ERG SES C 03, Interactive Poster Session
The research was conducted to answer the research questions and meet the aims and objectives as follows:
- How do TAs view their role in managing behaviour in relation to a whole school behaviour policy and what are their points of tension in fulfilling this role?
The question is addressed through the aims and objectives of the research:
• To interrogate the role of the TA in managing behaviour and how this is evolving;
• To identify factors that TAs perceive to both enable and constrain them when managing behaviour;
• To explore how TAs understand the teacher/ TA boundaries in relation to managing behaviour;
• To model TAs’ perceptions of the relationship between TAs, teaching staff and school behaviour policies.
- To produce a chronology from literature giving consideration to TAs’ evolving role in the primary classroom;
- To search literature to examine TAs’ defined role in managing behaviour;
- To collect data from TAs to fulfil the aims of the research;
- To analyse, from literature and data collected from TAs, factors that enable and constrain them when managing behaviour ;
- To analyse responses from data collected to compare and contrast with research in order to identify what TAs view as their role in managing behaviour, and how this differs from their perception of the teacher’s role;
- To analyse a behaviour policy, published research, and data collected, to understand how a behaviour policy influences TAs’ management of behaviour.
Teaching Assistants’ roles have changed dramatically, and continue to evolve in primary schools both in England (Blatchford, Russell and Webster, 2012). This situation is not unique to England, but also resonates with emerging research highlighting issues in Canada, Australia, Cyprus, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Malta, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Hong Kong (Cajkler and Tennant, 2009; Rose and Forlin, 2010; Butt and Lowe, 2011; Giangreco, 2013; Trent, 2014). This evolution has resulted in a lack of a shared, clear, and cohesive understanding of the TA role. Quicke (2003) suggested that rather than a clarification of the role, uncertainty had increased with TAs ‘left in an ambiguous position with no clear boundaries’. This was supported by later research suggesting a continued lack of clarity on ‘roles’, ‘autonomy’ and ‘professional identity’ (Blatchford, Bassett, Brown and Webster, 2009).
The published literature to date has concentrated principally on TAs’ efficacy at improving classroom standards, particularly associated with the Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) study (Blatchford et al., 2012). It is surprisingly rare to find research which includes TAs’ role in managing behaviour, and none has been found where this is an explicit focus. This is despite an historic deficit, as well as more recent calls for further research into how TAs support pupil’s ‘soft skills’ in school (Howes, 2003; Rubie-Davies, Blatchford, Webster, Koutsoubou, & Bassett, 2010; Giangreco, Suter, and Doyle, 2010; Graves, 2013; Sharples, Webster and Blatchford, 2015). With the exception of the DISS study (Blatchford et al., 2012) much of the existing research on TAs has been based on relatively small samples that reduce the generative power of their findings.
The shortage of specific or empirical research addressing this key area demonstrates a lack of evidence informed, or shared good practice, concerning TAs managing behaviour. Consequently, why research has not addressed TAs’ capability to support the management of behaviour is surprising, given that a key finding from Blatchford et al. (2009) was that ‘teachers were less likely to deal with negative behaviour’ from pupils when TAs were present. This demonstrates that TAs can have a positive impact on managing behaviour, but how this can be optimised has not been considered.
The research was undertaken from a qualitative perspective with a constructionist and feminist epistemology. A pragmatic methodology, defined by Frost, Nolas, Brooks-Gordon, Esin, Holt, Mehdizadeh and Shinebourne (2010) simply as ‘the use of more than one qualitative approach with another’, was utilised enabling a focus on the research question. Pragmatism was noted as ‘the most sensible and practical method available in order to answer a given research question’ (Becker, 1996; Robson, 2011; Burr, 2003; Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2011; Savin-Baden and Howell Major, 2013) with ‘a myriad of advantages’ for the researcher (Onwuegbuzie and Leech, 2005). This approach importantly enabled a focus on the ‘multidimensional’ experiences of participants and their ‘multiontological worlds’ which Frost and Nolas (2011) suggested were not accessible through a single methodological approach. The research was rooted in social constructionism, as it understood knowledge to be ‘socially and culturally constructed’ (Savin-Baden and Howell Major, 2013). Burr (2003) proposed this recognition that individuals construct ‘social meaning and shared reality’ through ‘interactions’ naturally lent itself to research with a focus on the exploration of individual’s ‘construction of meaning’ (Savin-Baden and Howell Major, 2013). A constructionist perspective also permitted an investigation of the ‘complexity’ of situations (Cresswell, 2014). However, Harris (2010) cautioned that the concept of ‘constructing’ in constructionism was often perceived as ‘an empty rhetorical device’, but was in fact a vehicle for investigating ‘doing, discovering, managing’ and ‘accomplishing’ through highlighting ‘processes, strategies and practices’. Like feminist perspectives, social constructionism considers unbiased, objective, impartial and value-free research as an impossibility and instead recognises the researcher’s own ‘intrinsic involvement’ both in the process of research and data collected (Burr, 2003). The participants for the research (sample 1) were all purposively sampled from the same primary school and invited to contribute. The data collection methods included document analysis of the school’s behaviour policy, paper-based questionnaires (n=13), a focus group (n=11) and semi-structured interviews (n=4). In order to support these findings, data from a second discrete set of purposively sampled TAs (sample 2) was drawn upon. These TAs (sample 2) were markedly different from those in the school researched (sample 1) as all were in their second term with a higher education provider on an initial teacher training (ITT course). The data collection method from this group was a paper-based questionnaire (n=17). Thematic analysis was utilised to draw out emerging themes from the data collected from sample one and two.
The findings from this research support existing findings highlighting the range of generic tensions TAs experience. This research establishes that the wider issues research identified affect TAs’ perceptions of their agency in the management of behaviour. Specific findings have also been generated from this research that were not common in published research. TAs in samples one and two in this thesis noted the importance of their actions to manage behaviour not being construed as ‘undermining’ the teacher, and TAs in sample one highlighted the requirement they felt to ‘know their place’ in relation to managing behaviour. The need for TAs to ‘know their place’ was only reported in one piece of published research (Watson et al., 2013), which considered TAs’ status and positon in relation to their professional role in schools. In Lehane’s (2016) study one TA discussed how it was ‘hard to find a place’, but did not specifically refer to the need to ‘know their place’, but that their liminal ‘go-between’ identity resulted in their strategies to remain ‘under the radar’ when managing behaviour. This allied with TAs’ reports in this thesis of concerns that overt methods to manage behaviour could either be perceived by the teacher they worked with as ‘interfering’ or ‘undermining’. In consideration of TAs managing behaviour, the lack of consistency TAs in the research experienced, across a range of interconnected issues was a compounding and limiting factor, which left them reliant on their own experience to mediate any actions taken to manage behaviour. It may be suggested that to support TAs in developing an understanding of ‘their place’ in a positive rather than pejorative way, consistency was essential. This research, supporting Abrams (1998) findings, highlighted the ‘multiple’ and interrelated factors that impact on TAs’ agency in managing behaviour.
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