The experiences of primary-school teaching assistants working one-to-one with looked-after and adopted children who present with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties; an exploration with the use of attachment theory

By Jessica Knight.


The difficulties that looked-after children and children adopted from care (LA/A children) face in school are highlighted in a range of government statistics and include a high prevalence of social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD). These needs can be understood in relation to the negative early experiences the majority of LA/A children have had when living with their birth families, drawing on attachment theory. Attachment theory also suggests that relationships with key adults in school are central to supporting these pupils. Teaching assistants (TAs) are often employed to provide additional one-to-one support for children with SEBD, including LAJA children. However relatively few studies explore how T As make sense of their role and experiences. This thesis reports on qualitative research which explored the experiences of six T As who work one-to-one with LA/A children with SEBD in mainstream primary schools. It focuses on how they perceive their role and relationships with pupils, what challenges they face and what they find supportive. Semi- structured interviews were carried out and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Findings are discussed in relation to the existing literature and to attachment and systems theories. They corroborate with and extend existing research findings relating to the importance of: the relationships between TAs and pupils; TAs having an understanding of the issues that underpin pupils' behaviour; and positive relationships between staff. The way T As conceptualised their role is understood as 'being an attachment figure' to pupils with aims including developing pupils' trust in adults and their self-esteem. Systems theory was used to explore how this role was understood by and integrated with the wider school system. Positive relationships with colleagues were suggested as providing T As with a 'secure base', helping them manage the emotional impact of the role. Implications for Educational Psychology (EP) practice and practice in schools are discussed.