Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants – why the status quo is no longer an option

Posted by Sally Franklin - Last updated on November 24, 2022

The evidence is clear: poor teaching assistant deployment has a negative impact on attainment; effective teaching assistant deployment can have positive impacts.

A ‘perfect storm’ is brewing in SEND which means that schools can no longer accept the status quo with regards to their teaching assistant deployment. Schools in England employ more than 380,000 teaching assistants and the average school spend on teaching assistants is about £200,000 per year.

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The SEND Code of Practice places a statutory obligation on schools to ensure that class teachers are the first wave of response to pupil needs, but teaching assistants remain the number one Pupil Premium spend and are deployed routinely to work with pupils with SEND and/or lower attaining groups.

With ever increasing numbers of pupils with SEND and a rise in EHCPs, school leaders, now more than ever need to review the role and contribution that teaching assistants make.

Research shows that teachers benefit because effective use of teaching assistants can reduce workload stress and improve classroom behavior, whilst upskilling teaching assistants raises their professional profile and status, and makes them feel more valued.

Pupils benefit as dynamic, coordinated partnerships allow teachers and teaching assistants to respond to ‘real time’ needs, when support can be focused and immediate, helping them to make accelerated progress.

Ofsted inspection reports increasingly recognise the added value of effective teaching assistant deployment and improving the current workforce is a better investment of funds than employing ever-more staff, so now is definitely the time to act.

As with any significant change, there can be barriers to implementation, but schools can do this by investing time, attention and effort to making improvements rather than spending money. Seven key recommendations (Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants: Guidance Report, Education Endowment Foundation) offers school leaders practical steps to maximise the impact of their staff.


7 tips to maximise the impact of teaching assistants

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

A key conclusion arising from the evidence on teaching assistant deployment is that they are often used as an informal teaching resource for pupils most in need. Addressing the current situation is a school leadership issue. Crucially, the starting point is to ensure low-attaining pupils and those with SEN receive high-quality teaching, as the evidence shows that it is these children who are most disadvantaged by current arrangements.

2. Use teaching assistants to add value to what teachers do, not replace them

If teaching assistants are to play a direct instructional role, it is important to ensure they supplement, rather than replace, the teacher. Schools can mitigate ‘separation effects’ by ensuring the pupils who struggle most have no less time with the teacher than others. Rather than deploy teaching assistants in ways that replace the teacher, teaching assistants can be used to enable teachers to work more with lower-attaining pupils and those with SEN.

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

Pupils make more progress when they develop essential skills underpinning learning, such as self-scaffolding and when encouraged to be independent learners. Teaching assistants can encourage as well as inhibit these skills and so it’s vital that they fully understand the principles of approach and techniques required.

4. Ensure that teaching assistants are fully prepared for their role in the classroom

Finding extra time within schools is, of course, never easy and preparation time is something that school leaders are often most concerned with. Nevertheless, liaison time is vital for teaching assistants, and teachers and schools are increasingly making this a priority by finding creative ways to ensure that their staff can meet and plan with one another.

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

The area of research showing the strongest evidence for teaching assistants having a positive impact on pupil attainment focuses on their role in delivering structured interventions in one-to-one or small group settings. Keep faithful to the programme and deliver it as intended.


6. Adopt evidence-based interventions to support teaching assistants in their small group and one-to-one instruction

When considering the use of teaching assistants to deliver structured interventions it is important to think about which intervention programme is being used and how it is being delivered. At present there are only a handful of programmes in the UK for which there is secure evidence of effectiveness.

If your school is using, or considering, programmes that are ‘unproven’ and possibly unstructured, ensure they include key common elements of effective interventions (EEF).

7. Ensure explicit connections are made between learning from everyday classroom teaching and structured interventions

Interventions are often quite separate from classroom activities and the lack of time for teachers and teaching assistants to liaise means there is relatively little connection between what pupils experience in and away from the classroom. The need for pupils to make meaningful links between the coverage of the intervention and the wider curriculum is vital and needs to be made explicit by teachers and teaching assistants.

The EEF funded project, ‘Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants’ is now underway and we’re working with over 120 schools to evaluate the impact of this important study. We’re also working with local authorities, research schools and academies across the UK to train school leaders, teachers and teaching assistants on how best to maximise staff deployment and improve pupil progress. For further details, please go to


Guest blog from Sally Franklin, MITA project coordinator & NASENCo lecturer UCL, Institute of Education. @MITAproject  

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