Research School Network: Making the best use of teaching assistants in a Covid-secure setting ELE Adam Robbins discusses how the recommendations from the EEF guidance report can be implemented in a Covid-secure way.

Making the best use of teaching assistants in a Covid-secure setting

ELE Adam Robbins discusses how the recommendations from the EEF guidance report can be implemented in a Covid-secure way.

Teaching assistants (TAs) provide a valuable resource in schools. They comprise approximately a quarter of the workforce in schools and often work to support the outcomes of SEND and PP students. The EEF guidance report Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants” outlines the current use of TAs in school, the issues associated with this approach and recommendations for best practice. This guidance was written in a time whereby contact with students was not in a risk assessment and face masks were few and far between. A single page summary can be found here.

Unfortunately we now live in a slightly adjusted world. Schools have to find a way to effectively deploy TAs in a Covid-secure way.

The work on withdrawal groups will remain relatively unaffected providing the groups maintain consistent members and the working environment is appropriately Covid-secure. Other aspects of a TAs role might have to adjust significantly. In this blog I want to look at some aspects of the guidance and explore how they might have to change to work within our current context.

Recommendation 2: Use TAs to add value to what teachers do, not replace them

The guidance
: The report clearly identifies ways to enhance the TA status in the classroom including rotating roles, supporting teachers with demonstrating and monitoring the whole class.

The issue
: This is possibly unaffected in situations whereby TAs are limited to working in a single class bubble. In conditions whereby TAs are moving between bubbles, or the bubbles are multiple classes it creates an issue. In those situations it is recommended that staff maintain a 2m distance from pupils.

The possible solution
: Group high priority students into an area of the classroom whereby the TA is only within a 2m radius of those students, therefore limiting their exposure to as many students as possible.

Recommendation 3: Use TAs to help pupils develop independent learning skills and manage their own learning

The guidance
: There is evidence that TAs can accidentally inhibit students’ independent learning by providing constant support. TAs should aim to use the least amount of support possible and move their focus from task completion to helping the students develop ownership of their learning.

The issue
: None. This is actually great news. By having TAs at a distance and only supporting where absolutely necessary, we limit their exposure to the students they work with.

The solution
: TAs should remain 2m away from the group of students they support and only enter into a 1m distance once they are clear students cannot move forward without support. The support should be minimal scaffolding required to get them progressing through the task. Ensure they are wearing face coverings when in close contact, unless the child’s needs would not be met by doing so.

Recommendation 4: Ensure TAs are fully prepared for their role in the classroom

The guidance
: TAs need to have sufficient training and time to meet with teachers to ensure they have enough prior knowledge of the lesson for the essential need to knows’:

– Concepts, facts and information
- Skill to be learnt

- Intended outcomes
- Expected feedback

The issue
: There are now extra things that must be known involving health and safety. There is now less time available for staff to meet in contexts where more break and lunch supervisions are required.

The solution
: Systematic curriculum planning that is transparent and easily accessible will allow TAs to know the content of the lessons and its objectives. This could be achieved by making sure they are able to access pre-planned schemes of work, through tailored resources (like booklets) or via a workflow IT solution (eg Microsoft TEAMS chat or SLACK) TAs need to be given bespoke training on how their role should be carried out in accordance with a schools risk assessment and this should be shared with staff so they can be aware of the limitations when planning their lessons and work to involve the TA effectively.

In summary, every challenge provides an opportunity to reflect on current practice. Teaching Assistants can provide a vital role within a class if used effectively. We can keep our TAs safe and effective during in-class support by:

- Limiting their exposure to only those they need to work with
- Encouraging the use of PPE in times when they are not 2 m away
- Ensuring they are only intervening a minimal amount to allow the student to progress through the task.

When planning we need to be creative to ensure TA’s are aware of the lessons progression and their role, by providing schemes up front or using technology to create flexible avenues of communication.

Adam Robbins

ELE Durrington Research School

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