Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants with Cooperative Learning #2; “TAs should not be used as an informal teaching resource…”

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This series of articles explains how Cooperative Learning will make the seven recommendations in the EEF Making best use of TAs Guidance Report a lived reality in your school, simply and cost-efficiently.
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In accordance with these recommendations, the ultimate objective of my work with Evolution Academy Trust is to “transform the way Teaching Assistants are deployed and supported, to help them thrive in their role and improve outcomes for pupils” (Guidance, p. 29).
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The seven recommendations are found in Section 5 of the report; This article discusses Recommendation I:
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EEF Recommendation I header

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There is no beating around the bush: TA deployment as an informal instructional resource for pupils in most need is “no longer an option.”
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Take a step back
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As ever and always, addressing fundamental issues falls on leadership who must “rigorously define the role of TAs and consider their contribution in relation to the drive for whole-school improvement.” 
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EEF Recommendation I quote

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However, SLT does not operate in a vacuum and it is recommended that decisions arepreceded by a thorough audit of current arrangements to define the start and end points of any TA reform. When it comes to gathering, collating, and negotiating vast amounts of input and ideas from many people at once, a Cooperative Learning staff event is beyond compare.
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This is all the more important because so many angles are involved, crucially the connection between TAs and low-attaining pupils and/or those with SEND or behavior issues, who are most disadvantaged by current arrangements, but also issues of pay, workload, staff satisfaction, self-confidence, expectations, roles and relationships between TAs to teachers, leaders, parents, and pupils – to name a few.
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In accordance with this advice, rather than talking at TAs for two hours hoping this would prompt behavior-transforming reflections, Evolution chose a half-day tightly guided enquiry exercise with no expenses spared (as described in Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants with Cooperative Learning #1).
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For schools where Cooperative Learning is a part and parcel of school development, I recommend this re-think includes a clear strategy for Cooperative Learning to bring the individual TA’s skills to bear. You will find ample ideas in this series of articles. Follow on Twitter or join the mailing list for updates.
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Take a good look
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The objectives of Evolution’s Cooperative Learning sessions have been explained. Suffice to say, aside from the awakening of engagement and instilling a sense of worth, the sessions gave new insights into the inner workings of this overlooked group of staff, uncovering hitherto unrecognised complications, as well as untapped resources.
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Most importantly,  there were both well-qualified suggestions and a real willingness to benefit children through more instructional roles in the classroom – on condition schools offered relevant training and support. Many ideas could be directly linked to the seven EEF recommendations, thus generating bottom-up buy-in for reform.
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There is no doubt Cooperative Learning is a powerful tool for schools wanting a positive, communal ethos of empowered learners. What these sessions demonstrated was that Cooperative Learning creates an equally positive, communal ethos of empowered staff.
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By looking closely at the outcomes of such open, shared, yet anonymised sessions, leadership will find their choices enlightened and guided by a deeper understanding of this complex field. Very importantly, such sessions could take on a much more informal form in ongoing staff meetings to review and (re)define roles, purpose, and contributions of TAs, as described in this process of school improvement found on page 29:
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EEF TA Guidance report development process loop
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Take (shared) action
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This collaborative approach in no way negates my previous sermons on the crucial role of decisive leadership, quite the opposite in fact: Changing the routines surrounding the deployment of TAs may well be the biggest can of worms ever opened in the history of UK education. But then again, which can of worms costs a quarter of your school’s budget and potentially adds 3-4 months of additional progress per pupil per year for those brave souls who open it? You might well be positively surprised by your TAs.
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For example, Section 8 presents a number of tools and strategies that schools have successfully used to review and improve the use of TAs, of which the first one is “Planning a strategy to review the use of TAs.” As for the rest of the advice in this section, it was found, to the letter, in the output of Evolution Academy Trust’s teaching assistants during the Cooperative Learning sessions.
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Ultimately, the needs of the pupils must drive that crucial decision process: It might be that the roles of some or all your TAs need to change wholly or in part. Regardless, any real change demands determined, visionary leadership with the stamina to execute decisions in the face of adversity.
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However, if the SLT alienates itself from staff with an endless stream of unilateral decisions (based on research, of course!), the best metaphorical image is that of a decapitated head rolling down a hill, shouting back at the lifeless body “Just follow me!”
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Here, ongoing Cooperative Learning helps keep heads on shoulders.
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Follow on Twitter or join the mailing list to receive notification of the next installment:
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EEF Recommendation II header
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NOTE: For schools working with Sheringham Primary National Teaching School Alliance, these ideas will be integrated into a comprehensive Cooperative Learning package, giving you the option to add the 3-4 months of progress afforded by better use of your TAs to 5 to 8 months already inherent in Cooperative Learning. Please contact me for details.
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