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Teaching assistants: their role in the inclusion, education and achievement of pupils with special educational needs

Webster, R; De Boer, A; (2019) Teaching assistants: their role in the inclusion, education and achievement of pupils with special educational needs. European Journal of Special Needs Education , 34 (3) pp. 404-407. 10.1080/08856257.2019.1615746. Green open access

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Abstract

The long-term, international trend towards the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs (SEN) has been accompanied and enabled by an increase in the employment and deployment of a paraprofessional workforce, known variously as teaching assistants, teacher aides and paraeducators. Australia, Italy, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Malta, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States and the United Kingdom have all experienced large increases in this section of their education workforces (Giangreco, Doyle, and Suter 2014). It is claimed that policies of inclusion and provision for pupils with SEN in mainstream settings in many countries rely heavily on this ‘non-teaching’ workforce (Masdeu Navarro 2015). In the last two decades, the growing prevalence and prominence of teaching assistants (TAs)1 in schools and classrooms have attracted attention from researchers, who have been keen to characterise effective models of TA deployment and to identify and measure TAs’ various forms of impact (Blatchford, Russell, and Webster 2012; Sharma & Salend, 2016). Despite this attention, the deployment and impact of TAs remains an area of contestability. While there is evidence to show that TAs can have a positive impact on learning outcomes, effects vary by the types of deployment. Large-scale research examining the impact of TAs providing general classroom support suggests that pupils, particularly those with SEN and/or low prior attainment, perform worse in classes with a TA present (Blatchford, Russell, and Webster 2012). However, results from trials where TAs are trained to deliver structured curriculum intervention programmes to individual pupils or small groups, on average, show moderate positive benefits (Slavin 2018). Opportunities for teachers and TAs to plan and work together effectively, and the nature and quality of preparation and training for both roles are strongly associated with learning outcomes (Webster et al. 2011). While positive effects have been found in terms of teacher workload and reduced stress (Blatchford, Russell, and Webster 2012), the evidence that TAs can improve pupils’ ‘soft’ skills and well-being is mixed. For example, facilitating the inclusion of pupils with SEN has unintended consequences in terms of reducing interactions with teachers and peers, and creating dependencies on adult support. This special issue on the topic of teaching assistants – which, to the best of our knowledge, would be a first for major international education journal – is both timely and important. Drawing together international research and perspectives on the role, deployment and impact of TAs from various perspectives and from a range of methodological approaches, this special issue intends to serve as an indicative summary of the research in this field to date and as a point of departure for future research and development.

Type: Article
Title: Teaching assistants: their role in the inclusion, education and achievement of pupils with special educational needs
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/08856257.2019.1615746
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1080/08856257.2019.1615746
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Psychology and Human Development
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Psychology and Human Development > IOE - PHD Centre for Inclusive Educ
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10127374
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