From research to practice: the past, present and future of MITA

10 October 2014 by Rob Webster

Welcome to the brand new MITA website!! 

Having survived on homemade websites for several years, we have had a supercharged upgrade to bigger and better website!!

Demand for our services has taken off in the last year, as more and more schools look to improve the way they use their TAs. To meet demand, we have created this new website to share more of our work online.

The new SEN Code of Practice, the use of Pupil Premium funding and the Ofsted framework have all played a part in prompting serious action from schools on rethinking the role of their TAs. But the key catalyst behind all these motivators has been the need to respond to findings from the Deployment and Impact and Support Staff (DISS) project, which started the MITA journey.

On a drizzly Friday in Manchester in September 2009, a research team from the Institute of Education (IOE), London presented findings from a six year study showing that pupils who received high levels of support from TAs made less progress than pupils who had little or no TA support.

The DISS project was a heavyweight study of real importance, and was recently named by the British Educational Research Association as one of 40 landmark studies to have had a significant impact on educational policy and practice in the last 40 years. Five years on, the findings continue to resonate - not just in the UK, but overseas too. 

The DISS project presented two challenges that myself and other members of the IOE research team subsequently took on. The first has been to get issues relating to TA employment and deployment on the policy map. Our efforts seem to be bearing fruit. The Department for Education has now recognised the need for a review of TA standards, and shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt has promised the revival of a pay and conditions architecture should Labour succeed at the next election. 

With the Government openly stating that it wants headteachers, not Whitehall, to be in control of school-level decisions relating to TA employment and deployment, it seems that the essential components required to inject a much-needed sense of professionalism into this huge and valued area of the school workforce are almost in alignment.

Our second challenge was to convert some pretty complex research findings into practical guidance and tools for schools. Our starting point for this was a framework we used to explain the DISS project findings. This led to our collaborative research study with schools, called the Effective Deployment of TAs project, and the book, Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants.

From here, MITA has grown organically from conference talks and seminars (mainly in London and the south-east), to a thriving structured programme at the IOE and interest from around the world. Next year, we will be taking MITA on the road with a series of one-day conferences to reach more schools across England.

The purpose of MITA is to encourage and support school leaders through a process of rethinking and reforming the TA role in their school, and giving them the tools and structure to help. The schools we have worked with so far in the MITA programme have been getting results and encouraged more schools to join our programme.

Key to our success so far has been effective 'knowledge mobilisation'. Broadly put, this is the process of translating and transferring empirical research findings into practical 'stuff' schools can use. In our case, to improve pupil achievement through a more purposeful and constructive use of TAs.

The new website will continue to house the outputs of our research, but our main area of development will be in growing the link between the research and its practical application. In time, we will add case studies, tools and other helpful resources schools can access to make sense of and apply the fruits of the research - as well as try some of their own!

In this way, we hope our work will continue to break new ground, and through greater collaboration with schools will increasingly feed back into our research, creating a virtuous circle of research-informed practice and practice-informed research. 

We very much hope you will join us on this journey!