Source: Professional Development in Education, Vol. 38, No. 3, July 2012, 365–375
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This article explores the role of teaching assistants in the training and assessment of primary initial teacher education students and considers their continuing professional development (CPD) needs in relation to this role.
This study has arisen out of a research project funded by the government’s Training and Development Agency for Schools, from which a mentor training package was developed and implemented, aimed specifically at teaching assistants.
The participants were 62 teaching assistants from local primary schools in England.
Data were collected through questionnaires, focus groups, and reflective diaries.
The findings reveal that the majority of teaching assistants worked with individual pupils or with a class generally, and as a result of doing either of these they worked closely with trainee teachers. Most of the teaching assistants who participated in the research project worked in schools where initial teacher education (ITE) took place. Of these, the majority of them were introduced ITE trainees when they arrived for the placement and did work with them. However, teaching assistants were generally not given guidance on the needs of individual ITE trainees or information on Standards for QTS by their schools or by university-based tutors when visiting the school.
Furthermore, the findings showed that practice varied greatly from school to school, from classroom to classroom and from teaching assistant to teaching assistant with regard to the way in which teaching assistants work with both teachers and trainee teachers. They tended to work in one way with a teacher in terms of their role and being proactive in planning and assessment, making suggestions and reporting on pupil achievement, but work in a very different way with trainees, being generally less proactive.
Conclusions from the findings were that the majority of teaching assistants would welcome specific CPD in the area of ITE trainee support in schools and the potential role for teaching assistants within this. They saw their main role in relation to trainee teachers as personal and pastoral support that facilitated the trainee’s work, but not as working alongside the trainee in a professional partnership.
The research project resulted in a number of recommendations for CPD for teaching assistants in relation to their role in ITE.
Followed the results of the research project discussed in this paper was an increase in confidence in the teaching assistants, as individuals and as a group, when working independently and alongside teachers and ITE trainees. The teaching assistants’ specific sessions are planned to address the four areas of attitudes, knowledge, skills and QTS Standards for trainees.
Areas of knowledge developed by the CPD programme include the rationale for involving schools in ITE, the role of the different stakeholders involved in ITE, including teaching assistants and an overview of the QTS Standards, specifically:
Two key points have arisen from the research project and subsequent CPD programme. Firstly, the importance of establishing a collaborative learning culture as a catalyst for effective CPD and subsequent change should not be underestimated.
Secondly, it is the development of professional dialogue and an understanding of what is professional behaviour that has the potential to build both self-respect and respect of colleagues and future colleagues in teaching assistants and the changing school workforce more generally.