Teaching assistant spending varies widely between schools, with some of the poorest pupils losing out on support compared to those in more affluent areas, according to an Education Policy Institute report published today.
A significant gulf was found between the top and bottom quartile of schools' TA spending, despite an overall increase in support budgets by 138 per cent in real terms between 2002-3 and 2016-17.
For primary schools, the highest spenders put more than 50 per cent budget into their TA pot, compared with the lowest spenders, while for secondary schools, the gap was 64 per cent, the report revealed.
However, the median spending on teaching assistants per pupil was 45 per cent higher in primary schools in poorer areas than richer areas, and 47 per cent higher in poorer secondary schools than schools in areas of low levels of disadvantage.
There were high levels of difference in spending on TAs between schools with similar levels of disadvantaged pupils, according to the findings. Among primary schools with high levels of free school meal (FSM) eligibility, schools that spent the most on TAs allocated 45 per cent more budget than schools at the bottom. Among similar secondary schools, the difference was 69 per cent.
Jon Andrews, deputy head of research at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said: "The value schools appear to attach to teaching assistants varies considerably.
"Some schools choose to invest significantly, while others have decided to prioritise spending elsewhere.
He added: "Research shows that when teaching assistants are targeted effectively, they can positively impact pupil outcomes. So, reducing the number of support staff is not necessarily a shortcut to making savings without harming attainment."
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, said: “We know that, in the right circumstances, teaching assistants can have a very positive impact on learning.
"Clarity about the role of teaching assistants, strong communication between teachers and TAs and high-quality training are all critical factors in achieving this," he added.
He continued: "We also need to remember the crucial role teaching assistants play in supporting pupils with special educational needs in both special and mainstream schools.”