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Lynn McCann

Our Blog will include contributions from a number of autism specialists. Lynn, Matt and Emma work for Reachout ASC, plus occasional guest bloggers.
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Lynn McCann

Review of Teaching Assistant support in a secondary school

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This project was done by an HLTA in a large mainstream secondary school. It has around 1700 students on roll and between 2-3% of their pupils with identified SEND – with and without Statements/EHCPs. Many of those are students with a diagnosis of ASD but there are also a number of pupils with physical and other learning difficulties. I have supported the school's ASD students for the last few years which has included group and 1:1 interventions during my monthly visits which the TAs then continue to support between visits. I have done regular training and department meetings for teachers and the TA team. I asked the HLTA if I could share her dissertation findings after she gave a presentation on it during a training day I was supporting. It is interesting that she has investigated the effectiveness and deployment of the teaching assistants in the school and the effect on the student's achievements (not shown here but almost all ASD students were making good progress on the school tracking system). What has come from this is evidence of good practice and areas for development that the school are now implementing - leading to better communication between teachers and TAs.

Here is the dissertation summary:

For my masters dissertation I decided to explore how effective teaching assistants in a mainstream secondary school are when working with students on the autistic spectrum, and what could be done to make them more effective.


• Currently, 3/4 of students on the autistic spectrum are educated in the mainstream environment.

• Of all pupils who have a Statement or Education, Health and Care plan in the UK, 1/4 have their primary need stated as autistic spectrum disorder.

• In my setting, the current weighting of Statements and Education, Health and Care Plans for pupils on the autistic spectrum is over half - this has a major impact on the type of support given and the traditional role of the teaching assistant.


• Research in the study focussed around the DISS project (Deployment and Impact of Support Staff).

• The aim of the DISS project was to explain lack of academic progress amongst pupils with high levels of teaching assistant support when compared to their counterparts.

• The study took place over 6 years with a sample of over 8000 pupils between years 1 and 10 - looking at progress in English, maths and science.

• The study identified the deployment, practice and preparedness as three key components underpinning teaching assistants - therefore these are the three factors that I considered and questioned when looking at effective practice.



• As far as possible TAs are put with their subject strength and in a specific subject to provide consistent and continued support.This, in turn, leads to more effective support as the practice and preparedness of the TA is better as they not only get to know the pupil better but also the subject content and the teacher's teaching style.

• Although discouraged by the DISS report, supporting a specific pupil(s) was also seen as effective as it meant the needs of the supported child could be met. (as seen in their progress tracker and through implementing training/advice from specialist teacher.)

• Intervention was also seen as a positive method of deployment, especially for the students, who felt that it allowed them to further cover and recap topics that had been studied in class, to further develop their understanding.

• Where this fell down was due to a lack of resources - a lack of teaching assistants means that consistent and continued deployment is not always available and a lack of time means that pupils are not able to have as much intervention as they might like.


• There is a lack of communication between teachers and teaching assistants, mainly due to a lack of time on both sides.High level of qualification helps TAs to feel a little more prepared as strengths allow for higher level thinking in the classroom.

• In terms of training, although all TAs said that they would like more training, in terms of autism specific training it was found we are not unprepared in this respect as we have annual training with Lynn.


• Current practice can be seen to be effective in helping pupils to progress. (And is aimed at supporting developing independence skills).

• Examples of effective practice include autism specific strategies such as visual as well as verbal instructions, differentiation of tasks as well as scaffolding work correctly to help develop independent learners.

• One way that practice can be affected is through preparedness - if TAs are prepared then practice is seen to be more effective.


• Deployment - Let the teacher know which lessons you have timetabled in with them - this allows them to know when to expect support and plan appropriately.Or if you know for any reason you're not going to be in a lesson, let them know in a quick e-mail or pop in to see them - again allowing them to plan things in.

• Get to know the pupils, find out how the child likes to be supported and use this to your advantage.

• Preparedness - Ask or e-mail teachers for their scheme of work or what they have planned for the term ahead - even though they probably don't do lesson plans for each lesson, they usually have a plan for the term.

•Practice - Have plenty of tricks up your sleeve - as what works one lesson might not work another

• Change your practice to meet the needs of that pupil.

(Thanks JS for sharing your dissertation with us.)

It seems that reviewing the practice and deployment of teaching assistants in schools can draw out what is working well and areas for development. The staff at this school are putting into practice the recommendations and because they were consulted, both teachers and teaching assistants feel that they were listened to and can work together better. The SLT have read the report and are considering how they can support the deployment of TAs and how TAs and teachers work together in the future. It's a very good example of how one HLTA doing further study can support the management and working practices of a school. (Lynn). 

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Post 16 Transition for students with SEND / ASC.
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Sunday, 22 July 2018
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