Teaching assistants play an important role in supporting learning activities in schools and nurseries

As a teaching assistant (TA), you'll support pupils in their educational, emotional and social development either individually, in groups or as a whole class.

You'll also support the teacher by undertaking duties that will free up their time for teaching, such as preparing the classroom for lessons, making resources and creating displays of children's work.

Some TAs work exclusively with pupils who have special educational needs (SEN) or other specific needs.

Responsibilities

Your duties will depend on your experience, training and TA status. Generally, you'll need to:

  • make sure that the pupils you support are able to engage in learning and stay on task during the lesson or activity so that they can become independent learners
  • support the social and emotional development of pupils, reporting any issues when required
  • support the teacher in managing challenging pupil behaviour and promoting positive behaviour
  • listen to pupils read and read to pupils as a class, group or one-to-one
  • monitor and record pupils' progress and provide detailed and regular feedback to teachers
  • carry out administrative duties, such as preparing the classroom and clearing away after class to ensure effective teaching can take place
  • look after pupils who have had accidents, administering first aid where necessary, and those who need help dressing or are upset
  • make resources for use by teachers and pupils and create art displays of pupils' artwork
  • provide support outside of your normal classes, such as helping during exams, covering TA absences or going on school trips
  • help with extracurricular activity such as breakfast and after-school clubs, homework club, revision sessions or playtime and lunchtime duties.

As a higher level teaching assistant you'll also need to:

  • deliver tailored teaching activities to pupils on either a one-to-one basis or in small groups
  • lead on certain class activities under the direction of the teacher
  • take classes on your own, giving teachers time to plan and mark work
  • help with the planning of lessons
  • supervise other support staff
  • coordinate specific areas of teaching support.

With experience, you could also take on a specialism such as literacy, numeracy or SEN. You may also specialise in working with children whose first language is not English if you are bilingual.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for full-time, permanent TAs (level 1) are typically around £17,364.
  • With increased responsibility (level 2), you can expect to earn £18,000 to £20,000.
  • Experienced TAs (level 3) and those with additional specialisms or SEN responsibilities can earn £25,000.

Many TAs are employed on part-time, term-time only or casual contracts, so actual take-home pay can be a lot less.

There isn't a national pay scale for TA salaries. However, most schools follow the local government pay scale for support staff, although this varies depending on the type of school. Unlike state-funded schools, independent, academy and free schools don't have to follow LA pay guidelines.

Some providers pay term-time only wages, meaning your salary is pro-rata (a proportion of the stated full-time salary). You should still receive a salary every month.

Your teaching assistant salary will vary depending on your role, responsibilities and educational setting.

Your rate of pay may be higher if you work through an educational recruitment agency, with many specifically seeking graduates. However, work is not always guaranteed or permanent.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are typically during the school day, in term time, Monday to Friday. You may be required to work early mornings or after school if you're supporting additional activities, such as breakfast club or after school care. In addition to your hours of work, you may need to attend training days or parents' evenings.

Some schools run activities over the summer that you could get involved in. This would usually be paid in addition to your normal salary.

In general, half-term and summer holidays are counted as part of your holiday allowance. Taking time off during term is usually restricted, and you'll need a good reason for term-time absence to be authorised.

Employment contracts vary greatly in this profession. Part-time work or job sharing is common. Permanent contracts do exist, but an increasing number of schools offer fixed-term or temporary contracts - reviewed annually in line with school or pupil needs. These tend to be common when the focus of your role is supporting a particular pupil.

There are also short-term opportunities through educational recruitment agencies. There may be a chance for your contract to become permanent, but there's no guarantee.

What to expect

  • You'll be supporting pupils who may have a range of learning and/or behavioural difficulties.
  • You'll be busy with a variety of tasks on any given day, and may be asked to offer extra support at short notice. There is an expectation to get stuck in and provide help as and when it's needed.
  • Depending on your role you may need to provide personal care to pupils, and help with lifting or moving them where required.
  • The teaching assistant role can be challenging, but watching pupils progress can also be extremely rewarding.
  • The majority of your work will be in the classroom, but you may also be involved in lunchtime supervision, outdoor activities and school trips.

Qualifications

For entry-level positions, you'll need to have basic literacy and numeracy skills, usually GCSE or equivalent (National 4 or 5 qualifications in Scotland) in maths or English, and experience of working with children.

Although you don't need a degree to become a teaching assistant, having one can be an advantage as this shows a competent level of skills. Qualifications and experience in related areas such as childcare, nursery, play or youth work can also be useful.

Although not essential, the following qualifications can provide a useful introduction to the sector and an understanding of the knowledge and skills you need to work with children or young people in primary, secondary or special schools:

  • Level 1 Award in Preparing to Work in Schools
  • Level 2 Award in Support Work in Schools
  • Level 3 Award in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools.

You can take these without working in an education setting.

For some Level 2 and 3 courses, however, you'll need to be working or on a practical placement in an education setting (either paid or voluntary). For more information on relevant courses, see QualHub.

It's also possible to train to be a teaching assistant through taking an intermediate or advanced apprenticeship (Levels 2 and 3). You'll work in a school during your training and will be paid a salary.

Individual schools set their own entry requirements for jobs, so check vacancies carefully to find out what skills, experiences and teaching assistant qualifications they're looking for.

You'll also need to undergo an enhanced criminal records check through the Disclosure and Barring Service or Disclosure Scotland.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • a positive approach to working with children and the ability to motivate, inspire and build rapport
  • a strong regard for pupil safety and well-being
  • respect for diversity, as you'll be working with pupils from a range of backgrounds
  • communication and interpersonal skills to build relationships with pupils, parents, teachers and governors
  • reading, writing and numeracy skills
  • excellent team working skills for working with other support staff, classroom teachers and professionals such as educational psychologists, speech and language therapists, social workers and external agencies
  • creative ability
  • patience
  • a flexible approach to work, as you'll be involved in a range of school-related activities such as cooking, art and science projects and forest school
  • organisational skills
  • a professional attitude to work
  • a willingness to keep up to date with educational policy and training related to your role.

Fluency in local community languages may be an advantage in roles supporting English as an additional language (EAL) pupils. Skills in areas such as first aid, Makaton and British Sign Language can also be useful.

Work experience

Teaching assistant posts are highly competitive, so it's essential you have some relevant work experience. Experience may include working in:

  • childcare
  • educational settings
  • nurseries
  • sports activities
  • summer camps
  • tutoring
  • youth work.

While very few structured work experience schemes exist, many schools welcome enquiries for volunteer work. Contact them directly, outlining your career ambitions, as well as areas you'd be interested in supporting, such as literacy, IT or after school clubs.

Degrees with practical placements, such as education, youth work and childhood studies, will likely count as experience, but check with employers if you're in doubt. If you don't have opportunities like this as part of your degree, you could arrange to gain some part or full-time work experience.

Other useful experience can include taking on the role of student ambassador at your university. This typically involves working part time to promote higher education and/or a specific subject area in local schools. Get in touch with your careers service for advice on volunteer or paid opportunities working with children and young people.

Employers

Teaching assistant jobs are found in:

  • academies
  • colleges and sixth forms
  • independent schools
  • nurseries
  • primary schools
  • secondary schools
  • special schools.

Vacancies are usually advertised by the educational provider, local authorities and educational recruitment agencies. It's best to check specific school, council or recruitment websites for opportunities.

You can also look for vacancies at:

Professional development

Once employed you'll typically take an induction course, followed by ongoing teaching assistant training and development. This usually consists of a mixture of in-house and externally-led training courses.

Areas of training can include:

  • working with pupils with specific learning difficulties or disabilities, such as dyslexia, autism or poor motor skills
  • supporting English as an additional language (EAL) pupils
  • supporting gifted and talented pupils
  • engaging students with emotional and behavioural difficulties
  • promoting inclusive learning environments for students
  • child protection policies and procedures.

Professional development is generally encouraged, and you'll usually be supported to complete the qualifications and training needed to progress. These can include Level 2 and 3 qualifications in supporting teaching and learning, if you don't already have one, which are completed while working in a learning environment.

With experience you can take a Level 4 Certificate for the Advanced Practitioner in Schools and Colleges. This work-based qualification provides opportunities to develop skills in areas such as leadership, mentoring and coaching.

Experienced teaching assistants with the right skills and experience can apply for higher-level teaching assistant (HTLA) status. HLTA status shows that you meet national standards. For more information on how to achieve HLTA status, see the HLTA National Assessment Partnership.

Career prospects

As a teaching assistant you can progress through the grades, ranging from entry level through to HLTA. You'll advance by gaining experience and taking appropriate qualifications and training.

As you progress, you'll take on more responsibility - at HLTA level you will get involved in planning lessons, developing support materials and delivering lessons unsupervised. You may also be responsible for supporting other TAs.

There is also scope to coordinate activities in specialist areas of support or curriculum learning, such as SEN, literacy or IT.

Working as a TA can also act as an excellent stepping stone towards becoming a teacher. The role will provide you with a realistic and practical insight into the role of a teacher, without the responsibility of being one. Some schools actively support this transition. See primary school teacher and secondary school teacher for the range of training options.

Find out how Stacey became a teaching assistant at BBC Bitesize.

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