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How Can Teaching Assistants Cultivate Independence?


Teaching Assistants provide crucial support and interventions for school children, aiding understanding and mastery of material as well helping learners become independent. However, despite best intentions, often the reality is the complete opposite (Bowles et al, 2018) and children become overly reliant on adult support. It is therefore vital that Teaching Assistants have the knowledge and skills that encourage learners to be more independent.

Being able to think and learn independently remains one of the most important skills we can teach our children. Understanding how to cultivate independence is vital in ensuring children and young people succeed. I have summarised below some tips to help improve pupil independence.

‘What a child can do today with assistance, she will be able to do by herself tomorrow.’

Be Clear

Although most interventions are planned and designed with the learner’s needs in mind, remembering to provide a clear outline of the task, success criteria and examples will aid independence. Encourage your learners to seek answers to any questions for themselves and encourage skills in reading and following instructions. Using a similar format and routine for each session will help them meet expectations.


Checklists are a great tool for learners to independently assess what they have done. This could be a set of questions to promote deep thinking or reflection. You could also create a step-by-step checklist for learners to follow offering help only when they have completed these steps.


By asking open questions, you promote independent thinking. Develop metacognition by offering more than 1 correct answer and use questions to stimulate discussion and reflection. Asking “Why do you think that?” can encourage learners to think critically and creates expectations of independence.

Teach “thinking about thinking” strategies

Allow time for planning thoughts through mind maps, lists or diagrams. Provide opportunities for your learners to monitor their progress and then reflect on the success of the strategies they used. Remember to model this and provide steps for learners to follow.

'In order to be effective for learning, strategies need to increase learner independence'

Van de pol

Top tips for interventions led by teaching assistant

1. Praise effort

Encourage learning from mistakes and foster a safe environment to allow your learners to make mistakes.

2. Praise persistence

Children learn when they experience struggle. Promote an ethos of perseverance.

3. Talk less

Encourage the use of handouts, throw learners straight into a task and ask them to predict what is next, and allow them to lead instructions.

4. Define independence

Identify specific examples of behaviour that demonstrate independence. Spend time discussing these ideas and record them for future reference.

5. Reflect on progress

Provide learners with time to assess how independent they were that day. Structuring this activity by suggesting categories or creating a chart will help.

6. Peer teaching

Although this needs to be carefully managed, promoting classmates as resources can foster independence through involvement.

Benefits of developing teaching assistants

The evidence speaks for itself: when sufficiently trained and effectively deployed, Teaching Assistants have a positive impact on pupil attainment (Sharples et al, 2015). Development also increases a Teaching Assistant’s confidence, sense of value and effective classroom partnerships. Most importantly, development shifts the Teaching Assistant interactions away from direct support to more effective development of pupil independence.

How can Teacher Training UK help?

In line with our commitment to develop outstanding teaching, Teacher Training UK are offering a level 4 HLTA course. We recognise the highly positive impact that skilled Teaching Assistants can have on pupil progress and schools current challenge to provide training opportunities and career progression. Candidates completing this 6-month course will develop knowledge, understanding and skills required to support individuals and small groups of children possessing a range of learning needs. Over the duration of the programme, candidates will cover topics from child development and behaviour to curriculum planning, delivery and assessment. This unique, blended learning programme offers the benefits of both face-to-face teaching and online learning, providing access to supportive, expert tutors and the flexibility to study at home.

Prospective candidates should be working or volunteering in a school environment as a teaching assistant at the start of the programme and should have GCSE Maths and English grade 4 (C) or above.

Individuals who do not have GCSEs in Maths and/or English at grade 4 (C) or equivalent will have an opportunity to complete a Maths and English equivalent qualification whilst on the programme.

For further information or to register your interest, please send an email to


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