Effectively using teaching assistants can improve pupils’ literacy and numeracy


Today the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published the results of two randomised controlled trials which suggest that teaching assistants can be effective at improving attainment when deployed well. The reports are among six being published today by EEF, with a further 66 trials also currently in progress.

The first of the two trials looked at the impact of Switch-on Reading, a 10-week programme aimed at year 7 pupils who had not gained a level 4 in English at the end of key stage 2. The scheme is most commonly delivered by teaching assistants, who deliver regular one to one reading sessions lasting 20 minutes. The trial involved 308 pupils across 19 schools and found that on average pupils made an additional three months progress due to participation in the programme. In particular, pupils eligible for free school meals and those with low previous attainment made even greater additional progress.

The second trial evaluated the impact of Catch Up Numeracy, a scheme of one to one maths support for pupils in years 2-6. The programme was, again, usually delivered by teaching assistants and consisted of two 15 minute sessions per week over a period of 30 weeks. Three groups were compared: one which continued with normal lessons, one which participated in the scheme and one group which was given one to one attention without Catch Up Numeracy. Pupils in the Catch Up Numeracy group made on average an additional 3 months progress, but those in the group receiving one-to-one tuition without Catch Up Numeracy made an additional four months progress. This suggests that the effect is likely to be a result of regular and sustained one to one support as opposed to an intrinsic benefit of Catch Up Numeracy.

Findings from the other four reports suggest that:

  • Small group teaching improves the writing skills of those struggling with literacy at the end of primary school.

  • Structured interventions should be planned in school timetables at the beginning of the year to ensure they are given priority and status.

  • Summer schools show evidence of promise for English, particularly for students eligible for free school meals and Year 5 pupils (10 year-olds).

Previous research has suggested that teaching assistants do not help improve the attainment of pupils, and some governing bodies have been criticised by Ofsted for spending their pupil premium funding on hiring teaching assistants to little effect. However, the findings from EEF’s research suggest that deploying teaching assistants effectively can significantly raise the attainment of pupils.

Does your governing body monitor the impact of pupil premium funding on the progress of eligible pupils? If you are an NGA member and would like more information on spending pupil premium effectively, see our guidance section.

Education Endowment Foundation press release