New evidence on getting the best from teaching assistants

Teaching assistants can improve numeracy and literacy when used effectively, according to new research from the Education Endowment Foundation.

According to the Foundation, the results of two randomised controlled trials suggest: in literacy when teaching assistants are trained in and stick to a specific and tested programme, they can improve the skills of struggling pupils; and in maths, pupils behind in numeracy made significant gains when they received one to one teaching from a TA.

This is significant , the Foundation argues, because research to date has suggested TAs do NOT make a difference and that students in a class with a teaching assistant do not, on average, perform better than those in a class with only a teacher.

Research on how to use teaching assistants effectively is important as the number of teaching assistants in schools has increased year on year for the past 10 years from 44,900 in January 2002 to 128,100 in November 2012 (DfE).

Comment from Rob Webster, researcher, Institute of Education and expert on role of TAs:
“Research on the impact of TAs on pupil learning in relation to literacy and numeracy reveal two general trends. When TAs are properly trained to lead curriculum interventions outside the classroom, pupils tend to make progress in those interventions.

But a large-scale study by the Institute of Education, London, found that pupils who received a high level of TA support in class made significantly less academic progress than similar pupils who received little or no TA support – even after controlling for factors known to affect progress, such as prior attainment and SEN.

The main reasons for this have more to do with the decisions schools make about TAs than decisions made by TAs. It’s important that policymakers and school leaders do not rush to the judgment that TAs are ineffective.

The findings from the EEF add to the growing evidence that TAs can be used more effectively, but schools must capitalise on TAs’ valuable contribution to learning by thinking about their wider role and purpose in the classroom and acting in that direction. This will help ensure gains made via interventions translate into wider attainment scores. ”

Dr Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said that:

“These evaluations represent the first step in building a secure evidence base for schools to draw upon to improve results for their poorest pupils. In the past many schools have struggled to train and support teaching assistants in ways which benefit children, particularly students from disadvantaged backgrounds. These studies suggest some promising ways to change that. The results show that when a groups of schools come together to test something we can generate knowledge which is hugely valuable to all schools.”


Rob Webster is a researcher at the Institute of Education, London, where he also leads the Maximising the Impact of TAs (MITA) programme.

For more on the research and the MITA programme and conferences, please visit



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