Thanks to Michael Tidd for the following article.
There’s always something that Ofsted are looking for – although half of the things we’re told are little more than hearsay. One clear focus of inspections these days, though, is on the use of pupil premium funding to ‘diminish the difference’ between the outcomes of disadvantaged children and others nationally. Not an easy gap to close… or difference to diminish, rather!
With ever-tightening budgets, pupil premium funding is increasingly being allocated to maintain existing staffing to support children with additional needs, whether that’s a specific special need or just more general ‘catch-up support’ to ensure good progress. But it isn’t enough simply to use ringfenced funding to pay for teaching assistants. We need to know that we’re getting good value for money, especially for those most disadvantaged children.
Colleagues will be only too familiar with the commonly cited claim that teaching assistants are ineffective, but the evidence is not so clear-cut as that. The Education Endowment Foundation research has been clear that it’s as much about effective use of Teaching Assistants as anything. A well-deployed TA can have a significant impact; a poorly-used one, much less so.
One of the seven key recommendations from their report was that schools should “use TAs to deliver high-quality, one-to-one and small-group support using structured interventions.” Of course, for that to work well, we need well-structured interventions that can be led by Teaching Assistants in school.
Within the report, there are clear recommendations about how to ensure that TAs are supported through this structure:
Sessions are carefully timetabled, and are often brief, occur regularly (even daily) and are maintained over a sustained period
The intervention has structured resources and lesson plans, with clear objectives
TAs closely follow the plan and the structure of the intervention
Assessments are used to focus work and track progress
Connections are made between the intervention and classroom learning
For us, one of the interventions that has had clearly positive results is the WordBlaze programme. For children in Key Stage 2 who have not become completely secure through phonics in both reading and spelling, this clearly-structured programme is delivered by a number of teaching assistants in clearly timetabled daily slots. For many children, this is while others are tackling more advanced spelling lessons. For those who are struggling, the consistent model, delivered every day builds on the work of phonics in Key Stage 1, without just going over old ground.
By providing teaching assistants with a clear programme that is targeted to match the needs of the pupils and runs a very consistent approach across an extended period, we have seen some significant impacts. Indeed, last year, as a school it supported is in raising proportions of pupils reaching age-equivalence in spelling by over 20%.
The newest addition to our intervention plan is On Track Maths.
We can’t be alone in finding that the new curriculum has opened up numerous gaps as children transfer from the old to the new requirements. Suddenly increased expectations, combined with things moving from one year group to another have meant that some gaps have arisen. And, of course, we have always had children who don’t quite secure the learning on the first visit.
Once again, On Track Maths provides us with a clearly structured programme that can be delivered by one of our well-qualified and trained Teaching Assistants to target a specific need. Often it is exactly the pupil premium-eligible children who are most susceptible to finding themselves caught with these gaps. On Track Maths allows class teachers to identify a specific need through their routine teaching and assessment, and then match that with a clear programme from the package. For example, if three of your Year 6 children are not secure in their knowledge of equivalent fractions, decimals and percentages, the Key Stage 2 file contains a clearly-planned 5-day interventon with all the planning and resources ready for your TA to print out and deliver.
Rather than scrabbling around for another downloaded worksheet and hoping that your TA can make sense of it, packages like these can provide a clear model of working for well-trained Teaching Assistants that will have a clear impact on the progress of your pupils.
In times where schools have to justify their spending in terms of outcomes for eligible children, Teaching Assistants can have a significant impact when supported by structured programmes of intervention. Much easier to explain on your annual pupil premium strategy review than simply hoping that employing a Teaching Assistant will be justification enough.