Research into support staff roles

Research into support staff roles

The deployment of teaching assistants

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) carries out research into how teaching assistants can have the most impact in the classroom. The findings have been used to create a guidance report for schools, 'Making best use of teaching assistants', which contains seven evidence-based recommendations for maximising the impact of TAs. The report highlights the importance of high quality training and says that teaching assistants should be seen as an effective way of complementing teachers, rather than replacing them. UNISON, which represents more than 150,000 teaching assistants in the UK, has long argued that the vital role teaching assistants play in boosting quality and standards should be backed up by greater investment in the workforce. The seven recommendations are:

1. TAs should not be used as an informal teaching resource for low-attaining pupils.

2. Use TAs to add value to what teachers do, not to replace them: it is important that they supplement, rather than replace, the teacher.

3. Use TAs to help pupils develop independent learning skills and to manage their own learning.

4. Ensure TAs are fully prepared for their role in the classroom: schools should provide sufficient time for TA training and for teachers and TAs to meet outside lesson time.

5. Use TAs to deliver high-quality one-to-one and small-group support, using structured interventions.

6. Use interventions with reliable evidence of effectiveness. These sessions are often:
a. brief (20-50 minutes)
b. regular (three to five times a week)
c. sustained (over a period of between eight and 20 weeks)

7. Ensure explicit connections are made between everyday classroom teaching and structured interventions: interventions should extend work done during whole-class lessons.

An online course has been developed for those in school leadership roles which explains the guidance.

The EEF have since carried out research into TA interventions using rigourous methodology and found that all six projects involving TA-led literacy/numeracy interventions have shown positive impacts on pupil’s learning, typically adding around three to four additional months progress. Encouragingly, there are signs that these interventions disproportionality benefit low attaining and pupils eligible for Free School Meals, and so could be effective approaches to ‘narrow the gap’. Importantly, the positive effects observed in these projects only occur when TAs work in structured settings with high-quality support and training.  Read more here. These findings were also reported in a Guardian newspaper article.


UNISON surveys

UNISON carries out regular surveys of school support staff to help us in our campaigns. We also share our findings with other organisations and use them in presenting evidence to the Education Select Committee. Survey reports are listed below.

Pastoral support staff 2018

Lessons in austerity - school support staff survey 2018

School catering staff survey 2017

Workload and stress 2016

School business managers 2015

Voices from the school office 2014

Whole school support staff team 2014

Teaching assistants 2013

The evident value of teaching assistants - views of headteachers 2013