Getting the best out of your teaching assistants

Written by: Colin McLean | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

How do you get the best out of your teaching assistants? Colin McLean speaks to a Bristol primary headteacher about making your teaching assistants a key part of your school’s success

Bristol teaching assistant Alison Carpentier was one of nine winners of the 2016 Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) of the Year awards. She received the South West regional award following her nomination by colleagues at her school, Glenfrome Primary, in the Eastville district of Bristol.

While it was a much deserved recognition of Alison’s contribution to the success of the school, her award – and the accolades received by eight other regional winners – also symbolises the important role teaching assistants play at Glenfrome and thousands of other primaries across the country in supporting children and staff.

The 355-pupil school is in a challenging area of Bristol and the 22-strong team of teaching assistants – or learning support assistants (LSAs) – play no small role in supporting children in their learning. Used well, teaching assistants can make a vital contribution, supporting teachers and assisting pupils. There is also now good guidance on how best to use teaching assistants available from the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit (see link below). In addition, we have sought some advice from Glenfrome headteacher Inger O’Callaghan:

Show them how much you value their work

“It’s important that we show Alison and other LSAs just how much we value them. It’s not just telling them, acknowledging what they’re doing, but backing this up with practical actions such as investing in their training and involving them in our school development planning.”

Give them space to take the initiative

“Alison is a great example of what a person can achieve given the opportunities. She works tirelessly for the school, and has achieved a range of outcomes for Glenfrome, including our Third Eco Schools Green Flag. Alison also organised a community barbecue to launch Black History Month. This has been a highly successful event at the start of the school year which brings the community together.”

Make them part of your school development efforts

“Alison is team leader to Glenfrome’s LSAs. This role involves leading termly meetings as well as being on hand to offer support and advice. She was a mentor to one LSA who was new and relatively inexperienced in the role. Under Alison’s guidance and support this LSA made excellent professional progress over the course of the year.

“Glenfrome’s LSAs are also heavily involved in school development planning. All LSAs and teaching staff combine together in teams and meet four times a year to review how the development plan is going. It’s important to give our teaching assistants that opportunity to set the vision and be part of achieving it. They work incredibly hard and I want them to feel that they are contributing directly to our success.”

Invest in their development

“It’s about giving them subject knowledge and skills. We have invested in training for our LSAs. When teachers are having subject mastery training our LSAs have subject knowledge training. Alison is a good example of what can be achieved when there is solid commitment to a teaching assistant’s professional development. She takes responsibility for improving her own subject knowledge for instance through talking to subject leaders, checking though policies and referring to the national curriculum where necessary. Alison has observed teachers and taken part in lesson study to improve her practice. Teachers are always very happy to leave Alison covering their classes.”

Fund their effectiveness

“We pay our key support staff for 37 hours a week rather than 32.5 so that they get time to talk to teachers at the end of the day and feedback to them. Otherwise if they are coming in at 8:30am and leaving at 3:30pm we wouldn’t be able to do that. It is a funding challenge but because we have high numbers of pupils attracting additional funding such as Pupil Premium, we can use this money to fund these additional hours.”

  • Colin McLean is chief executive of Best Practice Network, a national provider of training and professional development.

Further information and research

  • Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants: Guidance Report, Education Endowment Foundation, Spring 2015: Guidance on getting the best of teaching assistants is available at
  • Best Practice Network’s guide to the HLTA standards and how they relate to Professional Standards for TAs is available via
  • Some useful resources and information about HLTA status and the HLTA National Assessment Partnership:
  • Alison Carpentier and the eight other HLTA of the Year regional winners will attend a Westminster awards ceremony on November 21 when national winner will be announced.

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