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What impact do TAs and support staff have on school children?

A study found that without training, guidance and experience, teaching assistants and support staff are not effective in the classroom
© University of Reading

In 2003-2009, the Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project conducted the largest research study of the impact teaching assistants and support staff have within UK schools, and in this research it was found that: “children who received the most support from teaching assistants (TAs) made significantly less progress than similar pupils who received less support” [1]. The results were surprising for many.

The UK government of 1997-2010 had put a huge emphasis (and funded extensively) on the need for support staff in schools. However, despite this increase in manpower, the results from the study found that without the correct training, guidance and experience, support staff can only be as good as their intuition.

Some of the key issues that the research authors found were that often support staff would:

  • Ask closed questions
  • Fill the void by talking too much
  • Not give time to pupils to answer questions
  • Feel that task completion was paramount to everything else

Expansive education

In response to this study, the researchers worked with several schools to develop practice and found that learning improved where support staff considered ‘expansive education initiatives’ or ‘dispositions for learning’.

Expansive education is a concept developed by Claxton and Lucas, which views education as more than just passing exams and includes:

  • Developing dispositions which will help children through life
  • Having a broader view of intelligence
  • Seeing education that happens not just in school but everywhere
  • Viewing teachers as teachers and researchers

Dispositions for learning are skills that ensure you’re successful. This can include:

  • Being able to self-regulate
  • Taking responsibility for yourself and not blaming others
  • Having persistence even in the face of challenges
  • Seeing the value of cooperation
  • Being constantly enquiring and curious

Teaching frameworks

Staff were given questioning frameworks so they could ask the right sort of questions for the answer they wanted. Children were being supported and given strategies so that they were becoming independent, and not dependent on the support staff.

Having other adults to support teaching and learning in the classroom is always great, but whatever role you play, you need to be acutely aware of what the teacher requires from you, how you should behave and use lots of resources to aid you in your role.

“…sharing any useful tips and tricks that they know about students, which may be beneficial to them (while respecting the child’s privacy) – it may be something as simple as ‘this student works better when they’re allowed to x’ or ‘they need to be sent the PowerPoint in advance’” – Ayeasha Cindy
“Support staff are there to make sure the teacher’s vision can be converted into daily practicalities, without support staff school would just be an idea not a reality.” – Bryn Watkinson



  1. Blatchford P., Russell A., Webster R. Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistant: How research challenges practice and policy. 1st ed. Routledge; 2011.
© University of Reading
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