Research Digest: February 2017

Making best use of teaching assistants

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published updated resources on (16 January) ‘Making best use of teaching assistants.’ The resources, which also underpin the Mobilise project, include seven evidence-based recommendations to help schools maximise the impact of their teaching assistants. The recommendations are summarised below (source: EEF):

Recommendations on the use of teaching assistants in everyday classroom contexts:

  • TAs should not be used as an informal teaching resource for low-attaining pupils
  • Use TAs to add value to what teachers do, not replace them
  • Use TAs to help pupils develop independent learning skills and manage their own learning
  • Ensure TAs are fully prepared for their role in the classroom

Recommendations on the use of teaching assistants in delivering structured interventions out of class:

  • Use TAs to deliver high-quality one-to-one and small group support using structured interventions
  •  Adopt evidence-based interventions to support TAs in their small group and one-to-one instruction

Recommendations on linking learning from work led by teachers and TAs

  • Ensure explicit connections are made between learning from everyday classroom teaching and structured interventions

The EEF has also produced a pack of free practical resources to help schools implement the above recommendations. There is also a suggested process that schools can use to re-frame and rethink their use of teaching assistants. The EEF has also partnered with the TES to create a free online course with step-by-step guidance on implementing the recommendations and videos of schools discussing their use of TAs.

Further information can be found:

Early years research

The Department for Education (DfE) has published (27 January) a number of research reports on various elements of early years provision. The main conclusions from the reports are outlined below (source: DfE):

Good practice in early education: In identifying features of good practice in early education, three broad cross-cutting themes emerged:

  • Tailoring practice to the needs of the children – underpinning good practice was an ethos that placed the child at the centre of setting practice. Systems and processes were developed with the wellbeing and development of the children in mind and this helped settings maintain focus and avoid distractions that might detract from this focus. In practice, this meant settings had a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve for the children in their care, and these clear goals informed all areas of their practice.
  • Skilled and experienced staff – a second cross-cutting theme was the importance of staff that were qualified, knowledgeable and experienced because it was this skilled workforce that underpinned the practices that supported children to reach their full potential. Given the importance of a skilled workforce, settings with good practice worked hard to recruit and retain high quality staff, and prioritised ongoing support for their staff’s development. Strong leadership was also considered vital, and good practice was underpinned by leaders who led by example; fostered team work and had a clear vision of what they were aiming to achieve.
  • An open and reflective culture – the final theme running throughout this examination of good practice was the importance of an open and reflective culture, as this was thought to drive continuous improvement; create a positive working environment and encourage sharing of good practice to increase the quality of the early years sector as a whole. In practice this meant that settings with good practice sought out and worked in partnership with other settings and professionals; recognised the knowledge and expertise of their own staff and valued open discussion and staff consultation; and embedded a culture of self-evaluation as a means of driving continuous improvement.

Experiences of the early years pupil premium:

  • In relation to identifying eligible children, providers explained that it would be useful to standardise the eligibility criteria or make eligibility more transparent so that settings would be better able to plan resources. Confusion around which children would be eligible made it difficult for some providers (especially smaller providers with more limited resources) to work with and target families to complete application forms.
  • Linked to this, some providers thought that it would be beneficial to remove the administrative burden placed on parents to complete application forms. Providers suggested EYPP applications could perhaps be more easily processed alongside applications for benefits or other subsidies, for example. Overall there was a sense that engaging parents in this process was difficult and that best practice on this particular issue could be shared more effectively.
  • There was a sense that some smaller providers struggled to achieve the same kinds of impact as larger settings, because they had fewer eligible pupils and therefore less funding overall. For example some smaller settings found it more difficult to purchase staff resources such as Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) as they were too expensive, although some had found creative ways around this such as training existing staff.
  •  Some providers indicated that they would have found it useful to have more guidance on how to spend EYPP money, including where it would have most impact (implying low levels of awareness of existing resources such as the EEF toolkit). Providers appreciated the flexibility of the funding but were also keen to learn from the successes of other settings. It was suggested that this learning be compiled and disseminated for the benefit of all early years providers, either through a series of guides, learning and networking events, or both. Greater emphasis could usefully be placed on publicising existing resources, raising awareness within the sector.
  •  Finally, in relation to monitoring, providers explained that standardised data collection tools would help settings evaluate spending and impact on an ongoing basis, which would be useful in identifying what is working well and any possible areas for improvement, helping to prioritise decision-making and allocations going forward.
Children with SEND: Meeting their needs in the early years:
  • Early years provision for children with SEND: parents and settings generally felt that there was sufficient provision for children with SEND in their own local area, and that they were able to access relevant information to support the decision-making process. However, there was also some indication that information about SEND provision could be made more accessible to parents.
  • Identification of SEND: all early years providers had processes in place for monitoring children’s progress and identifying SEND; most settings combining informal observation with more formal monitoring procedures. These procedures appeared to work particularly well where settings could access support and advice from area Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs) or other support services. Settings highlighted the significance of building strong communication strategies with children’s parents, who were seen as playing an integral role in early identification of SEND.
  • Communication between parents and providers: parents and settings both typically felt that communication channels worked well, with parents given adequate opportunities to speak to staff, discuss progress and raise concerns, formally and informally. Despite opportunities to engage, parents tended to show limited involvement when it came to steering or shaping provision. This was presented by parents as a trust in providers to know what was best for children.
  • The introduction of EHC plans: the new EHC process was generally felt to be a positive development in the support and care of children with SEND. However, some providers were reliant on support from other SEND service providers, who were constrained in the amount of help they were able to offer. There was also recognition that the process could be slow and administratively burdensome, although providers felt that this would improve over time.
  • Resources and funding: the greatest barrier settings faced to fully meeting the needs of children with SEND was resource constraints, including a lack of additional funding. There were also issues with the complexity of funding application processes and the length of time it took to receive additional funding, as well as the adequacy of amounts.

Further information can be found:

Cultural learning

The Cultural Learning Alliance (CLA) has published (25 January) its new report ‘ImagineNation: the value of cultural learning’, which sets out how studying arts and culture changes and shapes the lives of children and young people. The key findings from the report are set out below (source: CLA):

  1. Participation in structured arts activities can increase cognitive abilities by 17%.
  2. Learning through arts and culture can improve attainment in Maths and English.
  3. Learning through arts and culture develops skills and behaviour that lead children to do better in school.
  4. Students from low-income families who take part in arts activities at school are three times more likely to get a degree.
  5. Employability of students who study arts subjects is higher and they are more likely to stay in employment
  6. Students from low-income families who engage in the arts at school are twice as likely to volunteer.
  7. Students from low-income families who engage in the arts at school are 20% more likely to vote as young adults
  8. Young offenders who take part in arts activities are 18% less likely to re-offend.
  9. Children who take part in arts activities in the home during their early years are ahead in reading and Maths at age nine
  10. People who take part in the arts are 38% more likely to report good health.

Further details can be found: