This collection is part of a series of bitesize CPD units to support teaching assistants (TAs) with their professional learning journey. These units offer insights into best practice in supporting children and young people, building on the latest evidence base. They are designed to develop knowledge around a range of topics relevant to TAs.
These topics include:
- Supporting students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)
- Supporting students with English as an Additional Language (EAL)
- Supporting students to develop literacy skills
- Fostering positive relationships and learning environments
- Working effectively with teachers, parents and the wider community
- Developing effective learners
- Developing curriculum knowledge
These CPD units incorporate a range of content types to support professional learning and reflective practice, including:
- Research summaries and reviews that summarise the latest evidence base
- Case studies from practising TAs, teachers and school leaders
- Webinars and video content delivered by leading experts in the field
- Reflective questions to support the learning
- Reading lists signposting further sources and support
Whilst much of the content is from the perspective of researchers, school leaders and teachers, it is both useful and relevant to TAs. Moving forward, we would like to expand our knowledge base by including voices and expertise of TAs.
Supporting students to develop literacy skills
Literacy is defined as ‘the ability to read, write, speak and listen in a way that lets us communicate effectively and make sense of the world’ (National Literacy Trust, 2022). These important skills allow students to access the curriculum and unlock their academic potential. Proficiency in these skills can also determine students’ prospects post-education, contributing to greater access to the job market, increased salaries and an overall higher standard of living. On the other hand, those who experience low literacy levels are more likely to be unemployed, experience serious health issues and have a lower life expectancy (Gilbert et al., 2018). Developing competency in reading, writing and oracy is therefore a prerequisite for successful and equitable participation in society – as Murphy (2019: 9) states ‘without full access to this foundation, full participation in our society is impossible’.
Unfortunately, in England, 18% of students leave secondary school without foundational literacy skills (OECD, 2016). This situation has been exacerbated by the recent pandemic. Figures demonstrate that primary school students meeting literacy benchmarks fell from 65% in 2018-19 to 59% in 2021-22 (Institute For Fiscal Studies, 2022). The pandemic has also had a disproportionate impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are believed to have fallen twice as far behind their peers (Institute For Fiscal Studies, 2022). These facts and figures highlight the urgent need for high-quality training and resources to support teaching staff to address the needs of those with low literacy rates in their classrooms.
In light of this situation, teaching assistants have been increasingly tasked with supporting children and adolescents with low literacy levels. Most recently, in the wake of the pandemic, teaching assistants are playing a vital role in supporting students to ‘catch-up’ with lost learning (Hall & Webster, 2022). Indeed, there is a growing body of research that indicates the positive impact that TA-led-interventions can have on students’ reading and writing capabilities (EEF, 2021). However, research also indicates that these interventions are most effective when TAs are supported with high-quality training to deliver evidence-based literacy programmes (EEF, 2021). Consequently, this unit seeks to support teaching assistants by developing their knowledge of teaching reading, writing and oracy and provide the tools to identify and address the specific needs of the students in their context.
Moving forward, we hope to build on this knowledge base by drawing on the experience and expertise of TAs supporting students with low literacy levels. We invite you to use the attached padlet to begin sharing your reflections, experiences and expertise to support other teaching assistants with their professional learning journey.
Education Endowment Fund (EEF) (2021) ‘Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants: Guidance Report’ (online) https://d2tic4wvo1iusb.cloudfront.net/eef-guidance-reports/teaching-assistants/TA_Guidance_Report_MakingBestUseOfTeachingAssistants-Printable_2021-11-02-162019_wsqd.pdf?v=1666086797 (accessed on 03.01.22)
Gilbert, L., Teravainen, A., Clark, C. & Shaw, S. (2018) ‘Literacy and life expectancy An evidence review exploring the link between literacy and life expectancy in England through health and socioeconomic factors’, National Literacy Trust Report. (online) http://cdn-literacytrust-production.s3.amazonaws.com/media/documents/National_Literacy_Trust_-_Literacy_and_life_expectancy_report.pdf (accessed on 03.01.23)
Hall, S. & Webster, R. (2022) ‘From Covid to the Cost of Living: The Crises Remaking the Role of the Teaching Assistants’ (online) https://pure.port.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/57436644/From_Covid_to_the_Cost_of_Living._The_crises_remaking_the_role_of_teaching_assistants_FINAL_.pdf (accessed on 03.01.23)
Institute for Fiscal Studies (2022) ‘Education Inequalities’ (online) https://ifs.org.uk/publications/education-inequalities (accessed on 03.01.23)
Murphy, J. (2019) ‘Introduction’. In Murphy, J. & Bennett, T. (eds) ‘The ResearchEd Guide to Literacy’. Woodbridge: John Catt, pp. 9-10
National Literacy Trust (2022) ‘What is Literacy?’ (online) https://literacytrust.org.uk/information/what-is-literacy/ (accessed on 03.01.23)
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (2016) ‘Abbreviated to PISA, a worldwide study by the Organisation f... Results from The Programme for International Student Assessment, a worldw... 2015: United Kingdom’ (online) https://www.oecd.org/pisa/PISA-2015-United-Kingdom.pdf (accessed on 03.01.23)