Home / Education / Teaching Assistants, Are They Still Relevant in the Classroom?

For every two teachers in state-funded English schools, there’s more than one teaching assistant (TA). According to the 2017 School Workforce in England report, TAs make up 27.8% of the workforce in schools, whilst teachers account for 47.7%. The large number of TAs demonstrate that they’re still relevant to classrooms, but recent statistics and research are raising questions about this in the long-term.

Despite a steady rise in TA numbers between 2011 and 2016, between 2016 and 2017, they declined. In the same year, teacher numbers also declined whilst support staff remained the same. Even though pupil numbers in English schools have risen, on average schools have 1.6 less TAs than they did in 2015.
Many teachers praise the role that TAs play, but at the same time, not all research is in favour of the benefit of having TAs in today’s classrooms…

The Role of Teaching Assistants

TAs have a variety of roles in the classroom, but many of these roles fit into two categories: supporting the teacher and supporting the students. Depending on the class, and the particular needs of the students or teacher, a TA may fill a specific role, such as working solely with students who require additional learning support.
Some TAs have formal qualifications, but many don’t, so they normally can’t act as a stand-in for qualified teachers. However, they can perform many duties that facilitate learning, such as:

• Running support sessions with small groups or on a one-to-one basis
• Assisting with administrative duties, such as progress tracking and marking
• Helping children with assignments and reading excercises
• Preparing the classroom for lessons
• Providing pastoral care

Teaching Assistant Relevancy: The Divided Opinions

Research into TA relevancy and effectiveness in classrooms has been quite extensive, and the results are somewhat divided. Some evidence shows that TAs don’t help student progress, and other research shows that they’re almost indispensable to excellent learning provision in classrooms.
A number of studies have explored the impact of TAs in the classroom. The Institute of Education recently performed a study which showed that students made more progress without the help of a TA when compared to those of a similar ability who did. However, the support provided by the TA did reduce class disruption, subsequently improving teaching ability. In other studies, no progress or negative progress have been the result of TA support.

While there’s evidence to show that TAs don’t support progress, there’s also evidence to say that they do. A study review by the EPPI Centre identified some incredibly important benefits of TAs in classrooms. Studies have shown that TAs positively impact student progress, reduce teacher stress, and improve emotional and social adjustments.
So where does that leave the relevancy of TAs in today’s classrooms? One of the most suggested ways to improve the value of TAs is to provide additional training, support, and ongoing feedback, as well as using TAs more effectively. Studies have shown that with better training, TAs can improve the progress of students, making them very important to today’s classrooms.

In today’s culture, where teachers are facing bigger class sizes, more work and less support, TAs can provide an invaluable and incredibly relevant role in the classroom. With the correct training and support, this role could become even more effective.


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