A Learning Support Assistant (LSA), often referred to as a Teaching Assistant (TA), is provided to support teachers and pupils in the classroom. LSAs/TAs work in primary and secondary schools, mainstream schools, mainstream schools with SEN units, and special schools.
Higher-level teaching assistants (HLTAs) do all the things that regular teaching assistants do but they have an increased level of responsibility. For example, HLTAs teach classes on their own, cover planned absences, and allow teachers time to plan and mark.
The primary role of the teaching assistant (TA) is to enable access to the curriculum, to facilitate independent learning, and to promote inclusion. TA’s generally carry out a variety of functions in support of teachers and what they do varies between classes, key stages, and schools. The role of the TA can be crucial to pupils achieving greater autonomy, higher academic standards, greater social awareness, and feeling part of the whole school community. It is important to note that the TA’s objective is to support the teacher and or other school staff in providing quality education to pupils. They should not be left in sole charge of a class at any time. There are a variety of roles that often fall under the title of TA, each with different responsibilities.
The teachers’ and teaching assistants’ roles are different but both are important and your TA might have more experience in the school or with children. Be sure to acknowledge this, always speak in a professional way and if there is ever any conflict, clear the air and address the issue. Asking their advice regarding individual pupils or effective strategies for learning is a powerful way to build a positive working relationship.
Communication and Planning
Be clear and specific: don't assume that your TA knows what you want them to do. Not all teachers have dedicated time to share and discuss lessons with their TA. It's essential to discuss your lesson plans, expectations, focus children, and so on; this will help you build a relationship with your TA and enable them to anticipate what you and the pupils will need. Be conscious of specifically planning for your support staff. It will empower them and allow you to have a greater impact on your pupils. This may include planning organisational tasks as well as pupil-centered. Remember, your TA will not know what you want them to do unless you communicate your plans.
Empowering your TA to be active in lessons not only enables them to raise their profile in the classroom but also allows you to develop an engaging environment. Involve them in lessons and build a rapport where you can bounce off each other during sessions.
Allowing your TA to make independent decisions that are in line with your classroom rules and behavioural strategies is very empowering. Facilitating this will help keep the class running smoothly and promotes a team approach to teaching.
TAs should not be used as an informal teaching resource for low-attaining pupils. TAs should be used to add value to what teachers do, not replace them. TAs can be used to help pupils develop independent learning skills and manage their own learning. Always ensure TAs are fully prepared for their role in the classroom and use TAs to deliver high quality one-to-one and small group support using structured interventions.
There are some key questions to consider when working with TAs to ensure they are most effectively deployed:
Have you identified the activities where TAs can support learning, rather than simply managing tasks?
Have you provided support and training for teachers and TAs so they understand how to work together effectively?
How will you ensure that teachers do not reduce their support or input to the students supported by TAs?
Have you considered how you will evaluate the impact of how you deploy your TAs? (Education Endowment Foundation, 2018a)
In order for TAs to most effectively improve students’ learning outcomes, there are some essential areas they need to know prior to engaging with students within the lesson:
Concepts, facts, and information being taught
Skills to be learned, applied, practiced or extended
Intended learning outcomes
A self-assessment guide for TAs outlines some of the most effective practices when looking at exemplary behaviour:
Teachers and TAs work effectively as a team, with a shared understanding of their respective roles in achieving lesson objectives. A teacher’s moment-by-moment decisions regarding TA deployment are driven by students’ needs.
TAs actively look for opportunities to allow students to attempt parts of tasks independently and to experience a healthy mix of success and challenge.
TAs are confident in their roles and have good subject knowledge. Good questioning skills inform their interactions.
TAs allow sufficient ‘wait time’ for students to think and respond (e.g. four to five seconds).
Teachers have received extensive and ongoing training on how to manage, organise and work with TAs.
Teachers and TAs have allocated time to plan and review lessons, and feedback on students’ learning in structured interventions.
TAs deliver one or two evidence-based and structured approaches (e.g. literacy approach), chosen to deliberately complement and extend class-based teaching and learning.
Structured approaches sessions are brief (less than 30 minutes), regular and sustained, with clear objectives and expectations. Sessions are well-paced, well-resourced, and carefully timetabled to minimise the time spent away from general class teaching.
Teachers and TAs both help students to make connections between the learning in interventions and the wider curriculum.
Whether on placement or in your first NQT role, if you have a TA, LSA or HLTA working with you or with certain students you teach - make a point of letting them see your lesson in advance. Ask them for advice with structuring your tasks for specific learners - where possible, by email (this can be used as evidence for your standards file!). They are also great for seeking advice about a seating plan from - they will know the students and know them well!