Making a difference : a comparative study of the rules, responsibilities and perspectives of teacher aides in primary and secondary schools in New Zealand : a thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Educational Psychology at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Teacher aides are used in the majority of primary and secondary schools in New Zealand to
assist teachers in supporting students with many diverse needs. They play a crucial role in the
extent to which students with diverse needs are fully included in mainstream schools. The
nature of their work has changed over the years, so as to meet the goals of inclusive
education. The work of teacher aides is primarily related to the different structures operating
within primary and secondary schools.
This study used mixed methods methodology to compare the roles, responsibilities and
perspectives of 21 teacher aides working in primary and secondary schools in a single
geographical area on the North Island of New Zealand. Questionnaires, job descriptions and
semi-structured interviews were used to gain an understanding of the roles, responsibilities
and perspectives of teacher aides in both types of schools. The study found that teacher aides
generally carried out a diverse range of tasks, provided support at different levels and had
high levels of responsibility. The main themes that were identified related to teacher aide
training and professional development, relationships, personal and cultural factors,
challenges, funding and school systems. The study found that there were more similarities
than differences between teacher aides working in primary and secondary schools and that
the teacher aides’ roles and responsibilities were related to perceived ability to include
students with diverse needs.
The study concludes with implications for further research, policy and practice. These focus
on primary and secondary teacher aide training and the inclusion of a wider variety of
perspectives and factors related to the ability of teacher aides to make a difference for
students with diverse needs in New Zealand.