School Improvement – Question of the Month, May.

Do leaders ensure that teaching assistants are involved in the planning and assessment of pupils’ progress? 


“At primary, 74 per cent of leaders said they have reduced the number of teaching assistants. This is up from 47 per cent in 2021”. (Sutton Trust Report)

The Sutton Trust School Annual Funding Survey (2024) above highlights, a key element in the provision and care of children and young people in our schools.  The report also reveals a worsening picture for school funding, other staff cuts as well as a reduction in school activities.  Cuts to the number of teaching assistants have been made by both primary and secondary school leaders and affect the provision for all but particularly our most vulnerable pupils, particularly primary.

So, the question above became the most relevant topic for our Newsletter this month.  There is no doubt at all that teaching assistants have a wide variety of roles, duties, and responsibilities, successfully supporting children and young people from ages 3 to 18.  So, this newsletter wants to highlight and recognise the importance of teaching assistants in a wide variety of contexts, contrasting types of provision and diverse contributions to the assessment and progress of children and young people during the last 30 years. Teaching assistants are at the centre of the much wider educational, social, pastoral, and safeguarding expectations demanded of schools.

“The move towards inclusive education has led to a greater need for additional support in the classroom, resulting in a significant rise in the number of Teaching Assistants in schools. Government initiatives aimed at raising standards and reducing teacher workloads have increased the range and complexity of tasks carried out by Teaching Assistants” (Armstrong and Key 2016). While in 1995 there were 67,788 educational support staff in schools (Watkinson D 2003), in 2023 there were 281,094 teaching assistants (468,400 teachers) in UK schools (School Workforce Data, 2022).  There are variations between primary and secondary in both 1995 and 2023 but the main issue is that the percentage of teaching assistants in schools and classrooms has grown exponentially.  

Therefore, the professional expectations of teaching assistants by school leaders have changed tremendously over the last 30 years.  Our question of the month is a complete synthesis of all these changes.  This actual question has caused some of the greatest debate by leaders and users of Evaluate-Ed at both primary and secondary levels, as it also encompasses very different skills required for planning and assessment depending on the situation or environment teaching assistant is working. These expectations can change between year groups and key stages in the same school, whether a teaching assistant is working with a small group or individual, alongside being dependent on their role required by the school. 

The increase in the number of teaching assistants has challenged leaders, schools and teachers and several studies “have identified difficulties concerning the boundaries between teaching and non-teaching roles, and the existence of grey areas where uncertainty exists. There has been some concern over which roles and responsibilities should be carried out by teachers and which by TAs”. (Armstrong and Key 2016).  Many of these concerns have been addressed over time in schools and by professional associations, as all of us in schools continuously developed our educational offer to pupils and students.

“Teaching Assistants’ roles have changed significantly from their early days of supporting teachers with basic classroom tasks. Now, they are educational professionals whose duties require them to demonstrate a wide range of skills from supporting learning to personal care.” (Armstrong and Key 2016).

The commitment of teaching assistants to children and young people in their care has never been in doubt and for over three decades we have expected more and more from them.  With governors and leaders supporting their training and trusting their commitment to and understanding of the children and young people in their care, allowing the resources and provision in schools to be enhanced.  The fact that leaders are cutting costs by reducing teaching assistants in their schools, (particularly in primary) alongside teaching staff in both primary and secondary is information that needs to be noticed by parents and politicians.

Great leaders know the value of their team and realise how these current cuts, added to the others they have had to make in the last 3 years, are reducing the quality of education they can provide in their schools.  Teaching assistants can and do play vital roles when they feel valued, establishing and maintaining the values and vision of the school for the whole community, as well as ‘planning and assessing’ a wide range of progress for pupils. 

So, I shall finish as I started with an extract from the Sutton Trust survey, conducted by the NFER.

“Last year, we found that many school leaders were having to cut essential staff and activities as they struggled to deal with the cost of living crisis. The new survey reveals a worsening picture of school funding, with growing staff cuts along with reductions in spending for a range of activities in schools. Notably, it shows that the proportion of senior leaders who are using the Pupil Premium – funding which is given to schools specifically to support disadvantaged pupils – to plug gaps in their general budget is at its highest level since our polling began in 2017.”

Would you like to see first-hand how Evaluate-Ed can drive your school improvement journey forwards?


You can get started today risk-free thanks to our 14-day money back guarantee.

Take a tour
Free Trial
Book a demo