Teaching assistants improve children's attainment, says new research

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New research shows teaching assistants can help improve children's literacy and numeracy.

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The research shows that teaching assistants improved children's attainment

Findings from the research, published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), suggest that when teaching assistants are used to support specific pupils in small groups or through structured interventions, they can be effective at improving children’s attainment.

According to the EEF, a charity set up by the Sutton Trust, the six published reports, based on trials with 6,800 pupils at 238 schools, represent a ‘major new source’ of independent evidence to help schools narrow the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils.

Among the reports is an evaluation of Catch up Numeracy, a scheme of one-to-one maths support for pupils aged six to 11 delivered by teaching assistants. The programme of twice-weekly sessions was trialled with 324 pupils in 54 schools over 30 weeks.

Researchers compared three groups of pupils, one in which children continued with normal lessons, one in which children participated in the Catch up Numeracy scheme and the other where children were given one-to-one attention.

They found that children in the group who participated in the Catch up Numeracy scheme and those in the group that received one-to-one intervention showed ‘significant gains in learning’.  According to the research, these children made an average of three and four months additional progress respectively, compared to continuing with normal lessons.

Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said, ‘These evaluations represent the first step in building a secure evidence base for schools to draw upon to improve results for their poorest pupils. In the past many schools have struggled to train and support teaching assistants in ways that benefit children, particularly students from disadvantaged backgrounds. These studies suggest some promising ways to change that.

The GMB union has welcomed the research, which it says shows what everyone working in education already knows, that teaching assistants do add value.

Avril Chambers, national officer for school staff at the union GMB, said, 'Teaching assistants perform a vast range of tasks that involve supporting learning and the development of school students, often including working with those students with the most challenging needs.

'GMB has always maintained that when teaching assistants are deployed correctly i.e. are given tasks that they have been trained to execute, match their skillsets, and are delivered in an environment where other school staff work collaboratively with them, the positive impact on achievement is high.

'We have been campaigning for years for teaching assistants’ value to be acknowledged. Our recent petition has tens of thousands of signatures, from parents, teachers and school leaders all whom passionately believe teaching assistants are a vital integral part of the modern education system, rather than a 'mums' army' as Michael Gove so insultingly sees them - based on the back of a couple of out of date, poorly structured pieces of research.'

She added, 'Michael Gove is renowned for his citing research evidence when it suits his agenda. GMB will be making sure he and the DfE can’t ignore this comprehensive study by the respected Education Endowment Foundation. GMB strongly recommend that Mr Gove think again before trying to get rid of teaching assistants from the education system.'

Deborah Lawson, general secretary of Voice the union, said, 'We have always known that, with their role and purpose clearly defined, and with the appropriate ongoing training and support, teaching assistants can improve literacy and numeracy skills.'

She added, 'A team approach is needed. Appropriate training and support should be made available so that school leaders and teachers know how best to use and deploy trained teaching assistants to ensure maximum impact in the classroom, supporting pupil learning and achievement whilst freeing teachers to teach.

'Parents and headteachers value the individual attention that teaching assistants give to children. The conclusion to be drawn from this research is that the value of teaching assistants is clear, especially at a time when budgets are tight.'

  • The six reports, published by the Endowment Education Foundation, will help to inform the Sutton Trust-EEF Toolkit, a summary of educational research, which covers 34 topics and summarises research from over 10,000 studies.