The quantification of support for pupils with EHCPs, often expressed in terms of TA hours, is central to holding schools and local authorities to account. Yet research suggests the quantity of SEND support is prioritised over the quality. One local authority's novel approach to hours, which offers schools greater flexibility over provision, has been labelled "unhelpful" and "unlawful" by a leading SEND solicitor. But is there a wider, less talked about, disconnect in the way legal and teaching professionals conceptualise SEND support?
The Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) Project
The DISS project is the largest study of teaching assistants and other school support staff carried out in the world. The research, conducted between 2003 and 2009, was named by the British Educational Research Association as one of 40 landmark studies to have had a significant impact on education in last 40 years.
It is the first longitudinal study to analyse the impact of TAs on teachers, teaching and pupils' learning, behaviour and academic progress in everyday classroom settings. The findings have been widely reported in the media and have important implications for teaching, school management and the education of pupils - especially those with special educational needs.
Contrary to commonsense views about TA support (i.e. more adult support for those who need it most helps them to progress), we found that a negative relationship between the amount of TA support received and the progress made by pupils in mainstream primary and secondary schools. These results were not attributable to pupil characteristics, such as their prior attainment or SEN status, and nor could we explain them in terms of decisions made by TAs. Instead, it is the way schools and teachers deploy and prepare TAs – factors that are out of TAs’ control – that best explain the surprising results.
The DISS project findings are detailed in our book Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants. In it we reveal the extent to which pupils in most need are let down by current arrangements and present a robust challenge to the widespread practices concerning TA preparation, deployment and how they interact with pupils. Links to our key publications based on the DISS project are posted in the right sidebar.
Click here for a video lecture by the study's Director, Professor Peter Blatchford, on the DISS project findings.
Click the titles below to download the DISS project reports and briefings published by the Dept for Children, Schools and Families (2006-09)
The deployment and impact of support staff project (2009). Research summary
Short summary of DISS project main findings, conclusions and recommendations
The impact of support staff in schools. Strand 2 Wave 2 (2009). Research report
Findings on the impact of TAs and other support staff on the teachers, teaching and pupil learning, behaviour and academic progress
Characteristics, working conditions, job satisfaction and impact of workforce remodelling. Findings from the Strand 1, Waves 1-3 surveys (2009). Research report
Findings from a systematic survey of support staff on their characteristics and deployment in schools, and how these changed between 2004 to 2008
Findings from systematic observations on classroom interactions and interim findings from case studies on the deployment of TAs and other support staff
Interim findings from a systematic survey of support staff on their characteristics and deployment in schools, and how these changed between 2004 to 2006
The deployment and impact of support staff. Findings from the Strand 1 Wave 1 survey (2006). Research brief
Preliminary findings from a systematic survey of support staff on their characteristics and deployment in schools in 2004