A senior educationalist has described the first ever fall in the number of teaching assistants in England as being “a serious problem" for schools.
Rob Webster, associate professor at the Centre for Inclusive Education, UCL Institute of Education, has highlighted the latest figures showing that, for the first time since the DfE began collating schools workforce data in the mid-1990s, the annual count of TAs has been lower than in the previous year.
Webster said: “It’s in primary and nursery schools where the numbers have fallen for the first time and that has brought the average down. But actually, the number of TAs in secondary schools has been falling for around the last four years.”
“I don’t think the situation is critical yet, but I don’t want to sound complacent.”
Latest DfE figures show that the total number of TA posts fell to 262,800 in 2017 from 265,600 in 2016, and Webster says he expects the number to fall again this year as schools face more tough budgeting decisions.
He said the problem was "serious" and that the work of TAs was having to be stretched across greater numbers of pupils.
But speaking in an interview for this week’s Tes magazine, he says that TAs are “definitely part of the wider solution” to some of the problems facing the teaching profession, including recruitment and retention and relieving teacher stress. And he believes the answer might not lie in spending lots more money but about investing more time and effort into the way TAs are deployed.
Not enough training and continuing professional development for TAs are issues, as are wider problems with them not being kept “in the loop” by teachers over lesson plans, says Webster.
He says: “We’re in a really good place insofar as we’ve good some great evidence on how to best deploy TAs to improve outcomes and alleviate some of the workload burdens on teachers.
“So now is the time for school leaders to really engage with this and think carefully and strategically about how to maximise the contribution of their TA workforce. And there are the guidance materials there to do it.”
Webster is the coordinator of the MITA project (Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants) which provides practical guidance and resources on for using TAs, and which has involved more than 100 schools across the country.
You can read more about the plight of teaching assistants in this week's Tes magazine, available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.