Identifying the role of the special school learning support assistant: a case study evaluation

  • Edward Chilton

Student thesis: Doctor of Educational and Child Psychology


Underpinned by a recognised training pathway, the number of Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) deployed across ancillary and integral roles within British schools have significantly increased since 2003. Consequently, research has aimed to shed light on the impact of the LSA role, highlighting the counter-intuitive possibility that the LSA role may not be beneficial to the learning of young people with Special Educational Needs (SEN). Relevant research, however, has been predominantly situated within mainstream settings, with little research on the LSA role in supporting children with SLD and PMLD or specifically within a special school. This research explores the role of the LSA across a range of domains including teaching and learning, assessment, multi-agency working, care, and community liaison. The current and potential impact of the LSA role in a special school is identified. 11 LSAs and four teaching staff from a Primary aged special school took part in the research. The research design was a single exploratory embedded case study design (Yin, 2009) and data was gathered using semi-structured interviews and semi-structured observations. A rich picture of the LSA role was created through the triangulation of emerging themes from a hybrid thematic analysis alongside the observation data. Stand out findings include a 'high-density' approach to supporting teaching and learning that is unique within a cohesive special school as well as the finding that LSAs operate in a 'general practitioner' capacity by completing an expansive range of roles. A final model of LSA practice is defined highlighting the key areas of responsibility embraced by LSAs across an expansive range of roles from specialised care to direct instruction. The findings highlighted that the majority of the LSAs' focus and responsibility fell within the domain of teaching and learning, leading the researcher to suggest that the term 'Assistant Teacher' may be more befitting for the 'Teaching Assistant'. Implications for the theory of LSA deployment and practice are discussed as well as implications for practice and future research.
Date of Award3 Jan 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorKevin Woods (Supervisor) & Garry Squires (Supervisor)

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