The Association for Science Education

P1.2 Working With Adults


Adults other than teachers can make tremendous contributions to effective teaching and learning inside and outside classrooms and generally their work needs to be managed by (with) the teacher. Many of these others will be employed as teacher assistants or science technicians but there may be parent volunteers and other visitors too. Four areas of support in which support may need to be managed are (a) the pupil, (b) the teacher, (c) the curriculum/subject and (d) the school. It is important that both the teacher and the other adults are clear about the roles they are expected to play. This article provides advice for teachers working with such others in primary and secondary schools and suggests ways in which this might be approached in ITT courses. Specifically in secondary schools the importance of working effectively with science technicians is emphasised.

Standards: The key standards addressed in this unit are Q5, Q32 & Q33.

Key words: Teacher assistants, technicians, adult helpers.


1.0 Professional Values and Practice
2.0 Working with support workers - the principles
3.0 Working with Support Staff in Primary Schools
4.0 Working with Support Staff in Secondary Schools
5.0 References

1.0 Professional Values and Practice

The Government acknowledges the tremendous contribution teacher assistants can make at all levels from the Foundation Stage to KS4. In the standards for achieving QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) they say that teachers should:
"Recognise and respect the contribution that colleagues,parents and carers make to the development and well-being of children and young people, and to raising their standards of achievement."  TDA Standards Q6

Teaching assistants were known under a variety of titles such as classroom assistant (CA), general assistant (GA) support worker (SW) or Special Support Assistants (SSA). The exact terms varied between different LAs. The general term currently in use is that of Teacher Assistant (TA). This title implies a change in the role of the classroom assistant in that they are now much more actively involved in teaching, individuals, groups, and even whole class. This teaching will be developed closely with the teacher.

In Nursery and Primary Schools Teacher Assistants (TA) will be used for a wide range of support roles. The Numeracy and Literacy strategies have emphasised this role. Many teachers are realising that in organising practical primary science the support of a Teacher Assistant is very useful. The Teacher Assistant can work with a group or groups guide them through practical work and assist, through direct observation, with teacher assessment.

In the secondary school teacher assistants are more likely to have a specialist role, and science departments are also likely to have science technicians. However whilst the specific nature of the work may vary the principles of supporting the teaching of science should remain similar.

Trainee teachers at whatever level will need to understand how to work with these teacher assistants and be able to use them in a variety of ways.

"The essence of the successful deployment of TAs lies in understanding the nature of the support that they can provide. This can be divided into four strands.

  • Support for the pupil
  • Support for the teacher
  • Support for the curriculum / subject
  • Support for the school" 

(DfEE (2000) Working with Teacher Assistants a good practice Guide p. 6 - 8)

Support for the Pupil is support for all pupils with whom the TA comes into contact. Many TAs are employed with specific responsibilities to work with individual children with special educational needs. Others are given more general duties.

Support for the teacher involves TAs in performing a number of routine tasks, photocopying, helping with resources and teaching and assessing groups or i8ndividuals. Additionally, they can assist in practical sessions by checking children's safety procedures, and taking an overview of the class when the teacher is helping individuals; they can usefully assist in the distribution of apparatus and materials, encourage clearing up at the end, and generally be of help in the child management area during practicals in science and technology.

Support for the curriculum involves supporting specific subjects such as Science or ICT, helping children with tasks, or rewriting material so that it has an easier readability. Diagram and worksheet production along agreed guidelines, and assisting some pupils to interpret these would often be beneficial.

Support for the school through the TAs being part of a team working with teachers across the school to support and enhance learning in a variety of ways. The school or department equally needs to support the TAs ensuring they know understand and can do what is expected of them. This may require some TA training.

2.0 Working with support workers - the principles

When working with a teacher and children both the teacher and TA should be clear on the role and action the TA will take.

"To perform well you need to know what it is you are supposed to be doing. Clarity is therefore needed in the deployment of any member of staff. Because the role of the TA has been evolving, and as it varies according to the school and the experience and qualifications of the TA, the task may well require more thought than it does for other members of staff whose role is better established." (DfEE 2000 p15)

Legal responsibilities and Health and Safety
"Health and Safety, Child protection and other forms of legislation bear on the day to day work of a school. TAs need to be informed of the provisions of the legislative framework around schools, and be kept up to date with changes, particularly on those issues that directly affect their own work with pupils. (DfEE 2000 p26)"
The TA or Lab technician should be familiar with the ASE "BE SAFE" publication, CLEAPSS safety material and any other specific school based material relating to Health and Safety.
This download (P1.2_2.0a 'What role will the Teacher Assistant play?') provides a checklist of activities that you might ask support assistants to help with.

3.0 Working with Support Staff in Primary Schools

The number and type of support staff in primary schools varies. Usually in nursery and Reception classes there is the class teacher and a nursery nurse or Teacher Assistant.

In Y1 and Y2 there is often a teacher assistant for part of a day or part of a week.

There may also be a teacher assistant for special education needs.

The frequency of teacher assistants in KS2 appears to be less than in KS1.

Parent helpers are also often used in nursery and KS1. Often they are used to help groups with practical work.

Teacher assistants and parent helpers can be used in many different ways from supporting a lesson led by the teacher to working independently with a group, perhaps outside the classroom.

However at KS2 there are booster classes for SATs - so some liaison with the person doing that is helpful.

Subject Knowledge

Teacher Assistants and laboratory technicians when working with children will need to have some understanding of the science they are involved with. It is very important that the teacher and trainee teacher makes clear to the adults they work with the subject knowledge and level appropriate to the age of the children.
Download P1.2_3.0a 'A cautionary tale'

The subject knowledge for Science is very broad. It starts with broad approaches to big ideas through the Knowledge and Understanding of the world (KuW) in the Foundation Stage moving towards a knowledge based structure at KS1 and KS2. The KS3 strategy reintroduces forces, materials, and living things but takes them forward through cells, interdependence, particles, and energy. The theme energy is not taught at all in KS1 or KS2. The aim is that big science ideas are gradually expanded through using Bruner's concept of the spiral curriculum. At KS4 ideas are further developed from KS3 but the detail will vary with the GCSE course followed. This could be single award science, double award science, or the three subjects of Biology, Physics and Chemistry.

The download provides advice for teachers to help them work more effectively with support staff when the subject knowledge of the helper is not strong. Please read the download 2 above if you need convincing that you need to be aware of the misconceptions of adult helpers.
Download P1.2_3.0b 'Subject knowledge support'

4.0 Working with Support Staff in Secondary Schools

For help with dealing with technicians at secondary level there is nothing better than asking trainees to spend a day works alongside the technician early ion in their first placement. The attached download provides details of how this requirement is built into the first assignment on safety and lab management at the University of Gloucestershire.
Download P1.2_4.0a 'Spending a day working alongside the lab Technician'

Association for Science Education provides excellent support for technicians, which trainees teachers should be aware of. Go to the Technicians' pages.

5.0 References

To support their work with adult helpers there are several books and resources. The download lists the references and the links below are to useful websites.
Download P1.2_5.0a 'General references to support your work with trainee teachers and the way they use support staff'


This section prepared by Gordon Guest UWE Bristol
Additional material by Peter Skuse & Keith Ross, University of Gloucestershire

Published: 26 Sep 2005