BiographyI joined UCL Institute of Education in 2005. I'm an Associate Professor, based in the Centre for Inclusive Education. I am also currently a Lecturer at the University of Reading's Institute of Education.
Between 2011 and 2017, I led a landmark research study of the everyday educational experiences of pupils with an Education, Health and Care Plan/Statement, which included the UK’s largest observational study of pupils with SEN.
I'm a leading expert on teaching assistants. I was a researcher on the world's largest study of TA deployment and impact: the ground-breaking Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project. From this work, I created the award-winning Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants (MITA) programme. I'm currently editing the first collection of international writing on TAs.
I'm a co-investigator on several SEN-related projects, including investigations of the impact of Covid and lockdown on mainstream and special schools, teaching assistants and children and families with SEND. I also sit on the lead group of the SEN Policy Research Forum.
A passionate advocate for the power of educational research, I write about applying evidence in schools and classrooms. I also presented the first seven seasons of the Research for the Real World podcast.
I have a PhD in Education from the University of Reading, and an MA in Social Policy from Oxford Brookes University.
Areas of Research / Professional Expertise
The role and deployment of teaching assistants (education paraprofessionals)
Special educational needs
By: Rob Webster
During the Winter 2021 lockdown period, Rob Webster and colleagues at UCL Institute of Education – Gemma Moss, Alice Bradbury and Sinead Harmey – conducted a large-scale, national survey of TAs working in schools in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The findings told a compelling story about how vital TAs have been to keeping schools open during lockdowns, and keeping children learning.
The majority of our 9,055 respondents worked in primary or early years settings (70%), 12% were in secondary, and 13% in special schools. The study was funded by Unison, and covered by The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/apr/01/teaching-assistants-unsung-heroes-of-pandemic-study-shows
You can download the research report via the link below. Here is a summary of the key findings:
1. TAs have been pivotal in allowing schools to keep functioning during the pandemic. It is hard to see how schools could have managed without them. During the Winter 2021 lockdown, almost half of TAs covered staff absences, enabling schools to stay open to vulnerable and key worker children. The majority of TAs (88%) supported vulnerable and keyworker children in school. Just over half managed a whole class or bubble on their own.
2. TAs have played a vital role in supporting pupil learning in schools during successive lockdowns. In many ways they are the unsung heroes of the pandemic. In addition to leading classes, TAs continued to offer more targeted support. Half of TAs provided differentiated support to individuals working on tasks; around a third delivered targeted interventions; a third were running one-to-one and small group support sessions; and a third were involved in bespoke support to pupils with a support plan.
3. TAs on the frontline felt vulnerable as they worked in school during the lockdown. The risks of exposure to Covid played on their minds. The majority of TAs reported that, as well as supporting learning, they had been responsible for minimising transmission risks by cleaning equipment and furniture, and reminding pupils to maintain social distancing. Instances where TAs were expected to take prime responsibility for working with children on site during the lockdown led to sharp criticism.
4. TAs have played an important role in enabling children to carry on learning purposefully at home. Though largely unnoticed, TAs undertook a range of additional tasks, such as preparing hard copy learning packs; liaising with families; participating in live streamed lessons; checking pupils had completed work set remotely; and offering support to pupils having difficulties with home learning. However, almost four in ten TAs had been asked to do new things without training.
5. Helping pupils readjust to school is at the forefront of TAs’ minds as schools begin to reopen fully. Many TAs thought that the biggest impacts of the disruption would fall on the pupils they typically support. TAs thought that addressing pastoral care, pupil wellbeing and rebuilding school routines would be very important following lockdown.
6. The Covid crisis has underlined the value of the contribution TAs make to their schools. Their insights and knowledge should be drawn on in the effort to rebuild education. Nearly nine in ten TAs agreed that “people underestimated the difficulties the pandemic created for schools”. Yet, despite the central contribution TAs have made to keeping schools open and functioning, barely a quarter considered that their own school had become more aware of their role in supporting pupils and families.
Our research reveals how essential TAs are to the day-to-day running of schools. This is true in more normal times as well as during a pandemic. If we are to build a more resilient education system going forward, then their voices need to be heard. The unique understanding and clear view of what matters most within their communities, which they have gained from working on the frontline, should be respected and recognised.
Download the research report via the link below
Published: Mar 11, 2021
As schools open up more widely following the latest lockdown (winter 2021), many will use teaching assistant-led interventions to help with catch-up. This presentation explores the power and potential of TA-led interventions, and the common traps that schools need to avoid in order to ensure their learning recovery programme is a success. For more, visit www.maximisingtas.co.uk