Teaching Assistants’ experiences of supporting pupils in a mainstream primary school context
: an interpretative phenomenological analysis

  • Louisa Elston-Green

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Educational Psychology (DEdPsy)


Teaching Assistants (TAs) can play an important role in the educational support for pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN). The broad aim of this study was to understand TAs’ experiences of supporting pupils in a mainstream primary setting. Data was gathered using semi-structured interviews and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was employed as a methodological framework and a method of analysis. Three overarching themes were identified as important to participants’ experiences of supporting pupils, these included: Being a TA and role Perceptions; Applying Learning to Practice; and TA Experiences and Perceptions of Inclusion. The findings suggested that TAs perceived the key aim of their role as helping the pupil to cope with the mainstream environment, and they acted either as a bridge or a gap filler. This raised questions as to why the gap existed in the first place, and implications for the TA role are discussed with reference to the agenda for inclusive education. Findings also suggested that training was generally useful for TA practice. Personal values also influenced practice and how TAs applied learning from training to practice. This has not been identified in previous research and models of TA practice (Webster et al., 2011), and so this offers a unique contribution to the existing research base. Considerable variation existed between participant accounts regarding their working relationship with the class teacher and the level of responsibility they took for the pupil, which was influenced by the TAs’ own goals, values, and personal status. Findings highlighted that some TAs felt excluded and marginalised within the wider system in which they worked. Findings also highlighted that although TAs may be influenced by wider systemic factors, as suggested in previous models, they are also active agents in their own practice. Implications for Educational Psychology practice are discussed.
Date of Award20 Jun 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorBeth Tarleton (Supervisor)

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