To be a teaching assistant (TA) you need an interest in education, a patient, non-judgemental attitude and a passion to see young people succeed

TA's support learning activities in schools and nurseries. They can work with individual pupils or with groups of children.

As a TA you would be supporting pupils across a range of abilities as well as undertaking duties that free up a teacher's time, such as preparing the classroom.

Some TA's will work exclusively with pupils with special educational needs (SEN) or with those with other specific needs.

Responsibilities

Your duties will depend on your experience, training and TA status but you will generally need to:

  • deliver tailored teaching activities to pupils on either a one-to-one basis or in small groups;
  • make sure that the pupils that you support are able to engage in learning and stay on task during the lesson or activity;
  • support the social and emotional development of pupils, reporting any issues as necessary;
  • manage challenging pupil behaviour;
  • guide and monitor pupil progress;
  • carry out administrative duties such as preparing classroom resources;
  • 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 lunch-time duties;
  • co-ordinate specific areas of teaching support once you have the right level of experience.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for teaching assistants are between £11,000 and £15,000.
  • With increased responsibility, you can expect earn between £15,000 and £21,000.
  • Higher-level teaching assistants can earn between £21,000 and £25,000.

Your salary will vary depending on the role, responsibility and educational setting.

There isn't a national pay scale to determine TA salaries. Most schools tend to go with wages set by the local education authority (LEA). However, this will vary on the type of school. Unlike state-funded schools, independent, academy and free schools are not obligated to pay according to LEA guidelines.

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.

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.

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 are supporting additional activities. In addition to your hours of work, you may need to attend training days or parents' evenings, as appropriate to your role.

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 will need a good reason for term-time absence to be authorised (e.g. moving home, wedding, funeral).

Employment contracts vary greatly in this profession. Part-time work or job sharing is common. While permanent contracts do exist, an increasing number of schools offer fixed-term or temporary contracts (e.g. one year), which are reviewed annually in line with school or pupil needs. These tend to be common when the majority 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 if you make a good impression in the school, but there is no guarantee.

What to expect

  • You'll be supporting pupils with a range of learning and/or behavioural difficulties from a variety of backgrounds, which can be challenging. However, it can be extremely rewarding watching the progress of the pupils that you work with.
  • You may be busy supporting a variety of areas on any given day, and may be asked to cover areas of support at short notice. There is an expectation to get 'stuck-in' and provide help as and when needed, which can be stressful.
  • Dress code is usually smart, depending on school policy, and the types of activities you are required to undertake.
  • The majority of your work will be in the classroom, although you may be involved in lunchtime supervision, outdoor activities, or accompanying pupils on school trips.
  • The majority of teaching assistants are female.

Qualifications

You don't need a degree to become a teaching assistant. For entry-level positions, you will need to have basic literacy and numeracy skills (GCSE or equivalent, National 4 and 5 in Scotland) and experience of working with children.

Nevertheless, having a degree, regardless of subject area, may put you at an advantage because it demonstrates a competent level of skills.

You could choose to gain a teaching assistant qualification from an approved awarding body, to enhance your chances of securing work. These are vocational or work-related qualifications ranging from GCSE level to foundation-degree level. Taking these courses will give you an insight into the role, some experience of working in schools and an understanding of child development.

Qualifications can be taken online or through a training provider, such as a local college. For those not yet working in the role, the most useful qualifications are ones that include some type of practical work placement.

It is important to note that teaching assistant qualifications for entry-level roles are not essential; work experience will go a long way in securing you a job.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • a professional attitude to your work;
  • a strong regard for pupil safety and well-being;
  • a positive approach to working with children and the ability to motivate, inspire and build rapport;
  • respect for diversity as you will be working with pupils from a range of backgrounds;
  • excellent team working ability as you'll be working with other support staff, classroom teachers and other professionals, such as educational psychologists, speech and language therapists and social workers, parents, carers and external agencies;
  • good organisational skills and the ability to work flexibly;
  • fluency in local community languages may be an advantage in roles supporting English as an additional language (EAL) pupils, although this is not essential;
  • a willingness to keep up to date with educational policy and training related to your role.

You will also be required to undergo a criminal record check through the Disclosure and Barring Service.

When recruiting, employers can specify a range of skills, experiences and qualifications, as there are no national standards for entry-level roles.

When you are applying for jobs you will need to pay close attention to the specific requirements of the role that is being advertised.

Work experience

Teaching assistant posts are highly competitive, and so experience of working with children is essential when securing a job. Experience may include working in:

  • childcare;
  • educational settings;
  • nurseries;
  • sports activities;
  • tutoring;
  • youth work.

While very few structured work experience schemes exist, many educational providers welcome inquiries for volunteer work. You should contact them directly, outlining your career ambitions, as well as areas you'd be interested in supporting, such as literacy, IT or after-school club.

Degree subjects with practical placements, like education, youth work and childhood studies, will probably count as experience, but if in doubt, it might be best to check with potential employers. If you don't have opportunities like this as part of your degree, you could arrange to gain some experience either part-time over a specific period or full-time for a couple weeks.

There is a growing trend for universities to recruit for 'student ambassador' roles from their current undergraduates. 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

TA's can work in nurseries, primary schools, secondary schools and colleges and sixth forms.

Vacancies are usually publicised by the educational provider, its local council, 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

Professional development is highly encouraged in this profession. It generally consists of a mixture of in-house and externally-led training courses.

Areas of training tend to align with the specific requirements of your role and can include:

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

Career prospects

Entry-level roles within the profession are typically at teaching assistant level 1 or level 2. These levels demonstrate a particular set of skills, experiences and responsibilities, but do not necessarily have a specific qualification requirement.

With experience and training, you could move your way up to the highest status in the profession, level 5, and become a higher-level teaching assistant (HLTA), which does require a specific qualification. You must undertake specific training and assessment to qualify. HLTA status demonstrates that you meet a nationally-agreed set of standards in the field. This will lead to having increased responsibilities, such as delivering lessons unsupervised and co-ordinating activities in specialist areas of support or curriculum learning. You will need to have support from you school, as they usually cover the cost of your training.

The pay and level of responsibility associated with working as a TA can be viewed as somewhat limited. However, working as a TA is an excellent stepping-stone to becoming a teacher. It can provide you with a realistic and practical insight into the role of a teacher, without the responsibility of being one.

As a result, many move from working as a TA into applying to train as a teacher, with some schools actively supporting this transition.