Thomas Jones is a single form entry primary school in London. It serves a diverse community, with over half of its children eligible for free school meals. The number of children with education, health and care plans is significantly above the national average.
As part of its continual drive for school improvement, the school’s senior leadership team (SLT) sought to improve pupil outcomes and cost effectiveness for the school. It did this by changing the way teaching assistants (TAs) and learning support assistants (LSAs) worked.
Under the old system, a TA or LSA would often work with a specific pupil for the entirety of that pupil’s time at the school. This ensured continuity, but meant some pupils became very reliant on their TA or LSA, where encouraging greater independence would have been beneficial. Similarly, support staff could become attached to individual pupils and struggle to adapt if required to work with other children.
SLT took steps to bring about a cultural change, which it has embedded over the past ten years. It began by setting an expectation that all school staff would be able to work flexibly if needed. The headteacher explains this at the start of each year when he sets out his expectations and vision for the school to all staff.
SLT encouraged staff to develop their ability to work flexibly as part of their professional development, consistently supporting them in their learning. For TAs and LSAs, this included developing their ability to work with different classes and with individual children, in the short and long term, to deliver the strongest pupil outcomes.
Flexibility has since become part of the culture of the school. All staff understand how it helps to improve pupil outcomes. It is now both a clear expectation and a quality that is valued and appreciated.
The change has not altered how many support staff the school employs, but it has improved the school’s efficiency as SLT can now deploy its support staff more strategically. SLT achieves this by:
- regularly assessing pupil needs across the school
- speaking frequently to class teachers and the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) about individual pupils
- holding twice yearly pupil tracking meetings to monitor pupil attainment data
In this way, SLT is able to deploy support staff according to its assessment of the most recent data. It can also re-deploy support staff within an academic year if some pupils need additional support measures.
By focussing on pupil needs within a culture of flexibility, SLT ensures pupils benefit from strong individual support, and from the variety of seeing different TAs and LSAs as required. The school can also now rely on its support staff to provide supply cover when necessary. This means pupils can benefit from a familiar face and a consistent approach, and the school saves money by not purchasing external cover unnecessarily.
By making a cultural change, the headteacher and SLT have maximised the value added by the school’s support staff. They set a clear expectation of flexibility, helped staff to meet it, and have ensured all support staff at the school can work more efficiently to deliver improved pupil outcomes.