The "invaluable" work of teaching assistants in keeping schools open for vulnerable children in lockdown has been laid bare in a new report.
A National Foundation for Educational research (NFER) survey, published today, reveals how senior leaders have deployed TAs to support vulnerable and key worker children on-site as part of a rota with teaching staff.
Support provided by TAs has included welfare checks and phone calls home, as well cleaning duties and delivering free school meals, according to the report, based on a survey 1,233 senior leaders and 1,821 teachers in state schools last month.
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One headteacher said: “Our TAs have been invaluable and stopped the school closing to key workers and vulnerable children.
“Those TAs able to be in school have been working in the childcare [and] key worker provision, cleaning and doing everything else needed alongside teachers.”
Some TAs have undertaken training in children’s mental health and domestic violence under lockdown, according to the report, which states that, as schools open their doors to more pupils, targeting TA support towards vulnerable pupils may be one way for schools to continue a similar level of pastoral care. But the report also warns that more resources will be needed to support those pupils, including from other agencies such as social care.
Carole Willis, NFER chief executive, said: “The recent government announcement of additional support to enable children to catch up is welcome.
“However, policymakers should also specifically look at initiatives to help vulnerable pupils re-engage with learning and ensure there is adequate support for their health and wellbeing, including through social workers and other community initiatives. It will be crucial to increase their engagement and to support their parents to provide a secure and safe environment.”
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Other findings in the report were:
- Three-quarters of senior leaders reported that their schools offered "social or welfare" support to vulnerable pupils, often by working with other agencies. For example, by providing food vouchers and parcels (95 per cent) and providing non-education-related information (83 per cent) to assist families. And two in every five senior leaders reported that their staff made home visits to vulnerable pupils who were not attending school.
- 37 per cent of leaders in the most deprived schools said their main approach towards in-school provision was providing extracurricular activities, compared with 17 per cent in schools with the lowest levels of deprivation.
- 54 per cent of senior leaders in the most deprived schools reported significant concerns for the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable pupils, compared with 35 per cent of senior leaders in the least deprived schools.
- Three in every five teachers reported that vulnerable pupils were less engaged than their classmates. Senior leaders (57 per cent) and teachers (75 per cent) reported a lack of pupil engagement in learning as one of their main challenges in supporting vulnerable pupils who were not attending school.
Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, which funded the research, said: “It is of great concern that the most vulnerable students have been the least engaged in learning during the pandemic, particularly those from schools in the most disadvantaged areas.
"We welcome the government’s catch-up plan, but if the initiative is to successfully close the ever-widening disadvantage gap, it is vital to re-engage disadvantaged pupils with learning and give particular support to those entering primary schools."
The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.