THE ROLE OF THE TEACHING ASSISTANT


Text taken from 'Working with Teaching Assistants DfEE 0148/2000 October 2000

'Initially help is given with changing into PE kit, but more and more independence is encouraged. The TA makes a judgement about how long a task should take, allows the pupil to undertake this independently, and only intervenes when the pupil is running over time. Only tasks that remain impossible for the pupil to accomplish are carried out by the TA as a matter of routine. Judgements are being made throughout the PE lesson by the TA about how the equipment can be adapted, how the game can be adapted, and how the rules can be changed. It is unusual for pupils to have access directly and all the time to the TA; she is looking for ways to include the pupil to the full. Time for liaison with the teaching staff to try to plan for greater inclusion is a factor before, during and after the lessons.'

Headteacher of a secondary school in Suffolk


UNDERSTANDING THE ROLE OF THE TEACHING ASSISTANT

Since 1998 primary and secondary schools have experienced an unprecedented amount of reform to raise standards of pupil performance. Over the same period, schools have chosen to employ increasing numbers of TAs, to support the delivery of quality teaching and a modern curriculum. It is encouraging to note the ample evidence from research and inspection that many TAs are helping to raise standards in the classrooms in which they work. In this they are continuing the work that has been successfully carried out for a long time, especially by those assistants with the NNEB qualification and, more recently, by those who have successfully completed the Specialist Teaching Assistant (STA) and other qualifications.

OFSTED's Review of Primary Education 1994-98 (1999) states:

'Well-trained teaching assistants are a key resource and are used very effectively in many primary schools.'

However, TAs can scarcely be expected automatically to produce good practice without guidance and sound training. Inspection and research findings underline the importance of good training and supportive management if TAs are to function effectively. OFSTED, for example, makes this clear in its report on the evaluation of the first year of the National Literacy Strategy:

'The use of other adults to support the Literacy Hour usually has a positive effect. This is particularly true where training has been provided for these adults and careful consideration has been given to their deployment.'

The essence of the successful deployment of TAs lies in understanding the nature of the support that they can provide. This can be divided into four strands:

support for the pupil

support for the teacher

support for the curriculum

support for the school.

Support for the pupil is support for all pupils with whom the TA comes into contact. Many TAs are employed with specific responsibilities to work with individual children with special educational needs. Others are given more general classroom responsibilities. However, even those who work mainly with one child will come into regular and close contact with other children; indeed, it is central to the whole principle of inclusion that a child who has physical or learning difficulties should be helped to work in the company of other children, and often in tandem with them.

Support for the teacher involves TAs in performing a number of routine tasks, such as escorting groups of young children to work areas outside the classroom. However, as experience of the implementation of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies has shown, it is now common and desirable for teachers also to allocate TAs tasks that were once more often done by the teacher. TAs are, for example, sometimes engaged in important aspects of assessing pupils' literacy and numeracy performance, and in supporting group work assigned by the class teacher. In this a number of TAs are following the lead of nursery nurses who have for some time brought their understanding of child development to bear on work in observation and assessment.

The development of the Literacy and Numeracy Strategies has seen a significant growth in involvement in these areas of the curriculum by TAs in primary schools. TAs are often required to work across other parts of the curriculum, and support teaching in subjects such as physical education and information and communications technology (ICT).

Lastly, as support for their school, TAs are not just part of the staff, but are part of a team, and as such their remit includes translating school policies into practice and furthering the ethos of the school.

These four forms of support provided by the TA are not separate but interdependent, and at any time a TA may well be involved in an activity in which two or more forms of support are being given.

But these four strands of support are only one part of the story. They can be regarded as the support provided by the TA. At the same time the school has a responsibility to support the TA in fulfilling the expectations of the role. This is the support provided for the TA. This obligation calls for consideration both of the way TAs are managed and of their professional development needs-. management support should enable them to perform the job to the best of their abilities, and they should be encouraged to develop their skills and potential.

Clearly, this view of two-way support requires the close cooperation of class teachers with whom TAs work, as well as of heads and other managers.

The pupils received very good support from experienced teaching assistants who are guided appropriately by class teachers. The teaching assistants give the pupils regular periods of individual help and on other occasions work with groups of pupils in classrooms. This very good provision makes a significant impact on the pupils' attainment and progress.

Report by HMI on a primary school in Devon, 1999



ASPECTS OF GOOD TEACHING ASSISTANT PRACTICE IN THE SCHOOL

In considering the management of any member of staff, as soon as one looks at the question of how to enable them to function effectively the question must be asked, what is it that one wants them to be effective at?

It is no more possible to draw a complete picture of the model TA than it is to do one for the model headteacher. Again, schools will have their own requirements of TAs according to their differing situations. But just as principles of good school management and headship have been identified, so with teaching assistants, aspects of the role in practice can be identified for imitation, adaptation or inspiration where appropriate.

A recent survey of the management of TAs in schools defined what makes good practice in the work of TAs by saying that effective practice:

- 'fosters the participation of pupils in the social and academic processes of a school

- seeks to enable pupils to become more independent learners

- helps to raise standards of achievement for all pupils.'

(Centre for Educational Needs, University of Manchester, The Management, Role and Training of Leaming Support Assistants, DFEE, 1999)

1. Fostering the participation of pupils in the social and academic practices of a school

This form of support for pupils is seen in-.

1. Supervising and assisting small groups of pupils in activities set by teachers

Activities are set by teachers, ideally in consultation with assistants. Often the TAs' greatest contribution to children's learning is made when they are working with groups of children under the management of the teacher. This form of work can be especially helpful to children with special educational needs (SEN) or for whom English is an additional language (EAL). They are thus able to benefit from the attention of a sensitive adult, without being stigmatised as 'different' because of frequent separation from their peers for individual tuition.

2. Developing pupils' social skills

Supporting children in groups who might otherwise have been separated from other children for individual attention promotes the inclusion of those children in mainstream work.

3. Implementing behaviour management policies In accordance with guidance provided by the teacher, a TA can provide valuable backup to him or her in dealing with disruptive or potentially disruptive behaviour from pupils.

4. Spotting early signs of bullying and disruptive behaviour

As an extra adult, an alert TA can be in a position to head off disruptive behaviour before it happens.

Some children find it easy to confide in a TA, seeing the TA as 'the listening ear', and it is therefore the TA who may be alerted to instances of bullying.

5. Helping the inclusion of all Children

TAs can do much to help promote the inclusion of children into their school, and support individual children who for one reason on another find it difficult to form friendships and good relationships with others. They can, for example, help foster the inclusion of children with EAL by having time and expertise to help them with language.

6. Keeping children on task

Often the input of an attentive adult will prevent pupils' minds wandering off their work, which can happen when they are in a large group with only one adult. This attention supports the pupils in helping them become better learners.

Seeking to enable pupils to become more independent learners

It is well known that children learn better if their efforts are appreciated and they feel valued. As they gain in confidence they will become more independent. TAs can help pupils develop independence in their learning in several ways:

7. Showing interest

TAs have an important role in helping raise the self-esteem of children by showing interest not only in their work but in what the children do outside the school.


Assisting individuals in educational tasks

The TA can foster independence by assisting the child to increase his or her knowledge, understanding and skills, especially those children with special needs who might otherwise find it difficult to perform the tasks requested of them at all.

However, this assistance needs to be balanced. Letting or, worse, encouraging a child to 'cling', even if the child has a statement and the TA has been employed specifically to work with him or her, is ultimately stultifying and demeaning for the pupil. It can also mean that the child gets insufficient input from the teacher.

The TA also needs to know when to stand back and enable the child to work with other pupils in a group.

3. Freeing up the teacher to work with groups

Where the teacher is satisfied that the TA is sufficiently confident and accomplished the TA can address the whole class for a time according to plans made in advance with the teacher. This enables the teacher to concentrate on pupils who need special attention, thereby ensuring that such pupils benefit from the direct input of the qualified teacher.

4. Working with outside agencies

TAs have a function working with outside consultants such as speech therapists and educational psychologists. For some pupils the input of these specialists is crucial, and the TA can play an important part both in liaison and in supporting their work.

5. Modelling good practical

TAs can provide good models for children both in behaviour and in learning. For example, reading to children for whom English is an additional language can provide a model of good English.

6. Asisting pupils with physical needs

Intervention when help is necessary in a tactful manner, and not at other times, enables pupils with physical disabilities to become more independent learners and to move towards independence as adults.

We have a child with special educational needs who is given two and half hours SEN support in class per week, together with half an hour out of the class with the TA. Over the year the pupil has become much more independent in his learning, and as he has become independent we have found that he is more likely to come to the TA with specific questions.

Headteacher in Sussex

Darren had been a school refuser. He was not at all interested in reading. I just got to know him well by talking to him. I got to understand what his sense of humour was. -1 could then identify books that he might enjoy reading. Eventually his learning improved to the point that at the end of Key Stage 2 he did well in the SATS.

TA in a primary school in Sussex

All the points listed in the above two categories contribute towards this goal by directly supporting pupils who need additional help. There are also certain aspects of the TAs' role in which they are assisting in the education of all the children in the class. Moreover, even when working with individual pupils they are assisting the others, as they are thereby free to progress at their own pace.

1. Being involved at whole-class level

TAs can alternate intervening with particular pupils and being a general resource for the whole class. Assistants who are fully engaged with the aims, content,strategies and intended outcomes for a lesson are likely to be more effective than those who are required only to concentrate on individual pupils and their learning plans.

2. Helping implement lesson plans

A TA who is briefed as to what is planned for a lesson is in a stronger position to help the teacher realise its aims.

3. Making possible more ambitious learning activities

Teachers have commented that the availability of an extra pair of hands, eyes and ears makes it possible to provide and supervise a greater number of practical lesson activities, such as crafts, learning games and outdoor games and projects.

Providing support for the literacy and numeracy strategies

Many TAs now take an active part in supporting the teaching of reading, writing and mathematics as a result of the Literacy and Numeracy Strategies.

Providing feedback to teachers

As a member of a team, a TA is in a good position to observe pupil performance, and to provide the teacher with valuable thoughts on what works for pupils, what obstacles to learning they encounter, and the effectiveness of classroom processes and Organisation.


Preparing classroom materials

Getting materials ready for the lesson, preparing worksheets, preparing books and setting up equipment all help free up teaching time to the benefit of all the class.

The year 2 science theme for the term was Light and Dark. Our concern was that the more able pupils were not getting opportunities to extend their scientific skills.

Using our medium-term plan the TA and I planned the unit together. We discussed learning objectives and the progression of skills in Science STI, and she was given the responsibility for working with a group of the six most able children each week. Her focus was to be on developing their predicting, fair-testing and recording skills.

At the end of the first week the group confidently explained what they had done and why. By the end of the second week we were able to extend their work further. While I focused on recording and how to use a simple table, the TA supported her group in trying to explain what they had found out. She encouraged the children to look back through their book, which contained Year 1 work, to find the correct vocabulary.

The children were subsequently able to provide simple conclusions and give reasons, thus working towards level 3.

Primary teacher in Suffolk


CREATING PARTNERSHIPS WITH OTHER PEOPLE INVOLVED IN EDUCATION

'An important part of the job of the TA is to try to get a good relationship with the family of a statemented child. / have had a good relationship with Charlene's mother and every morning we meet just to pass on information.'

TA in Devon

The effective TA does not contribute to the functioning of a school merely between the start and end of lessons, but is a part of a network of relationships with the school at its centre. The relationships may be pupil-support based, such as in working with external specialists, or may be a form of support for the school, as in communicating with parents.

Mostly these are relationships that develop over time, and the TA:s contribution to them will become more positive and active as she or he is encouraged to become more confident in the fulfilment of their role.

1. Working with outside agencies

The education of a pupil with special educational needs in many cases draws on a major input from an outside specialist, such as a speech therapist or an educational psychologist. The educational team thus is threefold: teacher, specialist and TA. It is important to the welfare of the pupil that the connections between these three are smooth and that there are no inconsistencies or wasted initiatives because of poor communication.

TAs therefore need to be involved, under the guidance of their teachers, with the specialists. This involvement can range from helping with the administrative arrangements to assisting the pupils perform tasks set by the specialist. For example, a speech therapist may prescribe a programme of exercises for the pupil to do between his or her own sessions, and this will often be undertaken by the TA under a reporting-back arrangement with the teacher.

Proper planning is necessary to ensure that the TA has all the necessary information on the current and proposed actions of the external support services for the child.

2. Regular meetings with SENCO-,

Schools with a large number of TAs who are working with children with SEN may ask the SENCO to act as the TAs' line manager (see section 2). Other schools have found that regular meetings, generally weekly, are greatly helpful to the SENCO and the TAs.


A channel of communication with parents

A TA can provide a useful intermediary for a parent who is diffident about taking up an issue with a teacher. TAs are sometimes closer to parents than teachers, as they may themselves come from the immediate community and may be, or might have been, themselves parents of pupils in the school. Some parents may therefore consider them more approachable than teachers.

The situation may need to be handled carefully, and new TAs in particular will benefit from guidance from the school in how to handle these situations, especially those where the parent is being critical of a teacher or school policy.

Parents of children with SEN need to be informed of the programme provided for their child. This is not merely as a courtesy but also to enable parents to reinforce the programme at home. Often the TA will be well placed to provide this communication and to refer information back to the teacher.



A channel of communication with ethnic minority communities

Bilingual TAs can provide necessary communication with parents for whom English is an additional language. TAs who share a language with them are not only able to talk to them in that language but can help overcome misunderstandings due to cultural differences.

Bilingual TAs have also formed important two-way links with community leaders from ethnic minority groups.

Inviting TAs to participate in school functions

Including TAs as a matter of course in invitations to participate in school functions, such as plays and concerts, reinforces the feeling that they are an important part of the school staff, and also encourages parents to see them as such.

During these meetings I find out everything I need to know about the lesson I am supporting before it begins and it is here where I begin to think about how I can support the teacher and make relevant contributions. I may want to familiarise myself with a book we will be reading or begin to prepare the resources needed. She may tell me of specific plans she has made to introduce or reinforce the children's learning. A short meeting after the lessons gives us the opportunity to discuss achievements and problems, not only with children's progress but also concerning the resources and support methods we have used. Keeping this communication going is the lifeline for my work in school and I have learned so much from it.

TA from a primary school in Suffolk

My mentor suggested that I produce a 'Report-Back' sheet to make brief notes about individual children and the value of the game. I completed this sheet on subsequent occasions and found it useful in a number of ways. Firstly, it forced me to observe each child in the group as an individual and note any problems that they encountered. Secondly, by writing notes I remembered more detail and was therefore able to report back constructively. Thirdly, the class teachers were able to see who benefited more from the games and what literacy skills they had developed. Fourthly, as time to report back is limited this written form ensured that the observations I made were passed on to the relevant teachers. I now feel that I make a valuable contribution towards the assessment of children.

Teacher from an infant school in Surrey


CREATING PARTNERSHIP AMONG TEACHING ASSISTANTS

'The TAs meet before school to check for notices, and at breaktimes and lunchtimes for refreshments and sharing of information with the SENCO and each other These informal meetings have been influential in changing working Practice.'
Secondary school in Suffolk

The working hours of TAs are such that they are more likely to feel isolated than other staff unless positive steps are taken to provide means of communication between them. Most TAs do not work full time, and some only work a few hours a week. Many work in just one class or with one pupil. TAs in this position may find that they have few opportunities to meet with other TAs in their school and hence are not able to share concerns and ideas.Even where these opportunities are provided, TAs, like teachers, can improve their skills and insight by being able to share experiences and good practice with assistants from other schools.

1. Holding regular in-school meetings of TAs

Informal opportunities to meet and share experiences can be rare for TAs, so often more formal arrangements are necessary. Regular weekly meetings need not be time-consuming. These can be combined with meetings held by the TAs' line manager or the SENCO (if a different person), but if so there should be time allocated for the TAs' own agendas.

Such meetings can keep the TAs up to date with the issues that teachers are also discussing at staff meetings, with provision for the contribution of the TAs to be fed back into the staff meeting by a TA. This can provide a valuable element of TA support for the school.

2. Encouraging sharing of information about i- individual pupils

The support TAs provide for the pupils in their care is constrained if they are not able to share information with other TAs involved with the same children. (This should always be done according to the school's ground rules on confidentiality.) Where more than one TA is working with a particular child or children, a regular channel of communication needs to be established, especially where the TAs are not regularly in school at the same time. This will, for example, occur where one TA works mornings and the other afternoons. A communications book or file is generally more productive in keeping pupils' responses under review and is less likely to be overlooked than notes left on a bit of paper. In such instances there need to be occasional meetings between the TAs at mutually convenient times so that they can expand on the written communication. If the child has an IEP both TAs should, if possible, be involved in the review.

6. REVIEWING PERFORMANCE AND PROMOTING DEVELOPMENT

'We trained a number of Teaching Assistants to deliver numeracy sessions as part of our whole-school Numeracy Project. The schemes were so successful that pupils have been able to move through them at a fast pace and to come out of all support sessions having appropriate basic skills to cope with the mainstream curriculum. OFSTED noted our success at taking pupils off the Special Needs Register following planned intervention.'

Headteacher of an inner-city secondary school




TAs are entitled to feel that they can develop in their jobs and get better at what they are doing. Some TAs wish to reach the point where they can move on into teacher training, an ambition which the Government is taking steps to encourage. But the ma ority that do not have such ambitions still have developmental needs that the good employer will address. It is also clearly in the interests of the school if its TAs are able to increase their expertise and their job satisfaction.

This development will only come about if the school regularly reviews the TAs' performance and is prepared to commit to necessary training. Although different TAs will inevitably exhibit different levels of competence at the start of employment, all the skills of an effective TA can be taught.

National Occupational Standards for TAs and a Training Qualifications Framework will both be issued in 2001. These will assist school managers in assessing the development of TAs and identifying their training needs. Schools will benefit most from them if they already have good management procedures in place.

7. Undertaking regular appraisal

Appraisal - or professional review - is a formal opportunity for TAs to discuss their performance and professional needs with their line manager. Appraisal is meant to be a dialogue, with the person appraised and the appraiser both contributing freely. Many TAs will not be familiar with the process, and it may need to be made clear in advance that an appraisal is not some form of one-way report delivered by the manager. The appraisal should clearly acknowledge what the TA does well, and provide an opportunity for the person appraised to raise any problems or concerns that they may have about the way their job is developing or what they are expected to do.

To be effective appraisals have to be carried out at regular intervals, at least annually, and the period of time before the next appraisal agreed at the end of each one.

An innovative practice from one school that has been found to remove any possible apprehension about appraisal is have TAs appraise each other as a preliminary to the appraisal with the manager. This takes the form of one TA observing the work of another in class, then discussing together what was seen, guided by an appraisal form. This activity also enables TAs to share ideas and good practice.

Text taken from 'Working with Teaching Assistants DfEE 0148/2000 October 2000

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