ISEC 2005

Inclusive and Supportive Education Congress
International Special Education Conference
Inclusion: Celebrating Diversity?

1st - 4th August 2005. Glasgow, Scotland

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Enabling inclusion for pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties:
the role of the Teaching Assistant

Barry Groom
University College Northampton, UK.
barry.groom@northampton.ac.uk

 

Abstract

This research paper details the results of a 2-year study commissioned by an English LEA to identify factors contributing to effective practice by teaching assistants in supporting the inclusion of pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD) at Key Stage 2 (age 7 - 11 years) in mainstream schools. The role of the teaching assistant in supporting pupils with SEBD is seen as a challenging one in which teaching assistants require appropriate support and training. The research identifies a range of supportive tasks both inside and outside the classroom based upon the teaching assistant establishing a positive and trusting relation with the pupil. Effective practice is underpinned by schools valuing the work of the teaching assistant, recognizing the contribution they make and involving them as much as possible in planning and review. The need to establish effective channels of communication through regular meetings, professional development opportunities and sharing of good practice was underlined throughout the research.

Introduction

In their recent report of the progress of English mainstream schools toward including pupils with special educational needs (SEN), Ofsted (2004) highlighted pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD) as constituting a greater challenge to schools for inclusion than all other areas of SEN. According to Visser (2000) a range of factors impact on why some mainstream schools appear to be better able to include pupils with SEBD than others.   Studies from both the UK and USA into those conditions, which are seen as essential for the promotion of inclusive schooling, almost invariably identify the management and role of the teaching assistant as a critical factor in this process (Giangreco 1997, Thomas, Walker and Webb 1998, Rose 2001, Florian and Rouse 2001). Indeed, studies conducted over the past ten years (Lorenz 1998, Farrell., Balshaw and Polat 1999, Lacey 2001) suggest that many pupils who are currently educated in mainstream schools would not be effectively managed in those schools without the support provided by these critical professionals. The DfES (2004) report that 133,400 teaching assistants are presently employed across the phases in English schools, more than twice the number employed in 1997, with over half   of all teaching assistants directly employed to work with pupils with special educational needs. Although Ofsted (2004) identified that effective deployment of teaching assistants was variable across schools, Clarke et al. (1999) suggested that the use of in-class support was probably the single most important factor in enabling pupils with special educational needs to be maintained in mainstream classrooms.

Research

The aim of the research was to identify factors contributing to effective practice by Teaching Assistants in supporting the inclusion of pupils with SEBD at Key Stage 2 (age 7 - 11 years). This involved the collation of both quantitative and qualitative data from a range of key stakeholders using questionnaires and face-face interviews. The initial research involved survey to 90 schools, followed by more in depth analysis of 20 schools and a third phase involving interviews with governors, teachers, teaching assistants, pupils and parents at 5 schools. The study identifies areas of perspective, role, management, training and classroom practice that may contribute to the successful inclusion of pupils with SEBD in mainstream schools.

Key Findings

Whole school approaches to inclusion

The research identifies that there is no single successful ‘model’ employed across the schools surveyed rather that effective practice to include pupils has been developed within an overall framework of inclusive whole school policies and practices. The supporting role of teaching assistants within this process is seen as essential. Although many teaching assistants are employed initially without some of the skills, knowledge and experience of working with pupils with SEBD, schools seek to involve teaching assistants in a range of training opportunities. Effective practice is underpinned by schools valuing the work of the teaching assistant, recognizing the contribution they make and involving them as much as possible in planning and review. The need to establish effective channels of communication through regular meetings, professional development opportunities and sharing of good practice was underlined throughout the research.

The following general elements appear as essential components within an overall framework for the success of the inclusion of pupils with SEBD:

This is inline with previous research (Daniels et al, 1999) related to identifying effective practice that indicated an interlinked approach through

The following key factors were identified through the research project as contributing to effective practice by teaching assistants in supporting the inclusion of Key Stage 2 pupils with SEBD in mainstream schools

Schools also indicated the success criteria they used in determining the effective and successful deployment of teaching assistants in their schools in relation to supporting the inclusion of pupils with SEBD. The responses included –

The role of the teacher assistant

A small minority of schools surveyed employed teaching assistants specifically to work with pupils with SEBD. The majority of schools deployed their teaching assistants to work generically within the school with a role to support the whole class and to give overall assistance to the teacher in managing and delivering lessons. Respondents considered that support should appear ‘seamless’ in terms of pupils’ perceptions –

Further many respondents highlighted the importance of teaching assistant being aware of, and involved in, whole school approaches to the management of behaviour, including playing a role in the development of a positive school ethos.

Qualities and attributes of teaching assistants

The teaching assistant role in supporting pupils with SEBD is seen as a challenging job; schools reported that it was not always easy to recruit the right candidate and this had implications for training. Rather than specific skills, knowledge or experience, schools looked to employ teaching assistants who had a range of attributes and qualities that could be transferred to their work in the classroom. These can be summarized as

The personal and professional qualities and attributes that were needed by teaching assistants were clearly identified by interviewees:

‘Patience, understanding, flexibility, think on your feet immediately, being able to communicate with whoever, and basically being extremely supportive of all members of staff, of the children themselves, the parents and also school policy.’   (TEACHING ASSISTANT AND PARENT)

‘Caring attitude, be patient, got to be like so patient, as disruptive pupil can be very trying, and they have got to be very calm, easy personality.   I give them a little role play, what would you do if, and see how they handle it.’  (GOVERNOR)

‘I think they need to co-operate and co-ordinate with the teacher, important they are caring, they are patient, and I think they need to listen to what children are saying….’ (PARENT)

Tasks undertaken by the teaching assistant

This involves a range of supportive tasks both inside and outside the classroom based upon the teaching assistant establishing a positive and trusting relation with the pupil.

It is evident that in many schools teaching assistants are deployed in a range of contexts and undertake a variety of duties both directly and indirectly in supporting pupils with SEBD.   Respondents further identified thekey successful aspects of the teaching assistant role within the whole class situation. Line-managers identified that teaching assistants played a key role in supporting behaviour management plans for individual and groups of pupils within the context of the whole class. Additionally many teaching assistants were involved in the assessment process, often observing and recording pupil behaviour to support the identification of interventions and targets by the teacher. A key aspect of the role of the teaching assistant in many schools is to directly support the progress of a pupil’s IEP (Individual Education Plan), to support the pupil to achieve targets and to record and monitor progress.   A key factor in this process is the relationship-building and nurturing role that the teaching assistant undertakes to reinforce positive behaviour and support the pupil in individual learning.

Interviewees generally identified that developing a positive relationship with the pupil was a starting point for building self-esteem and confidence:

‘….so you have to build up his confidence and reassure him, try to do it that way, as he doesn’t smile a lot and he looks down in the dumps, and doesn’t mix very well, and you think, well you have got to try and lift him, you can’t keep knocking him back even though he might be doing things he shouldn’t be, keep him on task.’  (TEACHING ASSISTANT)

Teaching assistants were seen as vital members of the school and their role perceived as pivotal in supporting inclusive practices, in supporting the teacher and the school generally:

‘Oh, you couldn’t do without them. You have got to have them ….the TA can guide that pupil, the pupil can see the way the TA works and this can make a big difference, a lot of the time behaviour can be down to attention seeking, so in a way it does give them that one to one, gives them a role model as well.’ (GOVERNOR)

This role includes direct involvement in developing pupils’ self-esteem and social skills and supporting them in building peer friendships and to deal with conflict. Teaching assistants were seen as providing essential pastoral and mentoring support for pupils – modelling ‘significant adult’ attributes in the classroom – and with whom pupils could make positive relationships, discuss issues and talk to about their progress. Respondents indicated that teaching assistants were generally authorized to issue rewards to individual pupils, particularly for success in meeting planned targets, in line with agreed policies and individual plans. Respondents identified the following strategies undertaken by the teaching assistant in supporting pupil behaviour

The most successful contexts for these strategies were identified as:

As well as work directly with pupils with SEBD, teaching assistants undertake a wider role within the classroom to support the overall management of behaviour. A key aspect of the teaching assistant role is to have a generic-supporting role to classroom management - supporting the teacher and the development of the lesson. Implicit in this role is the support for promoting classroom rules, reminding pupils of expectations, dealing with conflict and keeping individual pupils on task.

In some schools respondents indicated that the teaching assistant had responsibility for developing elements of the PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) curriculum with small groups of identified pupils. This input included work in circle-time, nurture groups, ‘buddy’ schemes, friendship skills, anger management programmes and emotional literacy activities. This often included supportive work at lunchtimes and in two schools teaching assistants was involved in after-school groups.

Teaching sssistants deployed in approximately half of the schools were reported to be involved in liaising with parents and only in a small minority of schools involved with other professional agencies.   In schools where teaching assistants were involved in parent liaison this ranged from formal involvement in review and planning meetings to a more informal role in relaying updates of progress.   Some schools aimed to involve the teaching assistant in planning and review:

‘We always include support assistants within review meetings. They are always invited to review meetings. Before I meet the parents when they are assessed, we look through targets that have been met, then I always talk to TA’s as well as the class teacher and say, how do you think it has gone, and we always talk the targets through and they are always invited to review meetings with parents and with staff.’  (SENCO)

Professional development of teaching assistants

The role of the teaching assistant in supporting pupils with SEBD is seen as a challenging one in which teaching assistants require appropriate support and training. Professional development, induction and training for teaching assistants were key priorities for line-managers. In general they felt that the role of teaching assistant in supporting pupils with SEBD was a particularly challenging one and recruitment was not always easy. Line-managers, when involved in the recruitment process, particularly looked for candidates who would willing to be involved in further professional development to secure

Responses indicated that further opportunities for training, aimed specifically at work with pupils with SEBD in the mainstream classroom, should be made available to teaching assistants by the LEA and Higher Education institutions. Respondents indicated that a range of training formats had been undertaken but the most preferred format was school-based that could be undertaken by all teaching assistant staff together to develop a range of skills whilst encouraging a team approach to managing behaviour (Derrington and Groom, 2004).

Conclusions:

The research indicates that teaching assistants need a wide range of professional skills in order to be effective in fulfilling their responsibilities. The need to provide focused training for teaching assistants, many of whom entered the profession without formal training or qualifications, is self-evident. Indeed the provision of such training may well be critical if the pitfalls of using classroom support are to be avoided. Ainscow (2000) has suggested that too few schools have adopted procedures, which will genuinely enable teaching assistants to play a role in supporting inclusion.

The following were noted as opportunities and challenges in terms of planning and delivering effective school support for pupils with SEBD

The following were also identified as aspects of the teaching assistant role that contributed to successful practice :

Many issues surrounding the successful inclusion of pupils with SEBD remain as challenges for schools to address. Whether pupils are best supported by in-class or withdrawal support continues to be a strong issue of debate in schools, although many respondents highlighted their work in developing support interventions within the class setting.

Teaching assistants can be seen to be establishing an essential role in providing a focus on developing intrapersonal and inter-personal skills with those pupils who feel marginalized and find many aspects of the education process impersonal and detached from their social and emotional growth. It is evident from the research that teaching assistants are undertaking a significant role in the process of supporting many pupils who would otherwise have been excluded or placed in the segregated sector. It is also apparent that teaching assistants working with pupils with SEBD are increasingly becoming accepted by their teaching colleagues as having a distinct professional role to undertake in schools.

References:

Ainscow, M. (2000 The next step for special education: supporting the development of inclusive practices. British Journal of Special Education. 27 (2) 76 – 80.

Clarke, C., Dyson, A.,   Millward, A, and Robson, C. (1999) Theories of inclusion, theories of schools: deconstructing and reconstructing the inclusive school. British Educational Research Journal. 25 (2) 157 – 177.

Cremin, H., Thomas, G, and Vincett, K. (2003) Learning zones: an evaluation of three models for improving learning through teacher/teaching assistant teamwork. Support for Learning 18 (4) 154 – 161.

Daniels, H.,   Visser, J., Cole. T.   and de Reybekill. (1999). Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties in Mainstream Schools. London. DfEE Research Report RR90.

Department for Education and Skills (2004) School Workforce in England. London. DfES Publications.

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Department for Education and Employment (1997b) Excellence for All Children (The Green Paper). London: DfEE.

Derrington, C. and Groom, B. (2004) A Team Approach to Behaviour Management: A Training Guide for SENCOs working with Teaching Assistants. London. Paul Chapman.

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Giangreco, M, F. (1997) Key lessons learned about inclusive education; summary of the 1996 Schonell memorial lecture. International Journal of Disability. 44 (3) 193 – 206.

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Lorenz, S. (1998) Effective In-class Support: the Management of Support staff in Mainstream and Special schools. London: David Fulton

O’Brien, T. (1998) Promoting Positive Behaviour. London: David Fulton.

Ofsted (2004) Special Educational Needs and Disability: Towards inclusive schools. London. Ofsted Publications.

Roaf, C. (2003) Learning support assistants talk about inclusion. In M, Nind., J, Rix., K, Sheehy, and K, Simmons. (eds.) Inclusive Education: Diverse Perspectives. London: David Fulton.

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Rose, R. (2001) Primary school teacher perceptions of the conditions required to include pupils with special educational needs. Educational Review 53 (2)   147 – 156

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