"Would it be ok if the student didn't have a disability?"

 "Would it be OK if the student didn't have a disability?"

Michael F. Giangreco (2013) Teacher Assistant Supports in Inclusive Schools: Research, Practices
and Alternatives
. Australasian Journal of Special Education, Available on CJO doi:10.1017/

Background to Teaching Assistants Role
The use of Teaching Assistants has been common practice throughout the Western World since the 1970's when Teaching Assistants were employed in special schools to cater for students with disability as this was thought of as not requiring the training of a qualified teacher.  As the Inclusive Education movement gained momentum through the Salamanca Statement in 1994 and the passing of Inclusive Legislation, the need for additional support in mainstream schools was met by Teaching Assistants.

If you do any research into the work of Teaching Assistants then a writer to look out for is Michael F. Giangreco.  He has published an extensive list of research articles on this topic since 1997.  His latest article on the employment and use of Teaching Assistants appeared in the Australasian Journal of Inclusive Education.  The article is a summary of a key note address he gave via video conferencing in July 2012 at the national conference of the Australian Association of Special Education,held jointly with the annual conference of the Tasmanian Principals Association
in Hobart, Tasmania.

Giangreco primary argument in the article is that there is an overuse and a misuse of Teaching Assistants in many schools across America and if cross cultural comparisons can be made, most probably also in Australia.  He argues that Teaching assistants are being used as a 'bandaid' solution for a much larger affliction (p.2). Research indicates that the numbers of teaching assistants has increased across many Western Countries and are seen as the only way of including students with disability.

If you work with Teaching Assistants or you are a Teaching Assistant then you will know that the role is continually expanding from performing clerical duties, personal care, social support and supervision towards the increased tasking of providing instruction for students with disability.  Giangreco highlights this misuse of Teaching Assistants through a number of lines in his article the most hard hitting being "we are assigning the least qualified personell to students with the most complex learning challenges"(p.5)  He follows up this statement with research carried out in Vermont that presented an alarming statistic that nearly 70% of Teaching Assistants interviewed in a study by Giangreco & Broer (2005) stated that they made curricular decisions without professional oversight.

Even the use of Teaching Assistants as social supports is cause for concern with research indicating that the use of Teaching Assistant as the only method of social support leads to:
  • Separation from classmates
  • Unessecary dependacines
  • Interference with teacher engagement
  • Interference with peer interacations
  • Insular relationships with student and Teaching Assistant
  • Loss of personal control
  • Loss of gender Identity 
  • and an increased risk of being targeted for bullying.

The problem outlined by Giangreco is not one caused by the employment of Teaching Assistants in a school but by how they are tasked and supervised within a school.  The simple fact being, as Giangreco points out, the caseload of the Special Education Teacher often has them working across a school and within classrooms.  This leaves little time for guidance of Teaching Assistants.

It is not hard to see that Special Education Teachers are under resourced and overworked.  Giangreco positions the argument that this situation is caused by the support model currently practiced by most schools and education authorities.  That being that allocations are based on a deficit model or a counting of students with disability.  What this model forgets is that Special Educators whilst working with students who have disability also support a wide range of students with other learning difficulties.  As Response to Intervention models are being built upon in the U.S this is becoming more apparent in highlighting the disparity between resources and need. Giangreco puts forward that recent research suggests that schools would be better basing their number of Special Education teachers  on total school enrollment referred to as 'special educator density'.  To support this it is suggested more research be put into exploring Special Educators case loads and deployment in inclusive schools.

Some guidelines outlined in the article for good practice when managing Teaching Assistants should be headed by those in charge of them:
  1. Any instruction should be supplementary and not primary or exclusive.
  2. Any instruction given by Teaching Assistants should come from professional developed plans based on evidence based practice
  3. Teaching Assistants should have training to administer these plans
  4. -Teaching Assistants should be trained to constructively manage challenging student behaviors
  5. Teaching Assistants should receive ongoing monitoring and supervision from qualified professionals and not left to fend for themselves.
  6. In additional to working in instructional roles Teaching Assistants should be employed in valuable non-instructional roles to free up the Special Education teacher to work directly with students. (p.3)
Table 1 - (p.10)

As many schools find it difficult to decide how to assign student support or support is based solely on diagnosed disorder or funding then this provides a 'fertile' environment for the misuse of Teaching Assistants and the direction of students towards support measures that can be detrimental and possibly they do not need.




  1. Stumbled upon your blog after being recommended the resource Index for Inclusion and doing a google search. I'm currently volunteering working in a special school in Nairobi, Kenya, and think I'll be back here again to check out your other blogs to help me this year.
    Thanks, great blog

  2. Thanks, you are actually the first person to ever comment! I write when I come across anything interesting.


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