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Teaching assistants are an important resource in education. This free course, Teaching assistants: support in action, looks at how the role has developed across the UK over time. It explores the skills and attributes that teaching assistants use to provide effective support and contribute to productive teamwork. This OpenLearn course introduces diverse roles and distinctive contributions of teaching assistants.
After studying this course, you should be able to:
- discuss how the UK’s teaching assistant workforce came into being
- understand that teaching assistants are part of a wider assistant workforce in the public services of health, social services and education
- recognise the diverse roles and distinctive contributions of teaching assistants across the UK
- identify some of the skills that teaching assistants use to provide effective support and that contribute to productive teamwork
- recognise the value of the work of teaching assistants, and the support skills involved.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 The rise of assistants
- 2 Contribution and roles
- 3 Support in action
- 4 Looking to the future
- Keep on learning
Study this free course
Enrol to access the full course, get recognition for the skills you learn, track your progress and on completion gain a statement of participation to demonstrate your learning to others. Make your learning visible!
Teaching assistants: support in action
Teaching assistants, and similar learning support staff, are a substantial part of a workforce that spans the public sector. They are sometimes referred to as ‘paraprofessionals’ – workers who supplement and support the work of qualified professionals. We would argue, however, that teaching assistants have a distinct professionalism themselves which often overlaps with and which is comparable to that of teachers. Since first being introduced into in the 1960s as ‘aides’, ‘helpers’ and ‘auxiliaries’, teaching assistants have become essential to children’s learning in primary schools across the UK and further afield. Whatever your learning support role in schools may be, you are part of this historic development.
For convenience, we have adopted the generic term ‘teaching assistant’ throughout this free course, Teaching assistants: Support in action. We use these words in preference to ‘TAs’, which, we feel, is reducing of status. ‘Teaching assistant’ is currently the preferred term of government but there are many others in use across the UK. We therefore use ‘teaching assistant’ to refer to the various kinds of volunteer and paid adult (other than qualified teachers) who provide learning support to primary aged children in the UK.
A central feature of the teaching assistant workforce is its considerable diversity – in terms not only of titles and linked responsibilities but also of previous experience, formal qualifications, in-service training opportunities, ways of working and skills for carrying out support work. The recruitment of paid assistants and volunteers has brought into schools a range of adults in addition to qualified teachers, with much to offer children. Their work enhances children’s experience of learning in school. This course aims to reflect this diversity and to encourage you to think about your part in the many roles that teaching assistants can play.
One interesting feature of the teaching assistant workforce is the extent to which it is overwhelmingly female. Why are women, especially many who are mothers, drawn to this work, and why are there so few men? This is one of the themes you will explore in this course.
As with teachers and their work, teaching assistants require many skills for working with children, and there is often more than one way of being effective. Later in this course we examine the approach of one teaching assistant, Caroline Higham, and consider how she collaborates with a class teacher and brings her distinctive practice to a maths lesson.
Teaching assistants are a very significant and essential resource in primary classrooms, so much so that it is hard to imagine how schools could manage without them.
The Open University is conducting a survey investigating how people use the free educational content on our OpenLearn website. The aim is to provide a better free learning experience for everyone. So if you have 10 minutes to spare, we’d be delighted if you could take part and
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This course is also available in Welsh on OpenLearn Cymru.
This free course is an adapted extract from an Open University course E111 Supporting learning in primary schools
This free course includes adapted extracts from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Educational Practice courses or view the range of currently available OU Educational Practice courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Friday, 26th February 2016
Last updated on: Friday, 26th February 2016
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements and our FAQs section.
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