John Lowes receives the ipda prize

Michael LowesThe 2014 ipda prize has been awarded to Michael Lowes. The following is an overview of Michael’s work.

Michael carried out research in his own workplace which considered whether the use of teaching assistants in his school supported the school’s ethos of inclusion and developing pupil independence. Focusing on those pupils who are the most vulnerable in the education system (those who receive funding for specific special educational needs) Michael used research in the area to explore the current situation in relation to the preparedness, deployment, and practice of the teaching assistants working with these pupils.

As Michael is the SENCO within his school, his research methodology needed to be sensitive to the views and feelings of the TAs and teachers that he gathered data from.  The work used a case study approach which included a range of data gathering methods, including questionnaire, interview and observation.  His work reflects very effectively on his unique position and the possible effects on the validity and reliability of the data (both positive and negative).

His findings are interesting in that they highlight a number of issues for the school to work on, as might be expected.  However, of particular importance is that the main area to work on is the preparedness of TAs.  This, he suggests, is not sufficiently highlighted within the research.  He also suggests that the three key areas of deployment, preparedness and practice are more interconnected than might be suggested by the literature.  Finally, Michael makes the point that his school is considered one of the most inclusive schools within what is seen as one of the most inclusive local authorities in the country.  The school has been rated as outstanding by Ofsted in relation to its inclusive practice and work with pupils who have SEND, and has already provided substantial CPD for TAs.  Yet he makes a number of recommendations for the school.  He rightly points out that this suggests that other schools who have not reached this point in the development of an inclusive environment are likely to require more significant changes to be made, and that this is still an under researched area.

The changes that Michael suggests are focused, practical and clearly underpinned by relevant theory and research.  He sets them out clearly in a document produced specifically for the school.  Most importantly, he makes the point that, just as the school does not want to make pupils dependent on adult support, the school does not want to make TAs or teachers wholly dependent on the support of the SENCO and specialist support services.  The suggested CPD and changes to management practices reflect this.

The independence, hard work and commitment that Michael has shown in carrying out this study have been impressive.  In particular, Michael was supervised by a nationally and internationally published researcher in the field, and yet did not shy away from drawing his own conclusions and challenging the existing literature.  The study, if published, will be of significant interest to schools across the country

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