Inclusion at school
I was very pleased to read Dr Rob Webster’s article (March issue) regarding the work of Teaching Assistants (TAs) as I had spent a significant proportion of my time as an Educational Psychologist from the implementation of the 1981 Education Act onwards, canvassing for and working with them. I was aware at the time however that evaluation of their work might be an issue. The work of Denis Lawrence in the 1970s and 1980s (e.g. 1971 and 1985 in Education Research), found that counselling pupils in remedial groups (as they were then known) was more likely to raise their achievement and self-esteem than remedial methods alone. Looking back over 30 years, I feel that the qualitative aspects of TA intervention are as important as the more impact-driven evaluative data. This would take into account the range and breadth of learning difficulties dealt with by TAs such as behaviour management, ADHD, Autistic Spectrum Disorders, physical difficulties, etc. as well as the indirect effects such as helping parents and giving teachers much-needed breathing space. Let me give two examples.
The first concerned a boy diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. Throughout his school career he would make loud, negative comments regarding the teachers’ abilities and appearances during lessons. In a review meeting he requested that he be given ‘an intelligent TA next time please’. This TA almost certainly saved him from exclusion at secondary school by working proactively with the staff and by dealing with incidents. A lot of hard work and a single statistic, but a human success.
The second related to a project concerning management of ADHD in a large, urban secondary school. Towards the end of the project, I met with the dozen or so TAs with whom I had worked to discuss the most effective strategies. The observations they offered were enough to fill a practical textbook. I have yet to find a text which offers more, or any different strategies than those offered by the TAs in two meetings.
I share Dr Webster’s concerns that the pressures for accountability and impact favour the quick fix. This rarely goes with the complex environments of schools, and we certainly need more information on how interventions work best in the range of situations where TAs are deployed.
Inclusion is a complex issue. We need to convince those with the power that a broad picture needs to be taken, with intervention reflecting on the best evidence available. Individual statistics can get lost in a sea of data but to the child in the middle, TA support can be a lifeline.
- John Gott AFBPsS
Retired Educational Psychologist
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