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The Least Effective Use of a TA - Teaching by Echo Part Three

Part three of a guest blog from Sara Alston looking at how teachers can make better use of the TA in the classroom when they move beyond the 'echo teaching' model.

In first two parts of my exploration of how to get the best out of the TAs in your classroom, I looked at how to avoid ‘echo teaching’ and also the support we can give children with SEND to both access the learning and show what they had learned.

In this final part, I want to show how moving away from ‘echo teaching’ can lead to better model of support the TA can give as well as better improve the child for adult life.

Evidence in the classroom

One of the challenges to a move to preparation for learning, rather than echo teaching is that too few people at all levels in schools - headteachers, teachers and TAs themselves - understand what is meant by ‘supporting’ in class.

There has, I’m pleased to say, been something of a move away from the Velcro TA - the one stuck to the child’s side at all times. But this is not based on a secure understanding of the alternatives. I still meet heads, parents and SENCos who say, ‘They have 25 hours support’ and, at some level at least, believe that this should be one to one. Yet, all the evidence suggests that this is not what 25 hours of support means, except in some special cases where there may be physical or safeguarding needs.

This leads TAs and teachers to believe that the TA should be with ‘their child’ at all times which restricts how teachers feel they are able to deploy the TA in the classroom. Even if the child does need one-to-one support ,that doesn’t mean they do not need or are not entitled to teacher time.

When we change our thinking about the role of the TA, we see new possibilities. One such would be that the TA can sometimes work with other children in the class, so that the teacher can work directly with ‘their child’.

In this way, we change our model of TA support from ‘Velcro’ to ‘helicopter’. The ‘helicopter TA’ prepares the child for learning, ‘dropping down’ the strategies and resources needed for learning in the right way at the right time. Then they ‘hover’ and can drop in when the support is needed to re-focus, reminding the child to use the strategies and resources available and leave again, so the child can develop independence and experience true learning.

Preparation for adulthood

There is an ongoing mantra in SEND about preparation for adulthood. Few people are going to go into adulthood with another adult glued to their shoulder. If we perpetuate dependence on a TA for children with SEND by continually supporting their learning, we are not preparing them to be independent adults. This is not fair. Like all children they too need to be adequately prepared to be independent adults and that means, in schools, we need to prepare them for learning independently, enabling them to practice tackling tasks on their own and experiencing success and, importantly, managing setbacks.

To sum up, we need to move away from ‘echo teaching’ and TAs need to be given permission to leave ‘their child’. But to be confident to do this, they need to be given the time, resources, and skills to prepare the children so that they can access the learning first-hand.

If support to access learning is going to be effective, it requires preparation and planning, including time for TAs to read and understand teachers’ planning. This will often mean that TAs (under the teacher’s direction) will be preparing resources, providing pre- and over-learning and supporting the development of IT skills.

This means that they may be less visible in the classroom, but that they will have greater impact.

If we are to improve outcomes for SEND children, we need to focus on and understand how best to support them in class by building independence, not dependence. This means we must reconsider how best to use TAs and give them and teachers the confidence that children with SEND can access learning without a TA echoing in their ears. [ITL]

Sara Alston is a highly experienced school leader and safeguarding practitioner with a passion for helping schools support children who would otherwise have trouble accessing the curriculum. She can be contacted on

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