New research from the Education Review Office (ERO), commissioned by the Ministry of Education and NZEI Te Riu Roa, has affirmed the importance of teacher aides (TAs) in the classroom, and investigated best practice for the role. The report is the latest in a series of resources geared toward educators.
Ministry of Education Hautū (Leader) Operations and Integration, Sean Teddy, said “we hope that this new research supports school staff and teacher aides to work together in a way that helps learners thrive”.
The report draws on international research about TA best practice, incorporating New Zealand case studies of TA strategy, and the lived experience of TAs, teaching staff, principals, boards and senior leaders across the education sector of Aotearoa.
The report begins by affirming the crucial role TAs play in our education system. Currently, we have 25,000 TAs employed across the sector. Over 96% of schools employ at least one teacher aide, and they usually work part-time. Responsibilities assigned to TAs include providing in-class support to teachers; delivering student-specific learning programmes; facilitating assessment; supporting inclusive environments; developing relationships with students; supporting physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of students/ākonga; working with specialists; managing behavioural issues; providing cultural support; supporting extracurriculars; and contributing to the effective functioning of a school or kura.
Best practice for TAs was then defined as a movement away from the old side-by-side model of TA-learner interaction, and toward a more collaborative model.
The four “key areas” of TA practice in New Zealand, are identified as generalised classroom support, structured intervention, Te Ao Māori cultural leadership, and the collaborative support of students with learning support needs. The report is structured into four corresponding sections, outlining best practice for each to ensure effective learning outcomes.
The report acknowledges the especially flexible roles that TAs hold, stating that TA responsibilities at each school or kura may look different and may also differ by classroom or learner specific needs.
Concluding recommendations emphasised the need for adequate TA support to create effective outcomes. Specifically, “setting up good communication systems, prioritising planning and discussion time for TAs, careful timetabling, and robust professional support school-wide”.
The report comes at a time when educators in ECE, primary and area schools are rejecting government offers, claiming their support needs are not being met. Union NZEI Te Riu Roa notes that educators are often overworked, raising concerns about maintaining a high standard of education in Aotearoa New Zealand.
One teacher aide, who wished to remain anonymous, noted that teacher aides are being affected by current working conditions too. At their current workplace, the teacher aide noted that they don’t get release time, and there’s a lot of on-the-job learning. This means “we don’t get a lot of time to look up techniques, we don’t have a lot of time to discuss strategies with the teachers”. As a consequence of this time-crunch, “it’s on the teachers to do so much directly, which isn’t fair on them… they have to constantly give a second set of directions to another person”.
Of the report, NZEI Te Riu Roa President Liam Rutherford said, “members will continue to advocate for more time in the system so that teachers and teacher aides can plan together in work time”.