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2 May 2023
By Louise Agley - Specialist Adviser (Secondary)

Boosting the Effectiveness of Teaching Assistants

Teaching assistants (TAs) have long been a feature of most secondary schools. From a relatively small base of approximately 79,000 teaching assistants in 2000, the number of TAs working in our schools has rocketed over the last two decades to something close to 250,000 today – an estimated 14% of the secondary school workforce. But how effective are they at supporting pupils to make progress?

Despite this enormous investment of resources, the evidence suggests that while TAs can have a hugely beneficial impact on learners, this is not always (not even often!) the case.

While I’m sure we can all think of many examples of particular teaching assistants who we have experienced making a huge impact on learning, research has shown that their effectiveness can vary greatly depending on how they are used in the classroom. Teachers and leaders in secondary schools need to make sure that TAs are deployed effectively to maximize their impact on student learning.

A report from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) titled "Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants" provides guidance on how to use TAs effectively in secondary schools. The report highlights several key points that senior leaders need to consider when deploying TAs.


First and foremost, the report emphasizes the importance of training TAs properly. TAs should be trained to understand their role in the classroom, the curriculum, and the needs of the students with whom they are working. They should also be given training in specific areas such as literacy or numeracy interventions. By investing in the training of TAs, senior leaders can ensure that they are equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to support students effectively.


The report also recommends that TAs should not be used as a substitute for teachers. Instead, they should be used to complement the work of teachers, providing additional support and guidance to students. TAs should work alongside teachers to provide targeted support to students who need it.

Care also has to be taken in deployment of TAs outside of the classroom. The EEF suggests that this should be strategically focused on students who need it most. This means that senior leaders need to identify the students who are most in need of support and assign TAs to work with them. This might involve providing one-to-one or small group support to students who are struggling with particular aspects of the curriculum or who need extra help with their homework.


Thirdly, the report highlights the importance of effective communication between TAs and teachers. TAs should be given clear guidance and instructions from teachers about their role in the classroom, the objectives of the lesson, and the learning outcomes expected of students. This will help to ensure that TAs are working towards the same goals as teachers and that their work is integrated into the wider curriculum.


Finally, the report emphasizes the importance of monitoring the impact of TAs on student learning. Senior leaders should regularly review the work of TAs to ensure that they are having a positive impact on student outcomes. This might involve collecting data on student progress, conducting regular observations of TA work, or seeking feedback from students, teachers, and parents.

EEF Recommendations - Questions to Ask Yourself

If TAs are being used to teach, what training have they received? Do you have pupils who are regularly being taught by TAs rather than subject teachers?

Try reversing roles so TAs roam the lesson looking for pupils who need support while the class teacher works intensively with individuals or small groups. Do TAs and class teachers have time to regularly discuss their roles in the classroom?

What training have your TAs received on effective pedagogical and assessment techniques? What training have your class teachers received on how to best deploy TAs within their classrooms?

What training have your TAs received on effective pedagogical and assessment techniques? What training have your class teachers received on how to best deploy TAs within their classrooms?

Structured interventions have the most evidence of effectiveness of all types of TA deployment. How is your school maximising this benefit? What training have they received?

Are intervention sessions brief, regular, and sustained? Are the pupils carefully selected and is the programme being implemented with fidelity?

Do class teachers know and understand which pupils are taking part in interventions, and what they are doing there? Are the interventions at least as high quality as the lessons from which pupils are being withdrawn?

TAs play an important role in supporting students in secondary schools. However, their effectiveness depends on how they are used in the classroom. When properly trained, strategically deployed and monitored effectively, teaching assistants can be worth their weight in gold – and considering the amount of money that are spent on them, this is valuable indeed!

Secondary Teaching Assistant Training Package

The Secondary School Improvement team have developed a unique package of E-learning aimed at upskilling secondary teaching assistants.

We are offering a special launch price of £100 per TA for all eight modules.