The Class Size Debate: Is Small Better?

By Peter Blatchford; Paul Bassett et al. | Go to book overview

7: The role and effects of teaching
assistants

As discussed in Chapter 1, one strategy for dealing with large class sizes is to make use of extra adults. Common sense would suggest that this would be helpful because it should increase opportunities for overall teaching interactions and individual support for pupils, and ultimately benefit children's educational progress. This is the basis for the UK government's recent drive to increase the number of assistants in classrooms. However, there has been little research that analyses the work that 'teaching assistants' (the term preferred by the DfES) and other helpers do in primary schools, and still less that examines in a systematic way associations between classroom support and effects on pupils' educational progress.

There is often a tacit assumption among primary teachers and parents that increasing the number of adults in a class will be beneficial to children in terms of their achievement, although the research evidence to support or refute this is relatively limited. There is currently much controversy over current plans to expand the number of teaching assistants in classrooms, with teacher associations worried that they will perform duties currently undertaken by teachers, and devalue the role of the teacher. It seems important, therefore, to examine the role and effect of assistants in classrooms.

In Chapter 8 I examine whether the presence of TAs has an effect on children's educational progress. In this chapter I examine whether the presence of classroom support influenced a number of the 'classroom processes' examined elsewhere in this book, such as the amount of time spent on teaching, time in different curriculum areas, and hearing children read. I also describe teachers' experiences of the contribution of TAs to the effectiveness of teaching and learning in the class. Finally I examine the role and contribution of TAs, on the basis of case studies in classes of varying size.

The 1998 Green Paper Teachers: Meeting the Challenge of Change (DfEE 1998) outlined the government's aim to increase the numbers of TAs by 20,000 full-time (or equivalent) by March 2002. Additionally, local authorities were asked to give standardized training to TAs from September 2000. There is

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