Teaching Assistant

The emergence of the Teaching Assistant as reflective practitioner: a well-established norm, a new reality or a future aspiration?

Janet Collins and Neil Simco

Paper presented at the 2004 British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Manchester.

Focusing on the new arrangements for teaching assistants in English primary schools, this paper explores the extent to which reflection is an important, valued and worthwhile concept for a new breed of teaching assistants.   Using the established Schon concepts of reflection, it considers the extent to which opportunities are available for reflection –in and –on action (Schon 1983, 1987) and goes on to explore the implications of models concerned with levels of reflection for the work of teaching assistants. The paper goes on to suggest that skills and performance are valued implicitly in the new arrangements in England, but there is a danger of the power of reflection not being recognised as a mechanism for the enhancement of those skills and that performance. The paper concludes by citing a number of specific questions for further empirical work. The issues raised in paper this are illustrated by examples provided from evidence collected during a series of semi-structured interviews with a group of eight bilingual teaching assistants. The teaching assistants work in the same large multicultural primary school in the centre of England.

The emergence of the teaching assistant as a key member of the education profession has been most marked since about 2000, but the origins of this move can be traced back to the early 19890s.   Before we consider the place of reflection in the work of teaching assistants, it is important to first consider the strengthening of this role that has occurred over the last 25 years or so.   Thomas (1992) argues that the Warnock Report (1978) is the origin of the gradual enhancement of the role of teaching assistants in schools across this period.   The...