I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about improving the impact of Teaching Assistants during a budget crisis.
Our human resources matter most. There are 380,000 Teaching Assistants in English schools – a number that has trebled since 2000. There are more Teaching Assistants in Primary schools than there are teachers. If Teaching Assistants were cut from schools at a stroke, many schools, and countless thousands students, would suffer greatly.
We are in the midst of a budget crisis with a ‘flat cash’ hole in our budget. At Huntington, we spend nearly a quarter of a million of our budget on Teaching Assistants. Schools on average spend about £200,000 on Teaching Assistant provision. Writ large across the country we spend £5 billion on Teaching Assistants alone; this is more than the nation spends on roads and social housing! It comes out as the largest singular investment of schools’ Pupil Premium funding. With huge figures like that every school leader knows the role of Teaching Assistants in crucial. We therefore have a moral obligation to deploy our vitally important Teaching Assistant colleagues well.
‘It ain’t what you do it is the way that you do it’. Steve Higgins, author of the Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit, has shared this wise ‘Bananarama principle’ and how it applies to schools. The evidence may show that employing Teaching Assistants doesn’t, on average, have a great deal of impact on students’ outcomes, but of course, such averages can obscure individual examples of high impact. We know from large scale trials that deploying a Teaching Assistant to undertake structured interventions, like the ‘Catch Up’ programmes, the REACH programme and more, makes a significant difference. It proves money well spent in frugal times.
The ‘Velcro problem’ of Teaching Assistants and student progress. TAs Teaching Assistants are often highly skilled professionals, but how they are deployed stunts their impact. Too many Teaching Assistants have long-since been allocated to a tricky class or a difficult student but the real problem of tackling how well students are learning goes unsolved. They are encouraged to act like ‘Velcro’ – sticking to the tricky student and helping them along. Paradoxically, such an approach may stop that child thinking for themselves. It comes back to good pedagogy and quality training. Teaching Assistants can encourage and foster independence in our students or they can inhibit hard thinking…it is the way that you do it, remember!
Teaching Assistants’ deployment, high quality training and the golden thread to student outcomes. It is the responsibility of school leaders to train and deploy their Teaching Assistant teams effectively; for our students and for our bottom line, we can ill-afford not to do so. Our Huntington Research School is running a high quality, evidence-based programme for schools in Yorkshire and the Humber on supporting leaders to train their TAs Teaching Assistants. The training focuses upon selecting the right structured interventions and engendering independence in the classroom, whilst sharing our best practice across our schools. Spending a fraction of what our Teaching Assistant team costs to ensure our Teaching Assistant colleagues are well-trained makes sense to us; I hope it makes sense to you. You can book your ticket here: https://www.huntingtonlearninghub.com/product/making-best-use-of-tas/.