunities that prepare them for such expectations?

Concerningly, the research rather conclusively suggests not. So, what can be done to better support TAs?

How can schools better support TAs?

Here are five simple ideas for schools to consider that emerged from the research and through consulting with TAs themselves.

1. Professional development opportunities

TAs should receive regular, high-quality professional development within school that links to the tasks and activities they are being asked to do and the responsibilities they are expected to fulfil.

The CPD lead within the school should prepare a suitable programme for all TAs for the academic year and this should be influenced by seeking their thoughts, alongside enabling them to observe outstanding practice within the school.

If TAs are appropriately prepared to meet the ever-changing and diverse demands of their role, they are more likely to be deployed effectively and feel they are valued members of staff. 

2. External training opportunities

Building on this is, TAs must be given the same opportunity to attend training on accredited courses that can boost their career and skillset.

After all, budgets and resources are there to maximise the entire workforce, not just teachers, so senior leaders should inspire, signpost and share high-quality informal and formal opportunities.

Doing this will help to build a culture of continuous development where TA effectiveness is maximised.

3. Appraisal systems

Introducing an appraisal system that encourages TAs to share their professional development needs and desires has been reported to improve performance.

However, the TAs' voice must be heard and met with a receptive and proactive response by management, and the targets set must be achievable and within the remit of their job and pay scale.

TAs who have been given this opportunity and have been supported feel that the school values their development, welcomes hearing their voice and makes them feel a respected and equal member of the workforce. 

4. Clear job descriptions

Research suggests that the vast majority of TAs' job descriptions are ambiguous or, in some cases, non-existent. This causes a confused and blurred vision of what their role really entails.

There is then disparity between what senior leadership teams, class teachers and TAs themselves assume are their responsibilities. If the role is not clearly defined, how can we begin to tailor their professional development and training needs?

In 2016, the Professional Standards for Teaching Assistants were released as guidance for schools. This could be used as an excellent starting point to aid in structuring and outlining the role of TAs, aligning this with the professional development and training they need and deserve. 

5. Line managers

It was also clear from the research that there is often confusion between TAs on who their line manager is or even if anyone is accountable for them.

This is, of course, concerning and leaves a valuable and integral part of our teaching staff without the support they need.

Schools must ensure that a member of the senior leadership team monitors and appropriately tracks the professional development and training of TAs meticulously, ensuring that they are supported and feel able to meet the expectations of their role.

To read more on this I recommend Maximisingtas.co.uk as a fantastic resource that offers practical guidance, free resources and current research, while the Education Endowment Foundation has also conducted highly useful research into how to make the most of your TAs.

I hope to share my own research findings soon, to provide schools with guidance on how to effectively develop their TAs, from the suggestions of TAs themselves.

Jodie Smith is deputy head of physical education at Victory Heights Primary School in Dubai. She tweets @MissJodie_PE

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