Hattie: ‘Schools should stop placing students who need the most expertise with those who have the least – TAs’

Schools should rethink their use of teaching assistants and stop placing “students who need the most expertise” with “the adults with the least expertise”, one of education’s most influential professors has said.

In an interview with TES, Professor John Hattie, director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute and one of the world’s most widely quoted education academics, said teaching assistants should not be used to support pupils who were struggling with their work.

“It’s ironic that the students who need the most expertise get the adults with the least expertise,” he said.

Asked whether schools should stop using teaching assistants, he said this was not necessarily the right approach.

Instead, he said, schools should ensure that teaching assistants “work in ways that can make a difference, but not, as they typically do, with students who need the most help.”

In a report published last week, Professor Hattie said the use of teaching assistants tended to “separate the teacher from the students,” becoming “an alternative rather than an addition to the teacher.”

This could have a damaging effect on pupils because teaching assistants’ explanations of topics were “sometimes inaccurate or confusing” and they were more likely than teachers to “prompt pupils and provide them with answers”.

In the report Professor Hattie cited a study by Peter Blatchford, professor of psychology and education at the Institute of Education, which said the number of teaching assistants in England had tripled in a decade, representing one in four staff members in the English school workforce.

Professor Hattie wrote: “Teachers love them [teaching assistants] and claim they reduce their stress and increase job satisfaction, reduce workloads, improve student outcomes and allow them to improve the quality of their teaching.

“Blatchford, however, could find no effect on students’ confidence, motivation, attention, independence, relationships with peers, work-completion rates or in following instructions.”

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