This blog draws on an important piece of research published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) in England in 2015: Making the Best use of Teaching Assistants (Sharples, Webster and Blatchford, 2015).
This research found that teaching assistants (TAs) tended to be more concerned with task completion, and less concerned with developing pupils’ understanding. Additionally, those pupils who received the most support from TAs made less progress than similar pupils who received little or no support from TAs. The negative impact was most marked for pupils with the highest levels of special educational needs and /or disabilities (SEND). It was also found that deployment arrangements could result in a dependency effect.
Despite the negative findings, the research found that when TAs deliver short, structured, time-limited individual or small group interventions, this can have a positive impact on attainment. This deployment arrangement can add approximately three-to-four additional months’ progress, provided that teaching assistants are trained to deliver the interventions. Additionally, the impact on attainment is positive when explicit connections are made between interventions out of class and the work/learning in class (Sharples, Webster and Blatchford, 2015).
The Special educational needs and disability code of practice in England (DfE, 2015) emphasises that accountability for the progress of all pupils rests with the teacher. The code states that the TA should be considered to be part of a package of support for pupils with SEND, but they should never replace the teacher. Teachers should also consider the detrimental impacts of withdrawing children from class. Learning is a social process, and knowledge is socially constructed, so withdrawal can result in pupils missing out on opportunities for peer-to-peer learning. If pupils are not exposed to higher-level content this can restrict learning. Teachers therefore need to consider how deployment arrangements can enable individual pupils to be supported within the context of the usual classroom environment, so that pupils can benefit from collaboration with their peers.
My own research (Glazzard, 2011) supports the findings of the EEF study. It has highlighted how one-to-one support from TAs can result in a dependency effect. Additionally, I have emphasised that the process of withdrawing children from classes for interventions can reduce self-esteem and create an ‘othering’ effect (ibid). Short-term focused intervention should enable children to more effectively access the curriculum when they return to their usual classroom environment. However, if children are educated in the main by TAs, outside of their usual learning environment, this can result in an abdication of responsibilities by the teacher for educating children with special educational needs, resulting in the perpetuation of a deficit view of the child (ibid).
I have also emphasised how practices in school which are taken for granted and implemented in the name of ‘inclusion’ can create exclusion (Glazzard, 2013). These include the use of individual education plans and behaviour plans which place the onus on the learner to improve. These mark individuals out as different, and deflect attention away from the wider structures of schooling which result in marginalisation, discrimination and learner disengagement. Examples of discriminatory structures in England include the national curriculum and the assessment system. The national curriculum privileges academic forms of knowledge, resulting in the marginalisation of those learners whose strengths lie in other areas. The assessment system fails those learners who are unable to demonstrate limited academic forms of success. Inclusive education necessitates both a political and a pedagogical response. In the absence of a transformation of the curriculum and the assessment processes, practitioners can only go so far with inclusion. It is difficult to provide young people with an inclusive education if the wider structures that underpin education are exclusive.
Department for Education [DfE] (2015) Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years: Statutory guidance for organisations which work with and support children and young people who have special educational needs or disabilities, London. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/send-code-of-practice-0-to-25
Glazzard J (2011) ‘Perceptions of the barriers to effective inclusion in one primary school: voices of teachers and teaching assistants’, British Journal of Learning Support 26(2): 56–63
Glazzard J (2013) ‘A critical interrogation of the contemporary discourses associated with inclusive education in England’, Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs 13(3): 182–188
Sharples J, Webster R and Blatchford P (2015) Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants Guidance Report, Education Endowment Foundation. https://v1.educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/uploads/pdf/TA_Guidance_Report_Interactive.pdf