Should schools employ paraprofessionals to provide intervention under new government funding?

Late last year the Victorian and NSW governments announced that they would be funding tutoring packages to support students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, whilst the South Australian Government will implement an online math tutoring  pilot program.

The tutoring packages to be rolled out in 2021 will enable schools to provide one-on-one and small group interventions for students with learning gaps, resulting from school closures during the pandemic.

It is anticipated that schools will employ paraprofessionals such as teaching assistants, teacher aides, and learning support officers to assist teachers to deliver the tutoring programs. 

Before implementing an intervention program, there are some evidence-based practices that schools should consider to ensure that students receive maximum benefit from the intervention.

Evidence-based intervention practices that maximise student outcomes

According to Robert E. Slavin, Director of the Centre for Research and Reform in Education, at John Hopkins University, Baltimore, paraprofessionals are well placed to provide literacy and math support to individual and small groups of students.

This is supported by research conducted by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) that reported a 100% success rate for some interventions.

Summary of UK RTC Evaluation Results for EFF funded Teaching Assistant Led Interventions, by Jonathan Sharples, Education Endowment Foundation, and adapted by Rob Webster, MITA Lead & Researcher, UCL Institute of Education, October 2016.

What works?

A successful intervention program can make a significant difference to student progress.

Data from the ABRA study, a 20 week structured intervention program that focused on phonics, fluency and comprehension, showed that students in year 1 made two to three months progress in reading and comprehension, compared to other students.

The following criteria were considered critical to planning a successful intervention program led by paraprofessionals:

1. Use a structured program    

Intervention programs, such as ABRA, target specific skill sets, the learning is structured, and the program is intended to be followed from start to end.

2. Provide small group targeted support

Intervention with small groups of 3-5 students increases the opportunity for student engagement. The students can interact and learn from each other, and the tutor is able to provide timely and personalised feedback.

3. Keep interventions short and frequent

Short and intensive interventions delivered 3-5 times a week, provide students with regular opportunities to practice targeted skills. Short, frequent interventions also limit the amount of teacher-led class time students miss out on. 

4. Provide professional development

Tutoring programs are most effective when tutors are provided with professional development and given ongoing support and feedback by supervisors.

Provide continuing professional learning

Paraprofessionals provide support to students with a range of abilities and dispositions. High impact teaching and learning strategies such as activating prior learning, explicit instruction, scaffolding and formative feedback, should not be limited to intervention, but used to support all students.

By participating in quality professional learning, such as that provided by Australian Teacher Aide, paraprofessionals can improve the effectiveness of their support practices, and improve the outcomes for students.

Now is the perfect time to plan your professional learning goals.