• 70% of schools use teaching assistants (TAs) to support SEN pupils, yet only 5.4% are confident TAs are well informed about the support they need to provide
  • 80% of head teachers and SENCOs pledge to develop action plans to use TAs more effectively

The project is an extension of the charity’s Inspired Educators programme, which was developed after research commissioned by the Department for Education revealed that children who received the most support from TAs made significantly less progress than similar pupils who received less support (1).

With an aim to create a more inclusive education system to improve outcomes for all children, the project worked with the Institute of Education and six National Teaching Schools to train over 1,500 head teachers, SENCOs and teachers on how to effectively use TAs to support pupils with SEN.

An independent evaluation of the project by Canterbury Christ Church University (2) found that 70% of schools use TAs for general, one-to-one, and group support for children with SEN in class (3); however, only 5.4% of teaching professionals strongly agreed that TAs are well informed about the support they are expected to provide for pupils with SEN when working inside the classroom (4).

This must change and schools agree – once they had undertaken Mencap’s training, around 80% of schools agreed that they needed to develop the way TA’s are prepared, communicated with and deployed (5).

Of the head teachers and SENCOs who attended the seminars, 80% said that they would be developing an action plan to outline how they will use TAs more effectively in the coming school year. They also confirmed that they better understood learning disability, they had acquired more knowledge about SEN and inclusion, and they had a better understanding about the effective use of TAs to work with pupils with SEN (6).

Helen Dummett, Deputy Vice Principal of West Park Academy, undertook an Inspired Educators seminar (7). She said:

After the seminar, we re-focussed our attention on ensuring that teachers realise that pupils with SEN are their responsibility, rather than ‘giving them to TAs’. Our SENCO has also shared the outcomes from the seminar with the TAs, which they’ve really taken on board.

TAs aren’t seen as a pair of eyes but are engaging with the lesson, moving around the groups and supporting differentiation. They have a role from the start to the end of a lesson. As a result teachers are able to plan and teach to individual abilities and the school’s value-added scores have improved and progress for pupils with SEN is outstanding.

Our TA’s have noted a change in the progress of students. TA’s have a better idea of what they’re doing in lessons and have said that they can see the marked progress on individual students. As behaviour and attendance has improved, parents are starting to feel that their needs are being better supported. It really is an all-in approach to change.

Kirsty Wilcox, Teaching School Leader of Town End Academy (one of the six National Teaching Schools delivering the project in partnership with Mencap and IOE) said:

The Inspired Educators project has provided a very difficult message about ensuring that we set up structures that allow staff to perform at a level which helps pupils to achieve their full potential. There is something that everyone can change, no matter what their role is.

All Teaching School Trainers who attended Mencap’s Inspired Educators seminars, and who delivered INSET sessions throughout their networks, felt that there was a strong need for training amongst all teaching staff (8).

Meeting this demand, Mencap will work in partnership with the Institute of Education and 15 National Teaching Schools to deliver seminars on the deployment of support staff to more than 600 schools over the course of the coming year, through the new Inspired Educators: Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants project, funded by The Co-Operative.

Sandi Gatt, Mencap’s project manager for the Inspired Educators: Maximising the Impact of Teaching, said:

Teaching assistants are an important part of the education system, however students with SEN and learning disabilities deserve to be taught by a qualified teacher and included in classroom learning. And teaching professionals agree. They have told us that achieving inclusivity in education has the potential to improve educational outcomes for all children, not just those with SEN and a learning disability.

The next phase of our work will raise awareness of the need for improved practices and will support schools to think more strategically about the preparation and deployment of their support staff.  We will be focusing on the role of senior leadership in driving a whole-school approach to change. We cannot afford to ignore the difference that practical changes can make in significantly improving the quality of education for all children.

Rob Webster, researcher at the Institute of Education and lead for Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants (MITA), said: 

TAs comprise a quarter of the school workforce. It's inconceivable that school leaders should not consider them in the drive to raise standards and improve inclusive opportunities for students with SEN. Inspired Educators: Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants aims to help school leaders improve outcomes for all pupils by guiding them through a process of rethinking and reforming the use of one of their most valuable resources: teaching assistants.

Mencap has produced best-practice guidelines on the deployment of TAs: www.mencap.org.uk/inspired-educators

-ENDS-

For more information, please contact the Mencap press office on 020 7696 6950 or media@mencap.org.uk

Notes to editors

(1) The effective deployment of classroom-based support staff(Department for Education): http://goo.gl/1BHLnv

(2) Canterbury Christ Church University carried out an evaluation of the project, which comprised of pre- and post-  project surveys, a three-month follow-up survey, and in-depth interviews with individual schools to provide a full picture of the impact of the project and the way that schools were thinking about the preparation, practice and deployment of TAs. 

(3) Usage of TAs by schools represented at the seminars (prior to seminar):

Use of Teaching Assistants

Not Sure

Never used

Rarely used

Occasionally used

Often used

Administration (including training/meetings)

2.9% (8)

3.6% (10)

22.0% (61)

30.7% (85)

6.5% (18)

In class general support with a focus on those with SEN

0.7% (2)

0.7% (2)

4.3% (12)

18.8% (52)

46.6% (129)

Supporting/working with individual children with SEN on a one to one basis in class

0.7% (2)

0.4% (1)

7.2% (20)

28.5% (79)

33.6% (93)

Supporting/working with groups of children with SEN in class

0.4% (1)

0.4% (1)

4.7% (13)

19.5% (54)

45.8% (127)

Supporting/working with individual children with SEN out of class

0.7% (2)

-

11.2% (31)

31.0% (86)

27.7% (74)

Supporting/working with groups of children with SEN out of class

0.7% (2)

2.2% (6)

10.8% (30)

29.6 (82)

34.7% (96)

Undertaking specialist interventions or programmes for children (groups or individuals) with SEN

1.1% (3)

0.4% (1)

9.4% (26)

25.3% (70)

34.7% (96)

Supervising children (e.g. time outs/emotionally/escorting)

1.1% (3)

5.1% (14)

15.5% (43)

33.2% (92)

13.7% (38)

(4) Views from the pre seminar survey on communication between TAs and Teachers:

Statement

Strongly Disagree

Disagree

Not sure

Agree

Strongly Agree

Teachers are able to work with/manage TAs effectively

2.2% (6)

13.0% (36)

7.2% (20)

43.0% (119)

4.3% (12)

TAs are well informed about the support they are expected to provide for pupils withSENwhen working inside the classroom

1.8% (5)

14.8% (41)

6.5% (18)

40.8% (113)

5.4% (15)

Teachers have sufficient opportunity to receive feedback about pupils’ learning and progress from TAs

0.4% (1)

35.7% (99)

5.4% (15)

25.3% (70)

2.5% (7)

Teachers have sufficient opportunity to prepare and guide TAs who undertake SEN related work within their classrooms

1.1% (3)

36.1% (100)

6.9% (19)

21.7% (60)

4.0% (11)

TAs are well informed about the support they are expected to provide for pupils with SEN when working outside the classroom

2.5% (7)

15.5% (43)

5.4% (15)

41.2% (114)

5.1% (14)

Teachers receive sufficient feedback from TA led interventions

0.4% (1)

29.2% (81)

9.4% (26)

28.9% (80)

1.8% (5)

Communication between teachers and TAs is good

2.2% (6)

15.2% (42)

6.9% (19)

38.6% (107)

5.4% (15)

(5) Responses post-seminar in when prompted to re-consider the questions above in light of what they had learned:

We need to develop our practice in relation to:

Strongly Disagree

Disagree

Not sure

Agree

Strongly Agree

Teachers’ ability to work with/manage TAs effectively

0.4% (1)

4.1% (11)

3.0% (8)

52.8% (141)

30.3% (81)

How well TAs are informed about the support they are expected to provide for pupils withSENwhen working inside the classroom

1.9% (5)

3.0% (8)

3.7% (10)

52.1% (139)

30.3% (81)

The  opportunities teachers have to receive feedback about pupils’ learning and progress from TAs

1.9% (5)

5.6% (15)

4.1% (11)

46.4% (124)

33.7% (90)

The  opportunities teachers have to prepare and guide TAs who undertake SEN related work within their classrooms

0.4% (1)

4.1% (11)

3.7% (10)

45.7% (122)

37.5% (100)

How well TAs are informed about the support they are expected to provide for pupils with SEN when working outside the classroom

2.2% (6)

11.6% (31)

9.7% (26)

43.1% (115)

23.6% (63)

The feedback teachers receive from TA led interventions

1.1% (3)

5.6% (15)

6.7% (18)

48.7% (130)

28.5% (76)

The quality of communication between teachers and TAs

2.2% (6)

7.1% (19)

8.6% (23)

50.6% (135)

22.8% (61)

Teachers understanding of effective methods of utilising TAs to support/work with pupils with SEN

1.1% (3)

4.1% (11)

7.5% (20)

47.6% (127)

31.5% (84)

(6) Responses from head teachers and SENCOs who attended Inspired Educators seminars:

Respondents asked to indicate on 1-10 scale (not at all- fully) to which the input during the seminar had develop their knowledge and understanding:

  • Understand learning disability and why Mencap are delivering this project (8.2 mean rating)
  • Understand research behind MITA (8.7)
  • Have acquired more knowledge about SEN and inclusion (7.2)
  • Have acquired more knowledge about the effective use of TAs to support/ work with pupils with SEN (8.2)

Future plans for engagement:

  • 80.9% indicated they would be developing an action plan; 6% indicated that TA use was already part of their school improvement or other action plan

(7) Case study: West Park Academy, Darlington

The Deputy Vice Principal of West Park Academy, Helen Dummett, participated in the Inspired Educators head teacher and SENCO seminar. She said the training provided an important opportunity to develop the work the school was already undertaking to create a more inclusive and effective learning environment for students with special educational needs and all students at the school:

“The Inspired Educators seminar has really helped us to focus our thoughts, particularly in our approach to the implementation of our TA policy. We felt they we were going down the right lines but the seminar has helped us to further progress our strategy for change.

“After the seminar, we re-focussed our attention on ensuring that teachers realise that pupils with SEN are their responsibility, rather than ‘giving them to the TAs’. Our SENCO has also shared the outcomes from the seminar with the TAs, which they’ve really taken on board.”

“TAs aren’t seen as a pair of eyes but are engaging with the lesson, moving around the groups and supporting differentiation. They have a role from the start to the end of a lesson. As a result teachers are able to plan and teach to individual abilities and year on year, the school’s value-added scores have improved, and progress for pupils with SEN is outstanding.

“Our TAs have also noted a change in the progress of students. With improved opportunities for pre-teaching, TAs have a better idea of what they’re doing in lesson and have said that they can see the marked progress on individual students over the course of the year.”

“As behaviour and attendance has improved, parents are starting to feel that their needs are being better supported, especially since the appointment of a home-school support worker. It really is an all-in approach to change."

(8) All respondents gave ratings of 7 or above for “there is a need amongst teaching staff for this training”.

About Mencap 

There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Independent charity Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.www.mencap.org.uk

For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap Direct on 0808 808 1111 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday) or email help@mencap.org.uk

About learning disability

A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability, which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life.

People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.

Learning disability is not a mental illness or a learning difficulty, like dyslexia. Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’.