Research School Network: Building a positive culture for TAs and pupils at a Norwich Junior School A Case Study, by Sarah Arnold

Building a positive culture for TAs and pupils at a Norwich Junior School

A Case Study, by Sarah Arnold

Sarah Arnold is a SENDCo and teacher, who has taught every year group from 1 – 6 in various schools across London and Norwich.


This Case Study outlines an implementation plan that was constructed using the EEF’s Guidance reports on implementation and making the best use of TAs. The full plan can be found here, but we deconstruct it in this blog post, and evaluate how it has been implemented. Each column from the implementation plan is displayed in separate sections of the article, with a discussion around it.

The plan laid out here was implemented in a Junior School in Norwich, where 47% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, and there’s a high proportion of children with SEND.

Where did we start from?

At the start of this project, there was a feeling of low morale among the TAs – there was a sense that they were doing a lot of firefighting and following dysregulated children around. They felt unable to be proactive, and to do their job as they wanted to.


Where were we aiming for?

We wanted to build an environment where TAs felt able to support pupils, had positive and reflective conversations about (and with) dysregulated children, and felt more valued and listened to. We planned to make an alternative space for children to move to, if needed, so they could carry on learning outside of the classroom.


How did we plan to get there?

We wanted to develop a school where TAs are empowered to support children with SEMH needs. They would be equipped with scripts that help them to use positive language and approaches, even in stressful situations, and we would create alternative spaces for TAs to move into, where they could work with children separately, when appropriate.

To get here, we knew we needed to get people onside and help them to understand what we were doing and why. We knew that, as well as providing TAs with professional development from the outset, we would have to revisit and review the training regularly to maintain momentum and keep the knowledge and skills fresh. We also had to plan meetings with all staff, to establish what best practice would look like, and to develop resources like the scripts.

Beyond this structural support, we knew that we needed to support the children themselves by providing them with a series of interventions that would help them to develop strategies when they were becoming dysregulated. We were also aware that, if we were to develop a separate space for the children to go to with TAs, we needed to introduce the children to this area carefully, modelling expectations to them.


How well did our plans work?

After creating our implementation plan, we had a positive development within our school, when we recruited a new Assistant Head, working as our inclusion lead. They proved to be invaluable in supporting the implementation of our plans. A key thing that they did was to develop a Daily Inclusion Plan, which laid out who staff were supporting, and where they would be, as well as outlining the needs of the children they would be working with.

Our new inclusion lead joined in with the initial training and helped to reinforce the language training. Their Daily Inclusion plan and additional support really helped us to lay the groundwork with TAs – explain what we were doing together and why, and to enable discussions around best practice, establishing plans, identifying key pupils, developing scripts, establishing language to use, as laid out in our implementation plan.

We protected time for TAs to have dedicated CPD for them as a group, which they really appreciated, including CPD from external visitors. They have been using scripts, and the nature of the language for describing pupils behaviour has become more objective and positive, focussing on how the child might move forward.

For example, rather than talking about not being able to deal with a child in the classroom (as we all might do in stressful situations), they might talk about the child finding it hard to be in class at the moment, and how they’re happy to have them back in there again once they’re ready. Our next step is to help the children think about themselves and their behaviours more positively, and to help them articulate what they need.

We have used support that was offered from external teams (such as the Schools and Communities Team and Mental Health support from the LA), and we have had a strong group of ELSA staff (Emotional Literacy Support Assistants) who could support with 10 – 12 children each term with SEMH. We have a programme of support for families and carers, as well as focussing on the children in our school.

In general, we have found that most incidents are addressed at a classroom level now, and we are able to be more proactive in our approach, reducing the need for an additional designated space to work with dysregulated children. Having said that, we do use all the rooms we have to work with pupils away from the classroom when needed, and the Daily Inclusion Plan really helps to structure this.

In general, TA morale seems to be higher, and an immediate measure of the success of this plan is that the corridors are much quieter than they were last year! Other measures, including exclusions and absence rates, are also encouraging.


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