PublicationsSystematic reviewsPaid adult support
The impact of paid adult support on the participation and learning of pupils in mainstream schools

What do we want to know?

There has been a massive rise in the number of paid support staff being employed to work alongside teachers in mainstream schools and classrooms. In the UK, the majority work as teaching assistants (TAs), but recently schools within the Excellence in Cities initiative have employed learning mentors.  To date, no systematic review of international literature has been conducted that has focused on the key question of whether and how support staff in classrooms have an impact on pupils' learning and participation in schools and classrooms. Put simply, is there evidence that pupils learn and participate more effectively in mainstream schools when support staff are present in classrooms?

Who wants to know?

Policy-makers, practitioners

What did we find?  

  • Paid adult support may provide important attention and support to specific students, affecting individual but not class test scores.
  • Paid support staff can sometimes thwart actual inclusion by working in relative isolation with the pupils they are supporting, and not helping their pupils, other pupils in the class and the classroom teacher to connect and engage together.
  • Paid adult support staff play an important role as mediators, and this is a key element in promoting pupils' participation and learning.  When support staff have and use a detailed, personal knowledge of the pupils they support, this has a positive impact.

What are the implications?

  • Support staff should continue to be employed to work alongside teachers in mainstream classrooms.
  • A nationally agreed structure for salaries, service conditions and progression to qualified teacher status should be agreed.
  • Support staff should have induction and in-service training opportunities, including joint training with teachers.
  • One-to-one teaching should be combined with supported groupwork in mainstream classrooms.  This needs to be reviewed regularly to ensure that the balance is correct.
  • Support staff, teachers, and where appropriate pupils, should work together in planning and implementing programmes of work.  Sufficient time should be provided to allow this to happen.

How did we get these results?

Twenty-four studies were reviewed in-depth.  All were written in English, and related to mainstream classrooms.

This summary was prepared by the EPPI Centre

This report should be cited as: Howes A, Farrell P, Kaplan I, Moss S (2003) The impact of paid adult support on the participation and learning of pupils in mainstream schools. In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

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