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How to become a Teaching Assistant

Teaching assistants are important in the modern classroom. They provide support to the class teacher as well as helping, supporting and challenging pupils within the learning environment.

The role of teaching assistant (or TA) has changed in recent years. Now considered a professional in education, a qualified and experienced TA is a much-sought staff member. TAs need to be patient people with a passion for education and a non-judgemental attitude. They will support a wide range of learning activities, helping students to succeed and reach their potential.

TAs work in primary and secondary schools, as well as in nursery education and colleges. They can work with children with specific additional learning needs or they can provide support within the general classroom setting.

A teaching assistant will support the teacher with preparation in the classroom, and Higher-Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs) facilitate small groups in the classroom under the guidance of the teaching staff. Some HLTAs also provide short-term classroom cover, facilitating lessons prepared by teaching colleagues.

TAs can be employed by a local authority and work across a range of schools, or they can be contracted to work in one particular school. Some schools employ TAs on an individual basis, setting their own pay and terms & conditions.Teaching Assistants will use their skills across a range of classrooms and other learning environments.

Teaching Assistant Responsibilities

TA responsibilities depend on the status or level of TA qualification and their experience, as well as the needs of individual schools.
Responsibilities and duties can include:

    • Delivering tailored learning activities as devised by the teacher, either in a small group setting or on a one-to-one basis
    • Ensuring that any pupils they support can engage in learning and stay on task during the lesson or activity
    • Supporting the social and emotional development of students, raising any concerns as per the school’s policy and protocols
    • Managing challenging behaviour
    • Guiding and monitoring a student’s progress
    • Providing a range of administrative support in the classroom, such as preparing classroom resources
    • Providing support outside of class, such as exam invigilation and covering absences of TA colleagues
    • Being a part of extra-curricular activities, including breakfast clubs, after school clubs, homework clubs, and revision sessions
    • Covering lunch time and break time duties
    • Higher Level TAs may also coordinate teaching support

 

How Much Can You Expect to be Paid as a Teaching Assistant?

How much each TA is paid depends on the local authority pay scales, the school’s pay scale (if they employ TAs directly), as well as qualifications and experience.
Some schools pay TAs on a term-time only scale, meaning that their position will pay around 84% of a full-time post but payments are still made over 12 months. This will be described as a pro-rata salary.

Working hours can vary, but the average salaries for guidance purposes are:

    • Starting salaries and salary for level 2 TAs are around £11,000 to £15,000 per annum
    • With increased responsibilities (such as covering lessons) and with higher level qualifications, you can expect to earn up to £21,000 per annum
    • HLTAs can earn between £21,000 and £25,000 per annum

There is no national pay scale for teaching assistants, which means that pay and conditions will vary from one employer to the next. Just like teachers from supply agencies provide cover for teaching colleagues, TAs can also be used in schools to cover absent TAs. Working through a recruitment or supply agency can significantly improve your daily rate, although steady work is not guaranteed. 

For those TAs employed on a daily rate, they can earn between £40 and £60 a day, or an hourly rate of up to £9.
Always check the salary and terms and conditions on offer, as free schools, private schools and schools that have opted out of local authority control do not have to pay according to Local Education Authority (LEA) salary scales.

What Hours Can You Expect to Work as a TA?

Typically, TAs work Monday to Friday during term time, with their annual leave coinciding with school holidays.Teaching Assistants who work for boarding schools, free schools and academies may find their hours vary, and they may include some weekend work or sessions.
Some Teaching Assistants work from 9 am to the end of the school day.  Some schools will ask you start earlier and finish an hour or so after the end of the school day, depending on the extracurricular activities on offer.

Occasionally, some schools offer summer school sessions which you may want to become involved in to earn extra wages.Taking time off during term time is usually heavily controlled. This is simply because without TAs, many lessons cannot function as well and the school does not run as smoothly. It may be possible to take time off in exceptional circumstances such as bereavement and weddings, but you will need to consult with your line manager.

Employment contracts vary widely in the teaching support profession. Some TAs work full time, others work part time. Many TAs also job share.
It is increasingly common for schools to offer fixed-term contracts (e.g. September to July) or temporary contracts to TAs.

Terms and Holidays

Term

Holiday

September to December

The academic school year in the UK starts in early September, with the first term stretching to Christmas.

Known as the winter term, there is a half term holiday of one week, usually towards the end of October.

Most schools have a two-week end of term holiday stretching over Christmas and New Year.

January to March/April

This is the spring term and stretches from early January to Easter.

Easter falls on a different weekend each year so the end of term two-week break can be later March or early April.

This term also includes a week-long half term break, usually early to mid-February.

April to mid-July

The summer term stretches from the end of the Easter break to mid-July.

It includes a half term week long holiday in late May.

This is a busy term, with year 11, 12 and 13 students sitting GCSEs, AS levels and A levels.

 

Important Notes

    • Schools must provide a minimum of 39 weeks of education for their students in any academic year
    • As well as during the above holidays, schools are also closed on Public Holidays
    • TAs may be required to attend training days – some will have compulsory attendance, such as updating child protection training.

 

The Reality of Being a TA

Being a teaching assistant is rewarding, but it is hard work. You will get to know students well, and you will be instrumental in their progress over the weeks, months, and years of their education.
But there are challenges:

    • Students who need direct TA support will often need it both in the classroom and outside of the learning environment. Behaviour can be challenging, and learning difficulties complex.
    • Not all students welcome the added attention from a TA, feeling that they are being ‘singled out’. You will need to be tactful and diplomatic, but with your support, they can flourish.
    • Your days can be busy, with your skills and abilities required across a diverse and broad range of activities. You may be asked to provide cover at short notice, which can be stressful.
    • You will need to dress smartly, following the school’s code or policy on clothing. You will need to dress appropriately depending on the activities you will undertake.
    • As well as supporting students in the classroom, you may also accompany them on school trips and outdoor activities, as well as supervising breaks and lunch.

 

TA Qualifications

You don’t need a degree to be a TA and some schools will employ unqualified people, training them ‘on the job’.
For more senior positions, schools will expect a certain level of TA qualification along with experience of working in a similar educational setting.

  • Literacy and Numeracy – In recent years, there has been an increasing emphasis on numeracy and literacy for both students and staff. TAs need to be confident applying numbers and writing the English language. You may need to sit a test to prove this. Some schools will also ask for a level of competency in other languages too, such as Welsh in Wales.

  • A good educational grounding – You need to have a good standard of education, with most schools stipulating GCSE level of education, with a grade C or above in Maths and English. Some TA posts will also ask for GCSE level education in sciences.

  • TA qualifications – There are numerous TA qualifications and courses that you can complete in order to show a level of skill and competency. Completing TA qualifications can also demonstrate that you can exercise the expected standard of professional conduct.

Recognised qualifications for teaching assistants include:

 

The level 2 and 3 Awards are knowledge-based qualifications. In other words, you can complete these courses before starting work. You can also continue to further your knowledge by studying these courses once you are in a post.

Routes to Becoming a Qualified TA

College

Colleges offer a range of recognised and accredited TA qualifications. These courses run at various times of the day and in the evenings. Most courses take a minimum of 12 months to complete.
If you are already in a post, your employer may provide you with a study day to attend a course and complete this work.

Distance Learning

Online courses allow you to gain important qualifications from the comfort of your home. They also mean that you can complete the course at your own pace, without giving up your ‘day job’.

On-The-Job Training

Some TAs are employed first, and then undertake their training as part of the job. Some schools invest heavily in TA training (such as NVQ Teaching Assistant qualifications and other specialist courses) that equip TAs to deal with a range of additional learning needs and behavioural challenges.

Awareness Courses

As well as specific TA qualifications, there are also many awareness courses that can help TAs to understand and work with children who display a range of additional learning needs.
Autism, Tourette’s Syndrome, speech and language difficulties, and dyslexia are just a few of the additional learning needs that pupils can exhibit. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Hyperactivity and Deficit Disorder (ADHD) are two behavioural challenges that TAs are expected to recognise and work with on a regular basis.
TAs may also need to be qualified in working with English as an Additional Language (EAL), especially in areas where many diverse languages are commonplace.
They must also have an awareness of Child Protection procedures, and how children suffering mental, physical and/or sexual abuse may behave. TAs are often the staff that children grow to trust, and children will often share the ‘secret’ with them. TAs are expected to keep the child’s needs at the forefront of practice at all time.

Essential TA Skills

As a result, a qualified TA will possess numerous skills, all of which they are expected to display on a daily basis in the classroom and in other learning environments:

    • A professional attitude
    • A strong regard for student’s well-being, emotional and physical
    • A positive approach to working with children, and an ability to inspire and motivate them
    • An understanding of how to build rapport and positive relationships with students
    • An ability to recognise and respect diversity in the classroom
    • Have an excellent team work ethic, contributing to the professional discussions in the classroom
    • Work with a broad range of other professionals, such as speech and language therapists, educational psychologists, educational social workers, parents & carers, and teaching staff
    • Stay up to date on changes in key policies
    • Undergo a criminal record check with the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)

 

Work Experience as a TA

Being a TA is an active, hands-on role, and for some people volunteering in an educational establishment such as a nursery, school or college will strengthen their suitability for a permanent role as a TA.
TAs can be found in many educational settings, some of which are as specialist in nature:

    • Pupil referral units for students unable to cope with mainstream school – students may present a range of learning and/or behavioural challenges. The TA is often crucial in developing a positive relationship between the student and learning.
    • Sports specialists – some schools and academies offer mainstream education alongside sporting excellence, such as athletic academies and football academies. TAs with a specialism in sports and outdoor activities are crucial to the success of these educational settings.
    • Informal education settings – for some students, education is alongside a range of other activities in their lives, such as being a parent or being in a detention centre. Again, TAs are vital links between the student and education.

 

How to Volunteer

To volunteer in a school, nursery, college or another educational setting, contact the school or organisation direct.
Most will welcome volunteers but you will need to be prepared to undergo a DBS check, as well as to be supervised in the initial stages of your placement.
In some cases, volunteers will often be taken on in a paid capacity, or used to provide extra-curricular activities.
TA posts are sought after, and thus you will need to show you are qualified, that you have an awareness of some of the key additional learning and behavioural challenges students face, and that you are experienced.
Some schools look to TAs to challenge their more ‘able and talented’ students. This means that you might supervise a small group or provide one-to-one sessions where students complete further work on a certain subject. Again, TAs are instrumental in helping gifted children to reach their potential.

Employment Opportunities

TAs work in early years’ education, primary schools, secondary schools, special schools, sixth form colleges and post-16 colleges.
In most cases, the education provider advertises the post, but there are other places where you may find TA vacancies. These include:

 

Continuing Professional Development

TAs are encouraged to continually develop their skill set. This can be done in numerous ways:

    • Undertake the Higher-Level Teaching Assistant qualification – HLTAs are sought after as they can provide short-term cover for absent teaching colleagues. TAs usually complete this qualification alongside their work in a school or college.
    • Specialist certificates – Some TAs specialise in key areas, something that makes them a valuable resource. For example, working with children with speech and language needs and/or disabilities (such as poor motor skills).
    • English as an additional language – In some city schools and colleges, students do not always speak English as their first language, and they may need significant help in learning English and continuing their education. There can also be many cultural challenges present, with schools relying on EAL trained TAs to provide the support these students need.
    • Gifted and Talented – Providing advanced learning opportunities for gifted and talented students are also welcome skills in the classroom. As a TA, you may wish to specialise in this field.
    • Inclusive learning – The ways in which we learn need to vary depending on the skills we are attempting to gain. It is no different in a school or college, and this is why a TA skilled in creating an inclusive and informal learning outside of the classroom is highly sought after. From challenging students with physical activities to creating clubs that answer their basic needs, a TA is instrumental in helping children and young people reach their potential.

 

Career Progression

There are many routes for TA progression. As well as specialising in key areas (such as additional learning needs), being a TA is also an excellent stepping-stone to becoming a teacher.


If you are interested in teaching, being a TA provides you with a realistic insight into today’s world of education. Many schools also support TAs who are looking to make the transition into teaching.More importantly, being a TA has a positive impact on the learning of all the students with whom you work.

 

How To Become a Teaching Assistant Infographic