The summary below presents the research evidence on teaching assistants in the Australasian context.
The Teaching & Learning Toolkit focuses on impact; it presents an estimate of the average impact of teaching assistants on learning progress, based on the synthesis of a large number of quantitative studies from around the world.
This page offers a summary and analysis of individual Australasian studies on teaching assistants. In contrast to the Toolkit it includes studies which do not estimate impact, but instead investigate the implementation of interventions and how they are perceived by school leaders, teachers and students. This information is valuable for school leaders and teachers interested in finding out more about particular examples of teaching assistant interventions that have been delivered in Australia and New Zealand.
Melbourne Graduate School of Education generated this summary and it is current for June 2016.
Summary of Australasian Research
Teaching assistants are adults who support teachers in the classroom. Teaching assistants’ duties can vary widely from school to school, ranging from providing administrative and classroom support to providing targeted academic support to individual students or small groups.
A common issue associated with teaching assistants is that they work in mainstream classrooms with special needs students, requiring the execution of complex tasks (e.g., curriculum modification and differentiation), yet they are not required to have any formal qualifications or training in these tasks. There is yet to be published Australasian research on the impact of teaching assistants on academic outcomes.
The British systematic review by Sheehy, Rix, Collins, Hall, Nind and Wearmouth (2009), which incorporates Australian data, focused on whole-class and subject-based pedagogies, with reported outcomes for the academic and social inclusion within mainstream classrooms of students with special education needs. The review quantified the importance of student and teaching assistant interactions, listing pupil-support staff and pupil-teacher-support staff as the third and fourth most common interactions in the classroom. However, it did not identify the impact of modulating these interactions on student achievement.
The Australian-based study by Butt and Lowe (2012), conducted at one school in Canberra, outlined the differing perceptions and role confusion of teaching assistants as well as the benefits of skills-based training for them. The results indicated a large amount of confusion as well as differing emphasis and perception between class teachers and teaching assistants in regards to the skills and qualifications required to perform the teaching assistant role. This is an issue because teaching assistants work in mainstream classrooms with special needs students and are being required to perform complex tasks such as curriculum modification and differentiation. Nevertheless, teaching assistants were seen to benefit class teachers and the students they support.
Cain (2015) discussed the role of teaching assistants in helping Indigenous Australian students academically. She suggests that teachers and support staff need to have a strong understanding of local Indigenous culture. While she provides a conceptual discussion as well as implementation models, she did not quantify the academic impact.
Butt (2016) conducted a qualitative case study in Canberra over three years and across four primary schools, to identify issues related to teaching assistants in mainstream schools. Five different models of teacher assistant support and deployment were identified: 1) the one-on-one model; 2) the class support model; 3) the itinerant model, which involves teacher assistants working across several classes; 4) the unit model, which involves one teacher assistant assigned to one same-age unit of classes, moving between students with disability and learning difficulties; and 5) the withdrawal model, which involves teacher assistants withdrawing students with disability and learning difficulties from mainstream classes to work with them. Support models used in mainstream schools were found to be inequitable, as students who did not have a disability or learning difficulty received instruction primarily from a qualified teacher. However, students with a disability or learning difficulty more often than not received instruction from a teacher assistant who may have no relevant qualifications or involvement in broader planning.
Giangreco (2013) discussed the current state and future of teaching assistants in schools worldwide but did not discuss their effect on academic outcomes. Importantly, the article noted the increasing trend of reliance on untrained teacher assistants to provide support for students with disabilities and learning difficulties.
Butt, R. (2016). Teacher assistant support and deployment in mainstream schools. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 1-13.
Butt, R., & Lowe, K. (2012). Teaching Assistants and Class Teachers: Differing Perceptions, Role Confusion and the Benefits of Skills-Based Training. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 16(2), 207-219.
Cain, G. (2015). Support Staff and Indigenous Education. In Chambers, D. (Ed.) Working with Teaching Assistants and Other Support Staff for Inclusive Education (pp. 133-151). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Giangreco, M. F. (2013). Teacher Assistant Supports in Inclusive Schools: Research, Practices and Alternatives. Australasian Journal of Special Education, 37(02), 93-106.
Sheehy, K., Rix, J., Collins, J., Hall, K., Nind, M., & Wearmouth, J. (2009). A systematic review of whole class, subject based, pedagogies with reported outcomes for the academic and social inclusion of pupils with special educational needs in mainstream classrooms. EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, UK. Retrieved from http://oro.open.ac.uk/10735/1/Sheehy_and_Rix_2009.pdf
• Google Scholar
Support staff; adult support staff; teaching assistants; associate staff; classroom assistants; supplemental educational services.