This page contains the findings of systematic reviews undertaken by review groups linked to the EPPI Centre
Support for pupils
Support for teachers
Special educational needs
Systematic reviews of both quantitative and qualitative studies have investigated the effect of paid adult support in classrooms. One review used the term 'paid adult support'; another used the term 'teaching assistants' (TAs).
Support for pupils
- Paid adult support shows no consistent or clear overall effect on class attainment scores, but it may have an impact on individual test scores. TAs can have a positive impact on pupils with SEN in relation to maintaining engagement in academic activities, and where appropriately trained in supporting communication with peers. However, where support was focused more intensely, this could have a negative effect on interaction with the teacher. Targeted support was found to have a positive effect on literacy, but evidence on numeracy was mixed.
- Qualitative evidence of impact is much more positive. Even though some studies reviewed indicate that paid adult support has little impact on general attainment, participants in those studies stress the significant effect on attainment that support staff can have. Another qualitative study found that direct support for pupils was broadly academic in nature: for example, supporting learning or interpreting teacher instructions. Some contributions are described as socio-academic because they enabled access to learning but also included management of social engagement activities: for example, providing interaction opportunities in class, improving/ maintaining pupil motivation, promoting independence and autonomy, and maintaining relations between participants. TAs tended to focus on their direct contributions to learners (academic and socio-academic). They believed that they made significant contributions to pupil engagement and saw themselves as key figures in the education of children.
- Positive impacts were found on psychosocial development.
- Headteachers identified a wide range of contributions (e.g. to inclusion, academic engagement and support for teachers) and recognised TAs’ support for small groups and their contribution to supporting learning, including the development of pupils’ confidence and their ability to learn.
- Sociocultural aspects of pupils' lives and the school community are important elements of the thinking about the impact of paid adult support staff on pupils' learning and participation, but these aspects are often neglected. Knowledge of pupils' cultures, behaviours, languages and interests can be utilised by paid adult support staff to have a positive impact on pupils' learning and participation. A qualitative study found that TAs supported the inclusion of pupils by maximising the opportunities for pupils to participate constructively in the social and academic experience of schooling. This involved building pupils’ self-esteem and confidence, mediating social interaction with peers, ‘bridging’ between pupils and teachers, and managing in-class behaviour.
- Pupil perceptions centred around the teaching assistant being someone to turn to, to listen to them and to help the teacher. At the secondary level, TAs were seen as co-learners; models of how to learn; and less the authority figure than the teacher. However, some pupils could see interventions by TAs as intrusive and unhelpful.
- Paid adult support staff fulfil important roles as mediators between pupils, teachers, specialists, parents and even different cultures. [1, 2]
- Paid adult support staff can positively affect on-task behaviour of students through their close proximity. 
- Continuous close proximity of paid adult support can have unintended, negative effects on longer-term aspects of pupil participation and teacher engagement.  TAs were aware that they could interfere with the integration of pupils, but they claimed to be promoting independence.
- Less engaged teachers can be associated with the isolation of both students with disabilities and their support staff, insular relationships between paid adult support staff and students, and the stigmatisation of pupils, who come to reject the close proximity of paid adult support.
- Over-reliance on TA support, or too much support, can hinder pupil interaction with peers and teachers, undermine opportunities for self-determination, or lead to pupils feeling stigmatised.
- Evidence suggests that are not very successful in undertaking therapeutic tasks aimed at supporting children with emotional and behavioural problems.
Support for teachers
- A qualitative study found a general recognition of the support that TAs offered to teachers, performing routine tasks that enabled teachers to focus on securing academic engagement. While TAs and teachers felt that TAs were there to support teachers, there seems to be a growing sense of these supporters of learning (TAs) seeing their role as co-educator with teachers.
- TAs were seen as providing a bridge between teachers and pupils. [1,2]
- Teacher perceptions were generally positive, welcoming the support and especially the flexibility that the presence of an additional adult gave them.Teachers (and headteachers) generally reported that TAs were very valuable to them as resources and as support for their work. In addition, they valued their contribution to children’s learning and development within a working partnership.[2, 3] TAs can help reduce stress levels in teachers
- TA support can have the effect of allowing teachers to be more creative, or it can result in teachers becoming more managerial.
- Parent perceptions were much less frequently reported in the studies. Although studies report inconsistent results on how much parents understood the role of TAs, there was a common perception among parents that teachers planned programmes, but TAs supported them to operationalise these and to teach effectively. They also associated TAs’ roles with providing feedback to them on their child’s progress.
- Parents were often unsure about the nature of TA contributions, but felt that TAs were often critical to the education of their children and in some cases to their inclusion.
Special educational needs
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- TAs support learning under the direction of the teacher but are semi-autonomous and make pedagogical decisions in their interactions with pupils. Further training is needed for TAs and teachers to avoid the creation of dependence or a sense of intrusiveness.
- The results also suggest that TAs play a role in inclusion, which has implications for their training (eg what to include, opportunities for supervision, observation, feedback and guidance).
- TA training is patchy and its impact is little understood. Policy on training for TAs has not been co-ordinated despite significant policy developments in recent years. Programmes exist in the UK, USA and elsewhere but these have grown in relatively unco-ordinated ways despite initiatives such as the Specialist Teaching Assistant (STA) programme in the UK and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) criteria in the USA.
- Where available, training programmes (such as the STA programme in the UK) are reported to be effective in raising awareness, in developing TAs’ confidence and subject knowledge, as well as their instructional skills. Exactly how such impacts are achieved is not clear.
- There are implications for teacher education policy - teachers must be trained to work effectively with paraprofessionals.
1. The impact of paid adult support on the participation and learning of pupils in mainstream schools (2003)
2. A systematic literature review on the perceptions of ways in which support staff work to support pupils’ social and academic engagement in primary classrooms (1988–2003) (2006)
3. A systematic literature review on the perceptions of ways in which teaching assistants work to support pupils’ social and academic engagement in secondary classrooms (1988–2005) (2007)
4. A systematic literature review on how training and professional development activities impact on teaching assistants’ classroom practice (1988-2006) (2007)
5. The impact of adult support staff on pupils and mainstream schools (2009)