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What does a teaching assistant do?
A teaching assistant (TA for short) is sometimes also known as a classroom assistant, learning support assistant, educational assistant or pupil support assistant. They assist qualified teachers with their day-to-day classroom duties. They also support pupils (one-to-one or groups) with their learning and development, e.g. helping children with reading, writing and other learning activities whilst they are at school.
Teaching assistants mainly work in primary or secondary schools. However, they may work in other settings, such as nurseries, independent schools and special needs schools. Teaching assistants will work with children of different ages, backgrounds and abilities, including pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) or other specific needs.
Teaching assistants will have many duties, including establishing relationships with pupils, taking instructions from teachers, setting up classrooms and equipment, creating displays, safeguarding, helping manage challenging behaviour and supervising activities. The role also involves administrative work, such as recording and reporting pupils’ progress to teachers.
A teaching assistant’s main aim is to help alleviate teachers’ workloads, so they have more free time to focus on teaching, enhancing the quality of learning within the classroom. Teaching assistants play an important role in children’s educational, emotional and social development. They also help pupils needing additional support with their learning.
Teaching assistants will work with teachers and pupils in a classroom environment and the wider educational setting. They will also work closely with other school staff, e.g. headteachers, deputy headteachers, other teachers and other support staff. They may also need to liaise with external stakeholders, including school governors, parents/guardians, social workers, speech and language therapists, educational psychologists, local authorities, Ofsted and education welfare officers.
Teaching assistants mainly work for larger organisations, such as local education authorities. However, they can work for other smaller organisations, such as private schools, not-for-profit academy trusts and faith schools.
A teaching assistant will have many different responsibilities, which may include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Following instructions given by teachers.
- Assisting teachers with preparing lesson materials and equipment.
- Providing a healthy and safe environment for children.
- Following safeguarding and child protection procedures.
- Setting up classrooms and equipment for lessons and tidying up after class.
- Creating displays of pupils’ work and making resources for teachers to use in their lessons.
- Supporting teachers with the delivery of lessons.
- Reading to pupils and listening to them read.
- Providing additional help to pupils with special needs or those that require extra support with their learning.
- Motivating, engaging and encouraging pupils.
- Helping teachers manage challenging behaviour within the classroom and promoting good behaviour.
- Promoting children’s independence and helping them to take control of their own learning.
- Leading classes under the supervision of teachers.
- Caring for pupils who are injured, upset and unwell, including administering first aid where applicable.
- Supporting other school activities, e.g. outings, sports events, breakfast and after-school clubs, revision sessions and playtime.
- Attending meetings and participating in training.
- Keeping accurate records of pupils’ progress and development, and reporting any issues to teachers.
- Assisting with assessing and marking pupils’ work.
The exact responsibilities a teaching assistant has will vary from school to school. Their duties will also depend on their training, experience and whether they are a higher level TA.
A higher level teaching assistant will have additional responsibilities, for example:
- Helping teachers plan and prepare lessons.
- Helping to develop specialist curriculum areas.
- Delivering lessons alone whilst teachers are busy with other work or to cover absences.
- Supervising support staff, e.g. teaching assistants.
- Monitoring and evaluating pupils’ learning.
- Providing feedback to pupils on their progress.
- Liaising with parents/guardians on specific issues involving their children.
A teaching assistant can expect to work 32-40 hours a week, but the hours will depend on their type of school and setting. The school day usually starts at 8.30am and finishes at 3.30-4.00pm, Monday-Friday. However, teaching assistants may be required to come in early or stay later after school. They may also be required to work some evenings and weekends to attend events or appointments, e.g. parents’ evenings.
Teaching assistants work in line with school holidays, i.e. for 39 weeks (term time). In the 13 weeks’ school holidays, they may still need to attend work, e.g. if involved in school summer activities. However, they will have most of the school holidays off, which is ideal if an individual has children of their own.
Flexible working is possible for some teaching assistants, e.g. part-time hours or a job share. There are a lot of fixed-term/contract roles for teaching assistants, and there are opportunities to work for recruitment agencies as agency workers. If a teaching assistant is on a term-time only contract, they will not be paid for school holidays but should still receive 4-5 weeks’ holiday annually.
Local travel may be necessary for some teaching assistants, e.g. to attend meetings and appointments. There may also be a requirement to cover for other support staff in other areas.
Overnight stays and overseas travel may be required, e.g. to support teachers on outings and overseas trips.
What to expect
Being a teaching assistant is hard work but extremely rewarding. They can go home at the end of the working day knowing they are making a difference by supporting pupils’ learning and development. It is also fulfilling to help children struggling with certain aspects of their work and then seeing them progress with their learning. Overall, teaching assistants are helping to shape children’s futures and can have a positive influence on their lives.
Teaching assistants are a welcome addition to the classroom and are appreciated by teachers. They help teachers by reducing their work pressures, helping to minimise classroom disruption and, overall, minimise stress. They can also improve pupils’ confidence, learning and progress.
There is a high demand for teaching assistants, and jobs are available nationally. There are many different types of contracts to choose from, so individuals can select the job that fits their situation and needs. The role also opens up opportunities to become a qualified teacher.
Boredom will never be a problem for teaching assistants, and no two days will be the same. They will work with a diverse group of pupils with different personalities, abilities and ideas. They will also be helping them with various subject areas and activities, so it can also be a learning experience for the teaching assistant.
Teaching assistants have a relatively consistent work schedule. They will be working to school days, times and holidays, and following timetables and lesson plans. It makes it easier for individuals to plan their days and weeks. Other careers can often involve erratic deadlines and demands.
Even though being a teaching assistant is rewarding, and there are many positives associated with the role, they may also face challenges, for example:
- Physical demands – there may be a requirement to stand for most of the working day and be involved with physical activities, which will require a certain fitness level. Some teaching assistants may need to personally care for some pupils, which can involve lifting or moving them. Therefore, there may be an element of manual handling.
- Bad behaviour – some pupils can be challenging to control. Classroom sizes are also ever-increasing, so if there is a disruptive pupil, it can disturb the whole class. Teaching assistants will help teachers deal with misbehaviour and support pupils with learning and behavioural difficulties.
- Various tasks – teaching assistants may be asked to carry out many different tasks during the working day, some of which may be given at short notice. As an assistant, individuals will need to follow instructions from teachers and other senior staff members. Therefore, they must be comfortable with taking instructions and providing help wherever it is required.
- Mental demands – being a teaching assistant can be emotionally demanding. Working with pupils with learning and behavioural difficulties, demanding parents, and large classrooms can be challenging and stressful. Teaching assistants may also be exposed to various issues relating to children, e.g. child abuse or neglect, which can be distressing.
- Work-related violence – unfortunately, there is a risk of verbal and physical abuse when working with pupils, particularly those with learning and behavioural difficulties. Some parents/guardians can also be difficult to deal with if their child is misbehaving or when there are issues at home that need addressing. Employers have a duty to reduce and manage the risk of work-related violence, so there are ways of prevention. However, teaching assistants must be aware of the risk.
- Female-dominated – there are more female teachers and teaching assistants than males, but it should not put off men who want to enter the profession.
There are pros and cons in every career choice, and prospective teaching assistants must know what to expect before deciding whether the role is for them. There is no doubt that the job can be challenging, physically and mentally demanding and stressful. However, there are many positives too and helping children be the best they can be is very fulfilling and rewarding.
When considering whether to be a teaching assistant, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the necessary personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a teaching assistant
Some of the personal qualities a teaching assistant requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Knowledge of the English language, mathematics and any other subjects relating to the role.
- Knowledge of safeguarding and child protection with an emphasis on pupil safety and wellbeing.
- Knowledge of equality and diversity and respect for children from all backgrounds.
- Knowledge of confidentiality, data protection and GDPR.
- Having a caring attitude, sensitivity and understanding to build relationships with children.
- Having a professional attitude to work.
- Having a non-judgemental approach.
- Having confidence, patience, resilience, self-discipline and tolerance.
- Having enthusiasm, motivation, creativity, imagination and energy.
- Having an interest in developing children and working with others.
- Excellent interpersonal skills, i.e. the ability to deal with pupils, governors, teachers, parents/guardians and other professionals.
- Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal.
- Good reading, writing and numeracy skills.
- Good listening skills to understand what children need.
- Good organisational skills and time management.
- Being thorough and having attention to detail.
- Being flexible and open to change to work on different activities at short notice.
- The ability to work well with other staff and external agencies, i.e. excellent team working skills.
- The ability to create an optimal environment for teaching and learning.
- The ability to inspire, motivate, engage and teach children.
- The ability to be resilient in emotionally demanding and challenging situations.
- The ability to gain pupils’ trust, respect and confidence.
- The ability to work well under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to use IT equipment and software competently.
- The ability to follow policies, procedures, instructions and risk assessments.
- The ability to keep up with necessary training.
Additional skills, such as first aid, languages and British Sign Language may also be required, but this will depend on the type of school and teaching assistant role.
Qualifications and training
There are many different ways to become a teaching assistant, for example, taking a relevant college qualification, enrolling on an apprenticeship or applying directly.
- Course levels – Level 2 and 3 and T level courses.
- Entry requirements
– Level 2 – two or more GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) or equivalent.
– Level 3 – four or five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent.
– T level – four or five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent, including English and maths.
- Example courses – Level 2 or 3 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools, Level 3 Diploma in Childcare and Education and T Level (technical-based qualification) in Education and Childcare.
- There is a teaching assistant – advanced apprenticeship available, usually offered by colleges.
- Entry requirements – five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent, including English and maths.
- Opportunities can be found on the Government’s Apprenticeships website.
- Individuals can apply for teaching assistant roles directly with local authorities, schools and academies.
- Entry requirements – depending on the school. Individuals will usually require GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) in English and maths as a minimum. Having a relevant qualification and/or experience can be advantageous.
As teaching assistant roles are competitive, if an individual has a degree in any subject, they will have an advantage over those who do not have higher level qualifications. However, having a degree is not a mandatory requirement.
Work experience and volunteering
There are no set academic requirements to become a teaching assistant. Therefore, gaining qualifications is not the only route into the role. However, some employers may stipulate that specific qualifications are required.
There may be opportunities to start work in relevant areas, such as childcare, nurseries, youth work and tutoring. In addition to getting paid and gaining valuable experience, individuals could enrol on a college course part time.
There is no substitute for practical experience, and volunteering can also help individuals build their knowledge and skills. They can volunteer and work with young people at their local school, after-school club, youth club, holiday scheme or charity. Information on volunteering and local opportunities can be found on DoIT, NCVO and Volunteering Matters.
Having any relevant work experience, e.g. childcare, can be beneficial and can help an individual work towards becoming a teaching assistant. There may also be opportunities to shadow an experienced teaching assistant to discover more about the role and see if it is the right career path.
Criminal records checks
Teaching assistants will be required to undergo a criminal record check, as they will have contact with children. Having a criminal record, caution, warning or conviction may put off prospective employers. However, they should account for the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance to the role.
The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:
- England and Wales – Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
- Northern Ireland – AccessNI.
- Scotland – Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme.
Teaching assistants may be required to drive as part of their role. Therefore, having a full clean driving licence is recommended.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help teaching assistants enter the profession, enhance their employability, learn new subjects and keep their knowledge and skills current.
Most colleges and accredited private training providers provide training courses. Some examples of relevant courses that may be useful for teaching assistants include:
- Safeguarding children.
- Managing behaviour that challenges.
- Understanding bullying.
- Child sexual exploitation.
- Child neglect awareness.
- Autism and ADHD awareness.
- Prevent and radicalisation.
- Internet safety in schools.
- COVID-19 in schools.
- Fire safety in schools.
- Data protection in schools.
- Equality and diversity in education.
- Health and safety and first aid.
Professional bodies and unions, such as the National Association of Professional Teaching Assistants (NAPTA) and the National Education Union can advise on reputable training courses. They also have events that can help teaching assistants continue their professional development. Also, see CPD courses for teaching assistants for further guidance on CPD.
The type of training required will depend on what employers are looking for and the areas individuals want to work in. As well as looking on professional body websites, it is also worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the courses required and other training needed for specialist roles. Jobs can be found on Teaching Vacancies, Tes Jobs, Education Jobs, Day Nurseries and other job sites, such as GOV.UK find a job service and Indeed. Also, look at recruitment agencies, e.g. EduStaff, ABC Teachers and Eteach.
Having more relevant training and competence will open up more opportunities for teaching assistants. Refresher training will also be required, as it is a legal requirement, improves career prospects and keeps knowledge and skills up to date.
Where do teaching assistants work?
Teaching assistants can work in many different settings, including (this list is not exhaustive):
- Independent (private) schools.
- Local authority maintained (community) schools.
- Foundation schools.
- Voluntary schools.
- Academies and free schools.
- Grammar schools.
- Special schools.
- Faith schools and academies.
- Pupil referral units.
They can work for public bodies and private organisations, for example:
- Local authorities.
- Governing bodies.
- Not-for-profit academy trusts.
- Foundation bodies.
- Education recruitment agencies.
How much do teaching assistants earn?
How much a teaching assistant will earn will depend on where they decide to work (London salaries will be higher), their qualifications, experience, role and responsibilities. For example (these figures are a guide only and are subject to change):
- Typical starting salary for a level 1 teaching assistant – £17,842, but can be lower.
- Level 2 teaching assistants – between £18,000 and £20,000.
- Level 3 and specialist teaching assistants – between £23,000 and £25,000.
Teaching assistants’ salaries are usually in line with the local government support staff pay scale, which most schools have to follow (NEU). What teaching assistants earn in independent schools, free schools and academies will vary, as employers can set their own pay and benefits. The annual average salary for a teaching assistant is around £12,081 (Unison).
Salaries are also dependent on the type of contract, e.g. term-time only, part-time and casual. Therefore, the take-home pay can vary significantly, especially if teaching assistants are paid pro-rata.
Teaching assistants can increase their salaries if they are graduates and work via an education recruitment agency or carry out other paid TA or support work during school holidays.
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this, but it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of teaching assistant roles to specialise in
Not only are there opportunities for teaching assistants to move up the career ladder (different levels, i.e. 1, 2 & 3) and work in various types of school, but there are plenty of opportunities for them to specialise in different areas, for example (this list is not exhaustive):
Different age groups – teaching assistants can work in early years, primary schools, secondary schools and sixth form. Within these settings, they can also specialise in specific stages. For example, there are different key stages in the national curriculum relating to age ranges, such as:
- Foundation stage – ages 3-5.
- Key Stage 1 – ages 5-7.
- Key Stage 2 – ages 7-11.
- Key Stage 3 – ages 11-14.
- Key Stage 4 – ages 14-16.
- Sixth form – ages 16-19.
Different pupils – teaching assistants can decide to work with certain groups of pupils, such as those with:
- Special Educational Needs (SEN).
- Disabilities, e.g. hearing and visually impaired.
- Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) and behavioural difficulties.
- English as an Additional Language (EAL).
- Specific learning difficulties or disabilities, e.g. dyslexia or autism.
- Special gifts and talents.
- Other medical needs.
- Different backgrounds, e.g. travellers.
Specific responsibilities – teaching assistants can choose to have specific duties, such as:
- Teaching a foreign language.
- Helping children with literacy or numeracy.
- One-to-one support.
- Helping with specific subjects, e.g. mathematics and IT.
- Helping with certain activities, e.g. sports.
- Assisting with after-school clubs.
All different teaching assistant roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. Some may need specific qualifications and additional training for specialised areas, responsibilities and groups. Most teaching assistants will need to know how to build relationships with pupils, follow instructions, set up classrooms and equipment, help children with learning activities, inspire children, safeguard and protect children and carry out various administrative tasks. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what a school is looking for and the type of role a teaching assistant wants to carry out.
If teaching assistants do not carry out their role effectively, it may negatively impact children’s learning and development. It may even hinder social skills and cause problems later on if children are isolated from others in the classroom. Therefore, whatever the type of role, teaching assistants must have the necessary competence (knowledge, skills and experience) to carry out their role professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency and not take on responsibilities if they have not been trained and are not competent, e.g. not teaching whole classes regularly without supervision.
Teaching methods, learning approaches, standards, technology, guidance and laws are updated regularly. Therefore, teaching assistants need to keep abreast with the latest developments and changes to remain legally compliant, keep up with the pace of education and ensure they carry out their roles effectively and safely. CPD gives teaching assistants the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes, helps them understand their responsibilities and allows them to progress their careers.
Joining a professional body can help prospective and current teaching assistants enhance their skills and overall career. The National Association of Professional Teaching Assistants (NAPTA) offers different levels of membership, CPD, advice and support, access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is ample opportunity for career progression within the role. With more qualifications and experience, a teaching assistant can become a higher level teaching assistant (HLTA) or qualified teacher (with additional qualifications). They can also decide to focus on a specific area, responsibility or group. Alternatively, they may choose to work for an education recruitment agency and carry out various contracts.
Having knowledge, skills and experience with children in an educational setting can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, a teaching assistant may want to work in childcare, mentoring, tutoring or child mental health. They may want to become a trainer for a private company or an education assistant for a charity. Finally, they may combine the teaching assistant job with other roles, such as pastoral support or Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordination (SENDCO).
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