The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Julie Kennelly

Working together to maximise the impact of TAs

Schools can learn as much from each other as from anything else, as Priestnall School has found when discussing the best use of teaching assistants.

This year, Priestnall School has taken part in the Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants (MITA) project. As part of this, we had the opportunity to work with a number of other schools during our enquiry visits. Only recently we hosted those same schools at Priestnall, meeting to discuss ‘how well teaching assistants are deployed to maximise the impact on pupil outcomes when delivering interventions and supporting classroom learning.’

I have written previously about how we have developed a new model for distributing in-class support in order to meet new challenges facing schools, like new curriculum content, additional funding pressures and the pressures of reductions in community support, for example.

Overall impressions

The visitors from the partner schools summarised their overall impression of the visit as follows.

‘We had a thoroughly enjoyable and worthwhile visit to Priestnall. Around school, there is a very positive learning environment with pupils focused on their learning and moving around school in a calm manner.

'It was very apparent that the teaching assistants felt that their manager was always there for them and that she listened and tried to solve any problems that they may have. It was a pleasure to meet with both staff and pupils and we felt that the visit was very productive.’

Guiding questions

As part of the project we used a set of questions to form the structure of the visit and inform our discussions with colleagues.

What impact do the interventions you deliver have on students’ learning in the classroom?

They help with students’ social skills, encouraging them to listen to one another, and give them the confidence to talk to other people.

Do you deliver interventions that you have been trained in, and do you think all interventions are successful?

Some of our TAs have worked with speech and language therapists so they knew how to deliver the programme. Others had conducted their own research to improve their interventions – especially the 'tortoise time', which has made a huge difference to those children who were reluctant to come into school.

Being a tortoise monitor is really important to some of our young people. In each session they work together to make sure the tortoises habitats are clean, they practise their fine motor skills as they cut and chop up vegetables. They also clean and wash the tortoises, the tortoises absolutely love having a bath and because of the frequent handling have become very sociable pets.

Having the opportunity to become a tortoise monitor supports emotional behaviour, social skills, organisational skills, the responsibility of having to look after them, ensures that the students taking part grow in maturity, it builds their confidence and helps to improve their self-esteem.

Do you have time to plan interventions?

Everyone has an admin slot and one break time to plan interventions, which means that they don’t have to do work at home now.

How do you feed back to teachers if a child still does not understand or is struggling at the end of a lesson/intervention?

The level of feedback depends on the teacher, but staff do communicate with other TAs, either verbally or via email. TAs complete record of work sheets that highlight specific areas of strength and areas in need of development. We analyse these each week to provide an evidence base for better provision.

Are you given the teachers’ lesson plan before the lesson?

Not regularly, but if the subject of the lesson may affect a certain child, we are made aware of this beforehand. Joint planning/sharing is difficult with more teaching time and further whole-school pressures.

Are you aware of what level the students in your class/intervention are working at and how to progress them?

Usually with set children rather than different ability groups, we have some idea of where students are at. Some plan and work on a one-to-one basis if this is what the student needs.

Do you work with a particular group or with all ability groups every day?

We work mainly with identified pupils, which could be any ability in the school but is often lower ability.

How could collaboration between the teachers and teaching assistants be improved, and are you happy to work with any class or year group?

Sometimes it is difficult to get together with some staff members even though we now have time slots available.

How do you feel about this project and what changes may occur in the future?

All the staff seemed to feel that the project was worthwhile and were not afraid of any changes as long as this benefited the students.

Current strengths

During each visit we highlighted things that we found really positive about the hosting school. These were the responses from our visit.

  • There is an overall feeling of warmth and contentment in this school. 
  • The tortoise group is extremely successful in getting and keeping students in school.
  • The school gives interventions the importance they deserve, and conduct them regularly.
  • TAs ask questions that the students might want to ask but may not feel confident to do so.
  • The students are extremely polite and confident when talking to visitors. They are very proud of their school and eager to share their successes.
  • The environment is bright and geared for learning, and everyone contributes to the overall feel of the school.
  • The displays celebrate the different houses of learning (colleges) and all the staff and pupils take great pride in the environment.
  • Teaching assistants are working hard to ensure that the students they work with receive the support they require.
  • Members of the TA team are supportive of one another, working as a team and are led by a very strong and effective manager.
  • Pupils really appreciate the help that is offered by adults both in class and in interventions.
  • All TAs and staff are aware of individual students' needs throughout the school and information about students is shared informatively.
  • TAs are valued by the students they work with, parents/carers, teachers and the SLT.

Looking ahead

In the months and years to come, there will always be more we can do to refine our use of TAs. Taking on board the suggestions from other schools, these are a few of the ways we can make further improvements.

How could teachers further support TAs in writing plans?

Provide short notes, for example on the main objective of the lesson. These could be emailed to the TA.

How could the school continue to raise the profile of TAs?

Consider raising the status of TAs throughout the whole school community, especially with teaching staff and the students who do not necessarily benefit from TAs support.

Part of the MITA course was to put together a group of people who can continue to discuss the outcomes of the enquiry, we are hoping to meet now that it has been completed to discuss how this can be achieved.

How could TAs and teachers improve their communication?

Set up a liaison channel, perhaps via email, through which TAs relay any concerns or misconceptions to the subject teacher.

How could the school improve the confidence of some TAs?

Increase the amount of time that TAs spend working alongside other TAs in more challenging classes (peer learning).

In my first year as curriculum support manager at Priestnall, it has been wonderful to be involved in this project and have a ‘critical friend’ observe what we do, and suggest how we can improve our practice. 

As this project has very much been about mutual support and development, I’ll leave the final word to the last sentence in our report: ‘Thank you for taking the time to show us around your school. We had a really productive time and have plenty of ideas to take back with us.’

More from Optimus

Improving in-class support across the board

Raising the status of teaching assistants

Make an impact

Download your copy of our resource pack for teachers and TAs, Teaching assistants with impact: a toolkit.

The 30-page booklet features resources, strategies and case studies to support effective teacher and TA partnerships.

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