To work as a teaching assistant (TA) you'll need an interest in education, a non-judgemental attitude and a passion for seeing young people succeed

TAs support learning activities in schools and nurseries. They can work with individual pupils, groups of children or, on occasion, a whole class.

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

Some TAs 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. Generally, you'll need to:

  • deliver tailored teaching activities to pupils on either a one-to-one basis or in small groups
  • make sure that the pupils 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 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
  • guide and monitor pupil progress
  • help with the planning of some lessons
  • provide detailed and regular feedback to teachers on pupils' progress
  • carry out administrative duties, such as preparing classroom resources
  • look after pupils who have had accidents, need help dressing or are upset
  • 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 lunchtime duties
  • supervise other support staff
  • coordinate specific areas of teaching support once you have the right level of experience.

With experience, you might be able to take on a specialism such as literacy, numeracy or SEN.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for full-time, permanent TAs (level 1) are around £15,000.
  • With increased responsibility (levels 2 and 3), you can expect to earn between £15,000 and £21,000.
  • Higher-level TAs can earn between £21,000 and £25,000. You may earn more for additional specialisms or SEN responsibilities.

Your salary will vary depending on your role, responsibilities and educational setting. Many TAs are employed on part-time or term-time only contracts, so take-home pay can be a lot less.

There isn't a national pay scale for TA salaries. Most schools tend to go with wages set by the local authority (LA), 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.

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're 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'll need a good reason for term-time absence to be authorised (e.g. moving home or attending a wedding or 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, but there's no guarantee.

What to expect

  • You'll be supporting pupils from a variety of backgrounds, who may have a range of learning and/or behavioural difficulties. The work can be challenging, but watching the progress of the pupils that you work with can also be extremely rewarding.
  • 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 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 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.
  • Currently, men are underrepresented in the profession and the majority of teaching assistants are female.

Qualifications

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

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

Relevant qualifications, such as the Level 1 Award in Preparing to Work in Schools or the Level 2 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning, can be a good starting point for those starting out in the profession. For some courses, you'll need to be working or on a practical placement in an education setting to complete the course. Although not essential for getting a job, this experience provides an insight into the role and an understanding of child development.

It's also possible to train to be a teaching assistant through taking an intermediate or advanced apprenticeship.

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

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
  • interpersonal skills to build relationships with pupils, parents, teachers and governors
  • reading, writing, numeracy and communication skills
  • excellent team working skills as you'll be working with other support staff, classroom teachers and other 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.

You'll also need to undergo a criminal record check through the Disclosure and Barring Service.

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 an advantage.

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
  • tutoring
  • youth work.

While very few structured work experience schemes exist, many educational providers 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 club.

Degree subjects 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 assistants are employed in:

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

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 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, which are completed whilst working in a learning environment.

With experience, you can take specific training and assessment to become a higher-level teaching assistant (HTLA). HLTA status shows that you meet a nationally-agreed set of standards in the field. You’ll need to have support from you school, as they usually cover the cost of your training. Alternatively, you can fund the training yourself. For more information, see the HLTA National Assessment Partnership.

Career prospects

There are four grades of teaching assistant, ranging from entry level to HLTA, and you'll progress through the grades by gaining experience and taking appropriate qualifications and training.

As you progress, you'll take on more responsibility and at HLTA level you may 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.