7 Steps to Using Teaching Assistants Effectively

7 Steps to Using Teaching Assistants Effectively

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When used effectively, a teaching assistant can bring about an improvement in a pupil’s reading of between three and six months. Great news for those students taking a teaching assistant course to improve their skills in the classroom.

The evidence comes from two reading support programmes run by teaching assistants. Research has also shown that how teaching assistants have traditionally been used – working with low-attaining pupils, usually on an ad hoc or as-and-when-basis – does not result in improvement in children’s learning, as it assumed it would.

Make more of an impact

The way in which many teaching assistants are used in the classroom is having little positive effect. Worryingly, research from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) show that it can have a negative impact on student outcomes; not what a hardworking teaching assistant wants to hear.

But when do teaching assistants have more of an impact? There are seven steps to a clearer opportunity to get more for students and for teaching assistants in the classroom.

Not an informal teaching resource

Firstly, the EEF suggests that many teaching assistants used to work with low-attaining pupils are actually doing very little for advancing or improving outcomes.

This is because many of these small groups of one-to-one sessions are informal, not structured and not well supported. In a small number of schools where smaller group work was planned and effectively resourced, children did make progress.

All too often, TAs are directed on the day or at the start of a lesson to work with a small group of children or young people; they are often not briefed and have no real idea what the outcome of the lesson is.

Use teaching assistants to add value to the learning process


The teaching assistant is often seen as a support mechanism that can be moved as and when required or used as a substitute when there is no teacher available.

When teaching assistants and their contribution to the classroom are not always valued as highly as they should be, it can be ‘easy’ to simply place people where there is a perceived need, including covering for absent colleagues or working with a ‘difficult’ class or group.

Support independent learning

For those studying a teaching assistant course, they will be aware of the need for children and young people to understand their own learning, how and why they get to the outcomes that they do.

Teaching assistants are instrumental in this process – or they can be. This links with the first point of a teaching assistant being used in a structured and supported way. It also points to the need for TAs to be trained to offer the learning process to students whereby they manage their own learning.

Trained and prepared teaching assistants

It is common practice for teaching assistants to be assigned to classes or teaching colleagues at the start of the year. They may be given scant information about certain students, and no information about others.

However, these research projects found that trained TAs in the classroom made more of an impact; but teaching assistants who were fully prepared before each lesson, given time outside of lessons to meet with teaching colleagues and so on, made a far bigger impact on learning outcomes for students.

Structured interventions

Following on from this last point, and the crux of the research projects findings, is the need to use teaching assistants in planned, structured sessions. This means high quality one-to-one sessions and small group support too.

Use effective and proven session formats

There is evidence that shows a long-term relationship between student or students and a teaching assistant can lead to a negative impact on learning, although the relationships they create can be positive.

The following sessions are thought to be the most effective, backed by the findings of the research projects:

  1. Brief sessions of between 20 and 50 minutes
  2. Regular sessions of three to five times a week
  3. Sustained sessions over a period of eight to 20 weeks

Every day connection between teacher and teaching assistant

For those on Teaching Assistant courses online, they are encouraged to connect with their teaching colleague on a regular basis, and the findings of the research project confirm that when there is a structured, daily ‘meeting’ between the teacher and the teaching assistant, the learning outcomes for all students in the classroom are improved.

In summary

Being a teaching assistant is a rewarding role in the classroom, and it is a profession that primary and secondary schools are beginning to value even more. Teaching assistants can also work in pupil referral units and in some colleges too.

To find out more about the reading support groups and the research findings, take a look at The Education Endowment Foundation and the Reach programme.

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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