A study on the role of Teaching Assistants (TAs) in primary schools has suggested that TAs perceive themselves to have a positive effect on children displaying challenging behaviour and believe that without their support many of these children would be excluded from mainstream school.
The study, conducted by Dr Gemma Handelsman from Hertfordshire County Council and presented at the British Psychological Society's Division of Educational and Child Psychology annual professional event today, Thursday 9 January 2014, aimed to gather the views of TAs regarding their role in supporting children displaying challenging behaviour and identify factors that help and hinder TAs in this role.
Gemma explained: "The number of TAs in mainstream schools has almost tripled over the last decade and the number of children displaying challenging behaviour included in these schools has also increased significantly. Consequently more TAs are used to support these children, but little research has explored this aspect of their role."
The study consisted of two phases; the first was group interviews with eleven TAs and the second was an online questionnaire completed by 249 TAs -- representative of the wider TA population, being mostly female, aged over 36 years and of white ethnic background.
The main themes to emerge showed that many TAs were positive about their impact on the child's development, their inclusion in school and mostly significantly their relationship with individual children. They listen to the children and help them identify their strengths. However, they were less certain about their long term impact. The findings further suggest that TAs would benefit from more opportunities to develop their understanding of children's behaviour and national and local SEN processes, through training and support.
Many TAs reported working overtime each week (75 per cent), which was often unpaid, and some were expected to teach whole classes (39 per cent).
Gemma said: "It seems clear that many TAs are very proud of their complex role in supporting these children and believe they make a positive difference."
"They wanted be more valued, respected and supported. They believed that their views should be listened to by senior staff and external professionals. They would also welcome more regular opportunities to plan, share knowledge and feedback with teachers."
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