PublicationsSystematic reviewsTeaching Assistants in primary and secondary
A systematic literature review on how training and professional development activities impact on teaching assistants’ classroom practice (1988-2006)

What do we want to know?

The initial review question used to explore and map the research literature was:

What is the impact (both measured and perceived) of training on primary and secondary Teaching Assistants (TAs) and their ability to support pupils’ learning and engagement?

Following mapping, a specific question for in-depth review was identified:

What is the impact of award-bearing training on paid primary and secondary Teaching Assistants (TAs) in mainstream schools?

Who wants to know and why?

Recent years have seen a large increase in the number of teaching assistants in UK classrooms, but their training has been unco-ordinated. Before this review, an overview of what was happening in terms of training was not accessible in one place. We synthesized outcomes in relation to what we could find about the training of TAs thus offering policy makers, teachers and teaching assistants an overview of provision.

What did we find?

The results of the present in-depth review point to one clear conclusion: 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. While training of TAs is needed we require stronger evidence from new studies as to what forms of training work well and why.

What are the implications?

 The degree to which training opportunities exist for TAs needs to be reviewed by national bodies such as the DfES and TDA in the UK to determine how TAs are prepared for their expected roles. There is an absence of pre-service training, patchy participation in induction training and unco-ordinated provision in both the UK and USA. Growth in the use of TAs has implications for teacher education policy so teachers are trained to work with paraprofessionals effectively. Well-designed studies are few in number so more evidence is required on how training prepares TAs to support learning and engagement, to take up their communicational roles in managing relationships and acting as a bridge between teachers and pupils, or support recent legislative initiatives such as No Child Left Behind (USA)/Every Child Matters (UK, DfES 2003a). More research is needed on the nature and quality of training for TAs, how TAs are trained to carry out their pedagogic roles and what the impacts of such training are.

How did we get these results?

From electronic databases and full-text collections, we screened papers for relevance to the review question using the pre-established inclusion and exclusion criteria, 81 studies were included in the systematic map.

The focus of final question was narrowed to the impacts of award-bearing training programmes on TAs and their contributions to learning and engagement. Sixteen studies meeting in-depth inclusion criteria were included in the in-depth review and were then synthesised, bringing together the studies which offered an answer to the review question.

The EPPI Centre’s reference numbers for these reports of this review are 1507R (Report) and 1507T (Technical Report). The full citations are:

Cajkler W, Tennant G, Tiknaz Y, Sage R, Tucker S, Taylor C (2007). A systematic literature review on how training and professional development activities impact on teaching assistants’ classroom practice (1988-2006). In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

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