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Setting Effective Goals and Objectives for Teaching Assistants

In this blog, Stephen Burnage, expert education practitioner, consultant and trainer, explores the unique role of teaching assistants in our schools, and explains how to establish effective and realistic targets for them. 

Teaching assistants (TAs) are a core element of the modern educational landscape. Their dedication and support form a crucial foundation for student success, both in and out of the classroom. To ensure that TAs are effectively contributing towards the educational objectives of the school, it's vital that senior leaders set clear, measurable, and achievable goals and objectives. 

Understanding the role of teaching assistants 

Teaching assistants perform a wide range of dynamic duties to support both teachers and students. Their responsibilities might include: 

  • assisting in lesson preparation and delivery 
  • providing individualised support to students with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) 
  • supervising the work or activities of small groups 
  • supporting behaviour management strategies 
  • maintaining student records and progress reports 
  • offering administrative assistance 

The value TAs bring to the learning environment extends far beyond these tasks. They establish positive relationships with students, reduce teacher workload, and foster an inclusive classroom for all learners. 

Importance of setting goals and objectives for teaching assistants 

Clarity: focus, direction, and prioritisation 

  • Without clear goals

    A TA might feel overwhelmed or drift through their duties without a sense of their true impact. They might dedicate time to less essential tasks or struggle to align their work with overall school objectives. 

  • With clear goals

    A TA tasked with the goal, "Support year 3 reading fluency, increasing the reading age of struggling readers by three months by the end of the term," will understand their priority and have a measurable target in mind. Their choices about how to use their time will be more focused and impactful. 

Motivation: purpose, engagement, and drive

  • Without clear goals

    A TA might experience a sense of stagnation or feel their efforts contribute little to the overall success of the students. This can lead to disengagement and lower motivation. 

  • With clear goals

    Goals provide a sense of challenge and accomplishment. A TA working towards, "Implement a reading buddy programme to increase reading confidence in year 1, as evidenced by 80% of students reporting feeling more positive about reading," has a tangible outcome to work towards. This sense of progress fuels their drive and commitment. 

Alignment with school objectives: ensuring impact and strategic support 

  • Without clear goals

    A TA's efforts might be well-intentioned but lack direction when it comes to aligning with the broader goals of the school. For example, focusing heavily on rewards systems without connection to the school-wide approach to behaviour management. 

  • With clear goals

    When a TA's goals link to school objectives, their impact is amplified. A goal of, "Implement consistent behaviour strategies across classrooms for identified pupils, contributing to an overall decrease in behavioural disruptions," directly ties into the school's focus on inclusion. 

Professional development: identifying growth areas, targeting skill expansion 

  • Without clear goals

    TAs might miss opportunities to target their own development. They may not be aware of areas where they could upskill for greater effectiveness. 

  • With clear goals

    The goal-setting process reveals areas for growth. A TA aiming to, "Deliver three phonics intervention sessions weekly to targeted year 2 pupils, resulting in a measurable improvement in decoding skills," may identify the need for further training in phonics methodologies. This drives personal development and benefits the students they support. 

Case study

The power of goal setting in transformational support 

Mrs E, a TA at a primary school in the UK, was well liked by staff and students. However, her impact was diffused across numerous tasks. After implementing a goal-setting process, she was given the objective: "Lead the development of a sensory resource room, resulting in a designated calming space for students with anxiety or sensory sensitivities, with measurable decreases in emotional outbursts." 

Impact of this goal

  • Clarity: The TA was empowered to focus her time and effort 
  • Motivation: The project ignited a passion for supporting students with additional needs 
  • Alignment: The project directly tied into the school's initiative for a more inclusive environment 
  • Development: The TA took several courses in sensory processing and trauma-informed practices


The sensory room was a success, reducing incidents of emotional distress. However, equally important was the transformation of Mrs E into a highly capable and motivated specialist TA with an invaluable skillset for the school. 

Key components of effective goals and objectives 

The SMART criteria are essential when setting goals for your TAs. 

  • Specific: clear, concise descriptions of desired outcomes 
  • Measurable: goals should include quantifiable metrics for success 
  • Achievable: goals should be challenging but within reach
  • Relevant: connect goals to the TA's responsibilities and the school's priorities 
  • Time-bound: set specific deadlines for achieving goals 

For example, instead of a general goal—"Improve student engagement"— a SMART goal could be: "Increase student participation in class discussions by 20% for year 5 pupils with SEND over the next three months.

Techniques for setting goals and objectives for teaching assistants 

Collaborate with TAs

Goal setting should never be a top-down exercise. Actively involve TAs in the process, fostering a sense of ownership and investment in their professional growth. Here's how to make this collaboration meaningful:

  • One-to-one meetings

Schedule individual meetings with TAs to discuss their current roles, areas where they excel, and aspects where they'd like further development. This conversation forms the initial basis for collaborative goal setting.

  • Self-assessment 

Provide TAs with a self-assessment tool. Guiding questions might include:

  • What are three of your greatest strengths as a TA? 
  • Identify two areas in which you would like to develop your skills. 
  • What kind of professional development opportunities would best support your growth? 
    • Alignment with interests

    When aligning goals, consider the TA's interests and passions. A TA interested in early literacy development might focus on goals related to reading support strategies. 

    • Use data and feedback

    Grounding goals in data and feedback ensures they are achievable and aligned with student needs. Consider the following: 

    • Performance data: Review data from previous appraisal cycles, classroom observations, or work samples. If a TA struggled with managing a particular student's behaviour, a goal might involve implementing evidence-based behaviour management techniques. 
    • Student feedback: Conduct student surveys or focus groups, particularly if a TA works closely with specific groups. Questions can illuminate areas for improvement in TA-student interactions. 
    • Teacher observations: Teachers' insights are invaluable. A teacher's observations might note that a particular TA excels at explaining concepts in small groups, leading to a goal around developing and leading more peer-learning activities. 

    Examples of goals and objectives for teaching assistants 

    • Classroom Support: "Develop and implement three new engaging activities for year 8 maths lessons by the end of the autumn term." 
    • Student Engagement: "Facilitate a lunchtime social skills group for students on the autism spectrum, resulting in a 10% increase in playground interactions by the end of the term." 
    • Behaviour Management: "Implement positive reinforcement strategies with identified students, leading to a 20% decrease in behavioural incidents within six weeks." 

    Implementing and monitoring progress 

    Setting goals is just the first step. Consistent monitoring and open communication ensure TAs stay on track and give you the chance to celebrate their achievements along the way. Here's how to make it effective: 

    • Regular progress checks

    Rather than waiting for a formal, termly review, integrate regular check-ins. These could be: 

    • Brief weekly chats: Ten-minute conversations focusing on how goals are progressing, if te current strategies are working, and any roadblocks the TA might encounter. 
    • Monthly touchpoints:  A more in-depth progress report where any data relevant to the goal can be shared (eg, increase in participation, decrease in behavioural incidents, etc). This is a good time for more significant adjustments to goals if needed.
    • Document progress

    Encouraging TAs to keep a goal-tracking log has benefits:

    • Ownership: TAs become directly involved in monitoring their own progress. 
    • Evidence of success: The log provides clear examples to highlight achievements during appraisals. 
    • Identifying challenges: It helps pinpoint struggles early, providing a foundation for discussing support strategies. 

    For example, a TA with the goal of increasing student engagement might keep a log noting activities that were particularly successful, times of day students were most responsive, and any unexpected hurdles. 

    • Celebrate successes

    Acknowledging accomplishments is crucial for motivation and long-term success. This can take various forms: 

    • Verbal recognition: Simple yet powerful, tell the TA directly how their work is positively impacting students. 
    • Certificates or awards: Small tokens of appreciation for exceeding goals can be meaningful. 
    • Team celebration: Share a TA's success during staff meetings to highlight best practices and foster a sense of collective achievement. 

    Summary and key takeaways 

    Effective goal setting is a powerful tool for maximising the contributions of teaching assistants. By following the guidance in this blog, school leaders and line managers can empower their TAs with well-defined targets that support improved student learning and a more fulfilling professional experience. 

    Browse The National College platform which includes webinars specifically for TAs, and comprehensive resources on SEND and behaviour to enhance knowledge and classroom skills. 

    If you’re concerned about keeping up to date with the latest education policy, practice and research, consider a membership with The National College. Not only does it provide access to thousands of professional development resources for all staff, but also enables leaders to create training programmes precisely tailored to individual and collective needs, to help ensure compliance and drive up standards.