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Class assistants benefit teachers, not children

Classroom assistants relieve stress on teachers but there is no evidence that having an additional adult in the classroom improves learning, says a three-year government investigation. The study found that small class sizes benefit the youngest children but found no link between class size and academic progress in Years 1 and 2. However, the number of classroom assistants made no difference to the progress of children in any of the three years.

The research by the University of London's Institute of Education was carried out between 1996 and 2000, before current moves to increase the number of classroom assistants in schools and improve their training. The researchers followed 11,386 pupils through their first three years of school and gathered opinions from 650 teachers.

Teachers believed that classroom assistants did help. "As numbers of children increased so too did teachers' sense of stress. Teachers found large classes more difficult - they firmly believed that having extra support in class could help."

The report suggests that the difference between the statistics and teachers' perceptions could be due to a wide variation in the effectiveness of classroom assistants. "The most obvious point was that the adult help in classes varied in terms of its effectiveness and that this is probably the main reason why the quantitative analyses did not show clear evidence of the benefits of classroom support on children's educational progress."

The importance of training and planning to ensure that the work of the assistant is linked to teachers' aims and lesson plans is emphasised. Teaching assistants were more effective when involved in planning lessons, says the report.

Pupil Adult Ratio Differences and Educational Progress over Reception and Key Stage 1 by Peter Blatchford et al. www.dfes.gov.ukresearch

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