December 11, 2023
Are one-to-ones right for my child?
One-to-one support is a common request from parents and carers whose children experience special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). This blog explores the evidence base of one-to-one support. We will consider how simply stating ‘one-to-one’ support is problematic but can be transformative when used appropriately. First, we will go back in time to where it all started.
In the beginning
When we think of one-to-one support, we are talking of Teaching Assistants (TAs) or, more commonly in secondary school, Learning Support Assistants (LSAs), or internationally, paraprofessionals. Whatever title you use, those who undertake these roles play a pivotal role in the support of children and the sanity of teachers.
The 1967 paper, Children and their Primary Schools (or as it is also known, The Plowden Report), first mooted the idea of teaching aides. Plowden did recommend formal training, but also that a mother’s experience with her own children will of itself qualify her for the work (p. 371). These origins, whilst affectionately twee, have persisted in the public’s consciousness as TAs are still colloquially referred to as the Mums’ Army.
The early incarnation of the TA was not as dissimilar as today. The 1967 report was optimistic that TAs would reduce teachers’ workloads in the preparation of resources, supporting children individually or in small groups with learning tasks, and running out of school activities. All of which would be under the supervision of a qualified class teacher.
Today, TAs make up over a quarter of the mainstream school workforce in England. They are essential to a school’s organisation in delivering its educational aims.
So, one-to-one is good?
This simple question has a quite complicated answer.
The Education Endowment Foundation undertook a review of one-to-one tuition and found that it is, in fact, very effective at improving outcomes. The best results are associated with the intervention, which addresses a specific need (e.g., low attainment in literacy) and is additional to and linked with the child’s regular lessons. Moreover, TAs must have experience and training to deliver specific, structured interventions that remain monitored by a qualified classroom teacher. Herein lies the caveat because one-to-one support is most effective when the intervention is delivered over a short period and with a clear end point (e.g., optimal outcomes are related to sessions of up to 30 minutes three to five times per week, for up to 10 weeks).
One-to-one provision must be specific and appropriate. What this means will be different for every child, so it is essential to seek professional advice from a qualified psychologist when considering this step. ‘One-to-one’ support stipulated in a report needs specificity; otherwise, it may disadvantage the child.
So, one-to-one is bad?
No, it’s nuanced.
TAs are increasingly working with children with EHCPs. In the case of one-to-one support, the TA effectively becomes responsible for the child’s learning. TAs working this way are sometimes called the ‘Velcro TA’. Consistent findings show that children with SEND spend more time out of the mainstream class, away from peers, and direct teaching by a qualified teacher compared to children without EHCPs (or Statements, as Plans were previously known). TAs are not qualified classroom teachers, meaning the pedagogical quality will vary.
The issue, however, is not with TAs (or one-to-one support, for that matter). The problem is with the one-to-one (or TA) deployment and the training and support provided. Some great resources exist to support TAs to develop their breadth and depth of knowledge. But the message is clear: the TA should add value to what the teacher is doing and not replace them.
But my child does need a one-to-one.
In certain circumstances, one-to-one support is legitimate, but for specific reasons. For example, particular medical or sensory needs – such as pica – may require a high level of one-to-one support owing to the risk of serious harm. In these circumstances, having a risk assessment or care plan in place is good practice because it’s essential to foster the child’s developing independence.
Further, there are many structured, evidence-based, one-to-one interventions. For example, Precision Teaching is highly effective as a targeted literacy intervention; Identiplay is an effective intervention for children with autism to develop play and social skills; and Intensive Interaction is a highly specialist intervention to support very early communication skills. These are all examples of specific and structured interventions that can make a big difference to children when delivered by an experienced and trained TA, with support from a qualified teacher.
Is this about money?
We commonly hear from concerned parents that they fear financial constraints are a barrier to their child receiving one-to-one support. At the time of writing, schools in England faced a real term cut in funding when inflation and subsequent rises in salaries, food, energy, and learning resources were considered. Whilst a well-qualified TA is worth their weight in gold, budgets are finite. So, there are, of course, financial implications for any additional resource. This further drives the importance of ensuring efficient and effective deployment of one-to-one support based on evidence.
A qualified psychologist will give you an honest and evidence-based opinion. We write what your child needs from our collected assessment data and other available information, including psychological and pedagogical models and good practice. Our views abide by all relevant guidance and not the conditions – including financial – of the local authority, parent, setting, or other party. If your child requires one-to-one support, we will advocate for it in whatever capacity.
One-to-one support can be transformative when delivered at the right time, in the right way, by the right person, with the proper training and support. In some cases, one-to-one support is essential to the child’s safety. These circumstances require careful thought and specificity so that the child can receive the necessary support whilst maintaining as much independence as possible.
The DfE summarises the problem with the deployment of TAs and the use of one-to-one support succinctly:
Too often, the most vulnerable pupils are supported almost exclusively by teaching assistants … this practice is not acceptable. Children with SEN need more, not less, time with the school’s most skilled and qualified teachers.DfE, 2011
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