Tags: Continuing Professional Development | CPD Coordinator | CPD for support staff | SEN – Special Educational Needs | SENCO

Linda Evans looks at how SENCOs can deliver training sessions to help TAs explore different ways of supporting pupils and teachers in and out of the classroom

The role of the teaching assistant (TA) has developed rapidly in recent years. As well as offering direct support to pupils, TAs may now also be involved in preparing resources (including technology), conducting individual assessments, observing and recording achievements in lessons, writing individual education plans (IEPs) and helping SENCOs with administrative tasks.

However, the main part of a TA’s job in most cases is still to support pupils in their learning – whether inside the classroom, or outside.

When they are properly planned and professionally delivered, both types of support can be very effective and make a considerable (and measurable) impact on children’s achievement.

Session 1: In or out of the classroom?
The activity below will stimulate discussion and debate about what works best, when and with whom, and can be useful to you as SENCO in highlighting both good practice, and that which is less satisfactory. You can use the tables on the left to check off the points raised (you may want to add others). It’s likely that the group will conclude that a combination of arrangements will be necessary to meet different curricular/ school requirements and different children’s individual needs.

Divide TAs into pairs or groups to discuss:

  • all the positives about in-class support
  • the challenges (and possible negatives) about in-class support
  • the positives about withdrawal (individual/small group)
  • the challenges (and possible negatives) about withdrawal from the classroom.

Each group can cover a different aspect if there are enough people; alternatively, ask TAs to approach the task from the point of view of teacher, TA or pupils – this will undoubtedly uncover a range of perspectives and provide issues for lively discussion. A third approach is to ask individual TAs to write individual statements and then to ask them to sort them (in pairs or groups) under the four headings above.

Session 2: Supporting in the classroom
The positives and negatives raised in the previous session can be used to reach a consensus about what leads to effective support in the classroom and how possible negatives can be overcome. Suggestions might include:

  • knowing what the lesson objectives are: what do pupils have to know, be able to do? (This may require some subject knowledge on your behalf.)
  • being clear about the TA’s own specific objectives in every lesson
  • TAs understanding the learning needs of pupils they support, and how to help them overcome barriers to achievement (See parts one and two of this series of articles in issues 83 and 85)
  • establishing good relationships between TA and teacher, with mutual trust and respect.

Ask TAs to consider the points above (and others you/they have identified).

  • What are the challenges in meeting these requirements?
  • What can be done to improve matters?

As with any discussion of this type, it’s important to concentrate on a problem-solving approach, ie possible solutions, rather than dwelling on the nature and detail of the difficulties. Is there good practice in one year/subject department that could be disseminated? Where a teacher and TA have worked together for a while and established effective working practices, the relationship may have produced a powerful synergy in the classroom.

The sticking point often boils down to ‘not enough time’ – to plan, to discuss, to evaluate etc. But if appropriate systems of working are established, teachers and TAs become ever-more ‘slick’ in using them and usually find that in the long term, time is actually saved, and outcomes improved. Strategies to consider include:

  • TAs attending phase/subject planning meetings and/or being given copies of teachers’ planning sheets
  • TAs accepting responsibility for finding out about a topic to be taught so that they can be a ‘step ahead’ of pupils (many schools now allocate TAs to specific year groups or subject areas to facilitate this building up of subject knowledge)
  • each TA having a tray in the staffroom where teachers can leave a note or completed proforma about an upcoming lesson
  • using the computer network to exchange information at the beginning/end of each day or week – providing a proforma will focus thinking, allow easy amending and avoid repetition
  • the SENCO providing joint workshops for teachers/TAs to agree working systems (in schools where teachers compete for classroom support, attending such a meeting and agreeing to collaborate as specified, could be a condition of being allocated support).

The relationship between TA and teacher is key to effective working. Aim for a partnership with clearly understood (and ‘separate’) responsibilities, underpinned by a professional approach, a willingness to share concerns as they arise and a willingness to give credit where it is due.

Session 3: Individual and small group working
The issue of ‘withdrawing’ pupils from the classroom can be emotive: some people may see it as a second class experience, depriving children of their curriculum entitlement and achieving little in terms of progress made. They question whether some teachers simply take an easy route by making the ‘awkward’ children someone else’s responsibility.

Use the issues raised in Session 1 to create a definition of high-quality ‘targeted input’. This might include:

  • having specific objectives for each individual (eg in IEP targets) based on careful assessment
  • understanding how to measure and demonstrate the progress made
  • TAs understanding the difficulties experienced by each child and having some expertise in addressing them (gained from reading, courses attended, school/LA CPD, observation of colleagues and personal reflection and experience)
  • having a good relationship with pupils so that they enjoy the sessions, understand their purpose and make good progress
  • linking activities, where possible, with what is going on in the classroom and ensuring that what is learned and practised in the small group, is transferred to classroom working
  • maintaining good communication between teacher and TA so that each knows what the other is doing in terms of supporting a child, with ongoing evaluation
  • careful timing of sessions so that pupils do not miss out on their favourite lessons or find themselves ‘withdrawn’ from a particularly enjoyable activity
  • consideration about how the child/children leave and re-enter the main classroom/lesson.

Ideally, interventions should be short term, with pupils making sufficient progress to be able to achieve back in the classroom. Where children have received this type of support for an extended period, it may be worth taking stock of the situation and evaluating the impact of what has been done: can you try something different?

Traditionally, individual and small group work has been used primarily for improving pupils’ literacy skills, but addressing other areas of development can also be valuable: maths; study skills/thinking skills; balance and coordination; social and emotional behaviour; using assistive technology (voice recognition software, for example).

Ask TAs to discuss the scenarios outlined below (in pairs/threes) and report back at the end of the session on how to improve each situation. (Or use real life examples from your own setting.)

1. Pupil to teacher: ‘I always have to go out with Mrs K when it’s art. I don’t want to do stupid reading. I want to do art.’ 2. TA to SENCO: ‘These children really need a quiet place to work so that they can concentrate and not be distracted – but the teacher insists that we stay in the classroom to work.’ 3. Pupil to TA: ‘I like reading group Miss, but the other kids call me names when I go back to class.’ 4. TA to SENCO: ‘Thomas has made real progress but his teacher won’t let him move up through the reading scheme – he’s on a book that is far too easy for him.’

5. Teacher to SENCO: ‘I find it difficult to keep up with what Mr G is doing with pupils in the withdrawn group. It’s certainly a problem that they are missing out on science in order to improve their literacy.’

Finally… Check that TAs:

  • have access to training and resources for professional development
  • have opportunities to observe and share good practice
  • use a range of support techniques
  • acknowledge the needs and requirements of the teacher as well as the child
  • understand about confidentiality issues.

In-class support


  • Enables the TA to support several/many pupils
  • Avoids pupils missing classwork/coursework
  • Can avoid stigma associated with ‘support’ (if the delivery is sensitive)
  • Enables the TA to keep up with what the pupils are learning – and suggest to the teacher how activities/resources could address pupils’ SEN
  • The support is provided within the context of the lesson – not as something ‘different’
  • The teacher is responsible for what goes on in the lesson and stays in touch with pupils’ achievements and behaviour
  • The teacher and TA work as a team – each supporting the other (sometimes allowing the teacher to work with a ‘focus group’ of less/more able pupils)


  • Can mean the TA is spread too thinly/can lose focus
  • If not appropriately differentiated, the lesson content may be ‘over their heads’ and activities beyond their capabilities
  • The classroom environment can be noisy and distracting; some (older) pupils may resent the attentions of a TA ‘in full view’ of their peers
  • May result in the TA listening passively to the teacher for long periods of time – not being productive
  • The support is not sufficiently targeted to address the pupils’ learning needs
  • Insufficient planning may mean that the TA is not well-placed to support pupils – may be unfamiliar with subject etc
  • The TA is seen as ‘an extra pair of hands’ or as someone to ‘sit on pupils’ when they are off-task

Individual/small group work (withdrawal)


  • Provides a quiet, distraction-free learning environment
  • Allows activities to be targeted at meeting children’s specific needs
  • The TA can plan and have ownership of the sessions
  • Pupils may respond better in a small group or one-to-one situation
  • Parents can ‘see’ exactly what is being provided for their children
  • The work of the class is not disrupted


  • There may not be a suitable area in school
  • Work may be divorced from what is going on in the classroom
  • Teachers may not monitor the activities completed, or progress made by the pupil
  • There is a negative impact on peer relationships and the child feels excluded
  • Finite resources mean that other children, who would also benefit from support, do not receive it
  • Pupils dislike leaving the classroom and misbehave for the TA

Resources See the Rose Review for details of successful reading interventions


The Essential Guide for Competent Teaching Assistants

, by Anne Watkinson ICT for Teaching Assistants, by John Galloway

Appointing and Managing Teaching Assistants, by Jennie George and Margaret Hunt

This article first appeared in SENCO Update – Jul 2007

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