The role and development of teaching assistants from 1997 to 2000
This research has studied the role and context of teaching assistants (TAs) in one authority, and in particular in two primary schools. The purpose of the study was to find out how these assistants support the teaching and learning of pupils in the classroom; to identify the factors which influence their effectiveness; and to identify strategies which could enhance their work. The study began with a literature review of the historical perceptions of the role, effectiveness and development of teaching assistants. In order to gain further insight into the assistants' role and needs within the local authority employing the researcher, the study proceeded with a survey of primary schools within the authority, the results of which were circulated to these schools. The results provided sufficient information to enable a rationale for professional development to be defined. The next stage was a close look at the work of TAs in two primary schools which differed in the rationale for employing assistants. An ethnographical approach was used, including observation strategies, some video work, semi-structured interviews and field notes. The results were analysed and categorised. A reflective diary recorded the changes taking place during the period of study. This, along with an updated literature review enabled the findings of the research to be set in a wider national context. The key findings were: • that assistants support teaching and learning in a variety of ways, often operating concurrently, and which include many characteristics of qualified teachers; • their personal characteristics, opportunities for continuous professional development, and the school climate are important factors in their effectiveness, regardless of the nature of their employment; and • while external agencies need to recognise and support their work, the way in which they are employed and deployed by the school is crucial.