Using teaching assistants to improve language skills and reading

Two new evaluations from the Education Endowment Foundation in England have found that two interventions using teaching assistants (TAs) have positive effects.

REACH is a targeted reading support programme designed to improve the reading accuracy and comprehension of students with reading difficulties in Years 7 and 8. It is delivered by specially trained TAs. The evaluation tested two interventions – one based on the original Reading Intervention developed by the University of York, and the other with supplementary material on language comprehension. The evaluation was carried out in 21 schools around Leeds, with 202 students (70 and 69 receiving each intervention; 63 control). Results showed a positive effect on reading skills for both the Reading Intervention (+0.33) and the Reading Intervention with additional material on language comprehension (+0.51). The evaluations did not provide evidence that the interventions improved reading comprehension in particular, as opposed to other skills such as word recognition.

The Nuffield Early Language Intervention is designed to improve the spoken language ability of children during the transition between nursery and primary school. It is targeted at children with poor language skills, who receive 20 or 30 weeks of sessions focused on listening, narrative, and vocabulary skills. The evaluation is delivered by TAs and nursery staff. The evaluation was carried out in 34 schools with attached nursery schools or nursery classes in Yorkshire and the South-East, with 350 children participating (114 received the 30-week treatment, 121 the 20-week treatment, and 115 in the control group). Both interventions had a positive effect on language skills (+0.27 for the 30-week and +0.16 for the 20-week). However, there was no reliable evidence that it had a positive effect on children’s word-literacy skills.

Source: REACH and Nuffield Early Language Intervention (2016), Education Endowment Foundation.