teacher 2Just 5% of schools are confident that teaching assistants (TAs) are sufficiently well-informed about the support they need to provide pupils with special educational needs (SEN), Mencap has revealed.

In order to try to tackle this issue, the learning disability charity is working with the Institute of Education and six National Teaching Schools to train more than 1,500 head teachers, SENCOs and teachers on how to effectively use TAs to support the 1.8 million pupils in the UK with SEN.

The project is an extension of the charity’s Inspired Educators programme, which was developed after research commissioned by the Department for Education revealed that children who received the most support from TAs made significantly less progress than similar pupils who received less support. 

As part of an independent evaluation of this project, Canterbury Christ Church University researchers found that 70% of schools use TAs for general, one-to-one and group support for children with SEN in class. Yet only 5.4% of teaching professionals strongly agreed that TAs are well-informed about the support they are expected to provide for pupils with SEN when working inside the classroom.

Inclusivity in education 
Sandi Gatt, Mencap’s project manager for 'Inspired Educators', said: "Teaching assistants are an important part of the education system, however students with SEN and learning disabilities deserve to be taught by a qualified teacher and included in classroom learning. And teaching professionals agree. They have told us that achieving inclusivity in education has the potential to improve educational outcomes for all children, not just those with SEN and a learning disability.

“The next phase of our work will raise awareness of the need for improved practices and will support schools to think more strategically about the preparation and deployment of their support staff. We will be focusing on the role of senior leadership in driving a whole-school approach to change. We cannot afford to ignore the difference that practical changes can make in significantly improving the quality of education for all children.”

Since being involved in the project, 80% of head teachers and SENCOs have pledged to develop action plans to use TAs more effectively by improving the way they are prepared, communicated with and deployed. 

Helen Dummett, deputy vice principal of West Park Academy who undertook an Inspired Educators seminar, said: "TAs aren’t seen as a pair of eyes but are engaging with the lesson, moving around the groups and supporting differentiation. They have a role from the start to the end of a lesson. As a result teachers are able to plan and teach to individual abilities and the school’s value-added scores have improved and progress for pupils with SEN is outstanding. 

"Our TAs have noted a change in the progress of students. TAs have a better idea of what they’re doing in lessons and have said that they can see the marked progress on individual students. As behaviour and attendance has improved, parents are starting to feel that their needs are being better supported. It really is an all-in approach to change." 

To support the project, Mencap has produced best-practice guidelines on the deployment of TAs - read them in full at: www.mencap.org.uk/inspired-educators.