New Support Models


This project aimed to explore ways of improving the effectiveness of Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) when working with learners to improve their confidence levels in maths. Our research activities together with the challenges presented by the pandemic have highlighted more clearly than ever before the critical role of the LSA in providing essential pastoral and academic support and how we can use them more effectively within our organisation.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway.


Develop is a not-for- profit organisation that delivers a comprehensive range of education and training programmes at four centres in the Eastern Region with a particular focus on high needs students aged 14-19 who have struggled in mainstream schooling.

One of our core aims is to develop learners’ independent study skills and to encourage a ‘growth mindset’ (Dweck, ,2006). In 2019-20 we carried out a successful OTLA 6 project which set out to find ways in which tutors could develop their learners’ skills and attitudes in the area of greater learner autonomy. Our plan was to use this year’s OTLA 7 project to involve LSAs much more fully in the process of promoting a growth mindset and greater independence in learning. As will be explained below, we had to refocus our research activities at a key stage of the project but we feel that we have still been able to gain insights and make changes that have led to an important clarification and extension of the role of the LSAs in ways that we feel will have lasting effects across our organisation and across the teaching of all subjects too.


One of Develop’s core aims is to develop learner’s skills in self-reflection and

Word cloud of Tutors descriptors for LSAs

Word cloud of Tutors descriptors for LSAs

metacognition. This challenge is particularly prevalent in maths and English lessons, where learners have a preconceived idea of their ability and often lack confidence, hindered by a ‘fixed mindset’ which is largely shaped by their previous experiences with the subjects. LSA’s can also unwittingly bring this fixed mindset to their role which can have a compounding effect. Our original plan was therefore to focus on involving LSAs more actively in exploring growth mindset support strategies with both maths and English learners.

However, as a result of a temporary break in our Study Programme contract in December we had to withdraw temporarily from the OTLA programme but re-joined in February by which time teaching had to take place remotely. This made the closer focus on the learner/LSA relationship trickier to quantify and so, in the time that remained we decided to try to capture insights from two of our maths tutors, one Dunstable and one in Hitchin, who worked with LSAs during this challenging time and were in a position to highlight what they felt was best practice in the use of LSAs. We hoped then to use these insights to review our use of LSAs, their job description, induction programme and CPD opportunities.


At the beginning of the project we created questionnaires (see appendices 4 & 5) for tutors and LSAs to complete which aimed to gather information about their –

  • qualifications
  • recent experience of training
  • perception of priorities in their LSA activities
  • career aspirations
  • feelings about working as an LSA
  • view of their impact as an LSA
  • involvement in joint lesson planning
  • their understanding of growth mindset approaches

There was also a ‘learner version’ of the questionnaires which was not sent out due to the many changes during the pandemic at this time. This is shame as learner opinion on the role and impact of an LSA would obviously have added great value to the project.

The information gathered from these questionnaires has helped inform the research activities that we then undertook in our Dunstable and Hitchin centres and which are summarised in the case studies. When we decided to focus on those two centres we also involved our Lead Practitioner in Maths as our key research project worker who carried out a range of professional discussions with both tutors and LSAs in addition to class observations at the two centres.

Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices

As a result of insights gained at our Dunstable centre (see Appendix 3) we now share SOWs much more fully with LSAs so that they know that they have the freedom to make amendments to tailor the resources where necessary to best suit the individual learners. Where this happened, we found that learner attendance has improved significantly. However, the amount of information in a SOW can be ‘overwhelming’ for the LSA and so we found that it was important for the tutors to mentor the LSA in this aspect of their role. If such support were offered on the job, it could have a significant impact –

‘When I saw the whole SOW it freaked me out a bit but with support from the tutor I was able to get my head around it ‘

“I took the lesson plans that the tutor had given me. If they needed something else in the lesson then I felt enabled to do this.”

‘It made me feel more responsible.’

Normally in lesson a LSA would be briefed at the start of a lesson with their expected role and allocated the support requirement. However, because of the range of learner abilities in this maths group and the need for remote lessons it became clear that the LSAs would need to deliver the lesson. This required that they be given a scheme of work, resources and lesson plans and the tutor chose to give them a whole term’s worth. At the start this was overwhelming for the LSAs whose own abilities in maths were limited. However, this was quickly circumvented with professional discussions and mentoring support from the tutor who encouraged the LSA to make changes to the resources as they saw fit thus tailoring the course to the learner. LSAs knew they had support and could feed back to the tutor after each session and were happy to take on the responsibility.

Not only has providing LSAs with schemes of work been useful when delivering sessions to one or two learners at a time, it has also equipped them to take on a greater involvement in whole class sessions which continue now that face to face teaching has resumed. The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the involvement that some LSAs have had but this has been a welcome improvement in the way in which learners are supported within our institution. This model has proved so useful and successful that we plan to roll this out for all mixed ability groups where tutors and LSAs can be provided additional CPD to explore this “mentored teaching” approach.

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisation practices

In professional discussions with maths tutors at the Norwich centre the Lead Maths Practitioner gathered a range of

Extract from the LSA working guide

Extract from the LSA working guide

information on how they approach the deployment of LSAs in their lessons. As a result, the tutor from our Norwich Centre shared a document that she had created to support LSAs in her maths lessons as it was clear that tutors and LSAs held a range of different perceptions about what an LSA could and should do. The tutor was keen to provide a working guide that encouraged her LSA to focus on supporting leamers who needed less maths support (see extract below) This would then free up the maths tutor to make better and more effective use of her greater expertise in working with students with more substantial learning difficulties. (See Appendix 6).

The tutor also thought it would be useful to review some of the ideas about ‘growth mindset’ (see graphic below)

Following on from what we have learned about the role and involvement of LSAs during this project we have subsequently redefined the job descriptions for LSAs to reflect their more diverse roles (Appendix 7).

Image of ‘growth mindset’

Growth Mindset

In addition to this we have revised and strengthened our HR processes when allocating short-term and long-term lesson covers (Appendix 8). We now have in place a robust process that looks at selection, bespoke induction and short term CPD to ensure effectiveness in these roles so that the impact on disruption to learners is minimised.

There have also been changes in observation practice, with a greater focus on the LSA’s contribution in lessons. This approach now ensures that the LSA is an integral part of any observation, looking at the partnership between tutor and LSA, how the LSA supports the students with maths topics and that the LSA will, in future, contribute to the reflective practice of the lesson review.

Lastly, there have been changes in our recruitment practice. Instead of appointing LSAs without considering their potential progression within our centre, we now actively work with them to ensure that there is scope for progression to a tutor role if this is what they wish to work towards. If not, then we now use the definition of ‘trainee LSA’, ‘LSA’ and ‘senior LSA’ to provide recognition of progression within the role.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression

At the Dunstable centre (See Appendix 3) encouraging findings emerged as we changed the way LSAs were deployed. One of the Entry Level 1 learners said of the LSA –

‘I wish you could be my tutor all the while’.

Learners who frequently used to leave lessons now remain the whole time and now clearly enjoy the teaching. The LSA in this group had been a learner himself last year which highlights the benefit of encouraging learners to take on an LSA as they are acutely aware of learners’ needs having been one so recently and they know from experience what it is they find helpful and valuable.

Our Lead Maths Practitioner is now more strongly confirmed in her commitment to considering how LSAs can be regraded and offered mentoring to become tutors: this is not new within the organisation as the Bedford Centre already has two LSAs who have become maths tutors via mentoring on the job. However, this project and in particular the Hitchin case study (Appendix 2) has highlighted that this should be developed as standard progression opportunity for any LSA who shows an interest in maths (or English) and would like opportunities to demonstrate their skills. This requires building relationships between LSAs and tutors, observing LSAs as well as tutors and offering targeted CPD. Building LSA maths knowledge can be done on the job if the tutor has the experience and support to do so. Both case studies show this is possible in different ways. The Dunstable case study shows what can be achieved when ‘needs must’. Both the LSAs involved in that element of the OTLA project will be given the opportunity to gain Functional Skills Maths qualifications at Level 2 to prepare them for their future roles as a senior LSA or potential tutor.

Learning from this project

As a result of this project we are committed to developing training and team building opportunities to encourage better relationships between tutors and LSAs with clear indications of job roles and where the crossover is, as well as highlighting appropriate progression opportunities.

What this project has highlighted most noticeably for us is that the pandemic has afforded us the opportunity to evaluate the dramatic, unexpected change to teaching, learning and assessment. We view this learning curve as an opportunity to promote and explore the relationships with LSAs and tutors across our centres and across subjects too. We feel that this clarification and extension to the role of the LSAs will have lasting effects across our organisation and across the teaching of all subjects too.