The Rise of Teaching Assistants: Help or Hindrance?

Over the past few years, the importance of the Teaching Assistant has been a heavily disputed debate amongst the education community. For many of us, we are familiar the with term and have a general idea of what it encompasses but are unclear of the exact duties of this much contested position.

A Teaching Assistant usually works in the classroom alongside the teacher, reinforcing the content of the lessons and ensuring that the pupils are on track to reach the lesson objectives. You can find a Teaching Assistant in a primary school and a secondary school, with the latter typically working in the department of their degree speciality. Tasks also include leading small intervention groups of pupils with the intent to raise academic attainment in targeted areas and supporting students who struggle with the curriculum on a 1:1 basis.

In increasingly oversubscribed schools, having a Teaching Assistant should be considered a blessing, right? Wrong. With numbers rapidly escalating from 163,800 in 2007 to almost 243,700 at the end of 2013, more and more people are calling for the justification of these support staff.

If you follow current affairs in the education sector, you would’ve noticed question marks slowly beginning to appear over the significance of the Teaching Assistant. Headlines accused the Teaching Assistants of wasting £4bn of taxpayers’ money due to the supposedly negative impact they actually had on the learning experience of pupils.

Advocates of the Teaching Assistants fiercely rebuked these claims, defending the hard-working support staff and reducing the allegations to nothing more than scapegoating. They continued to argue that properly trained Teaching Assistants should be revered, benefitting pupils in both academic and personal aspects of education and providing dedicated support to teachers.

Rewind to August 2014 which saw a plummet in English GCSE grades, consequentially flagging up state schools as below the Government’s official floor targets. But with the increased number of Teaching Assistants, what went wrong? This conundrum is exacerbated by further evidence that when Teaching Assistants are utilised correctly, results from students dramatically improved, most notably in literacy.

These two pieces of evidence seem to contradict, leading to tense stalemate. Maybe it isn’t the numbers of Teaching Assistants that is the issue here– but how they are trained and utilised in schools?  With the appropriate training and development, Teaching Assistants could be the answer to the current problems schools face. Without the appropriate guidance and instruction, is it inevitable that they had little effect on their pupils?

How would you train your Teaching Assistants? Do you think that they can improve overall attainment? Let us know on Social Media! 


View similar articles
EduStaff blog article