IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Revolutionising how schools use teaching assistants

Landmark research calls for schools to rethink how they deploy teaching assistants. It also highlights how provision for pupils with special education needs should change.

Young woman sat on yellow bean bag reading to primary school aged children

Shifts in curriculum and policy have resulted in many more teaching assistants (TAs) in schools. What's more, often TAs now have roles with broader responsibilities. The IOE’s Centre for Inclusive Education (CIE) wanted to investigate the consequences of this. They explored whether the increased use of TAs had a positive effect on pupils' progress and, in particular, those with special education needs (SEN).

The striking findings from these studies have profound implications for education providers and pupils. The Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project, published in 2009, kickstarted the research, which calls for a new approach regarding TAs and SEN. The DISS project was the largest study of teaching assistants carried out in the world. The British Educational Research Association also cited DISS as one of 40 studies that have had a significant impact on education over the last 40 years.

The research showed that the more support pupils received from TAs, the less progress they made. This was especially true for those with SEN. It was not the pupil characteristics (attainment level or SEN status) or what the TAs were actually doing that were the determining factors, but rather how schools prepared and deployed TAs. 

Further projects backed up these findings and also focused on strategies to help TAs best support pupils. CIE's ground-breaking research continues, and they also apply the learnings to help schools. CIE provides national guidance, consultancy and training courses. School leaders can learn how to maximise the impact of teaching assistants, and TAs can develop practical skills to help pupils learn.

Image: Yan Krukov via Pexels