How to Become a Teaching Assistant 2021
Teaching assistants (TAs) play an essential role in all schools. As a TA, you will support class teachers by offering one-to-one support to students and will also run group tuition and interventions.
Specialist roles are available, supporting students with special educational needs (SEN) and working with students who don’t speak English as a first language (EAL).
Taking a role as a teaching assistant is a great stepping stone toward a career in teaching; you will learn to build strong relationships with students and to support their learning without the pressure of the planning and paperwork required in a PGCE.
The role is especially suitable for graduates looking for sustainable, engaging work to support, for example, evening study or developing a creative portfolio. It is an active, physical job that is entirely off-screen.
The job also provides an opportunity to develop transferable soft skills especially if your long-term goals involve working with children or young people.
What Are a TA’s Key Responsibilities?
Teaching assistants play a key role in the classroom, providing practical support to teachers as well as learning support to students.
Day to day duties include:
- Offering extra learning support to students during lessons
- Looking after pupils in terms of their social and emotional development
- Creating and organising paper resources for teachers
- Putting up displays and managing classroom resources
- Listening to children read, or reading to children
- Taking small groups out for learning interventions
- Feeding back to teachers on children’s progress for assessment
- Supervising playground and lunchtime activities
- Supervising clubs and evening activities
- Setting up equipment for each lesson, and tidying away at the end of the day
- Going on school trips
- Providing basic first aid
It will be important to demonstrate your key skills and competencies in relation to these activities when applying for a job, and that you are organised, hands-on and have a genuine interest in working directly with children.
Key skills that you should demonstrate might include:
- Motivational skills
- Interpersonal and relationship-building skills
- Passion and knowledge of educational topics/theory
Types of Teaching Assistant
Classroom Teaching Assistants
Everyone begins their journey as a Classroom Teaching Assistant or Learning Support Assistant (LSA) at a Level 1 salary.
These assistants will provide support to students in class as well as to teachers by helping with classroom maintenance, resource management and giving feedback on pupil progress.
A large part of the role is resource management, creating displays and worksheets. Outside of this, most of your day will be spent at eye level with the students giving roaming support at tables as they work.
Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs)
With accrued experience, teaching assistants can progress to become Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs), with an increased salary.
There are four levels of teaching assistant in total, each requiring more autonomy and responsibility.
Extra responsibilities can include leading lessons alone as part of a teacher’s provisioned time for planning, supporting students with SEN one on one, as well as supervising other teaching assistants.
Some employers will require extra training for these roles before offering a salary increase.
Private schools often recruit graduate teaching assistants or ‘graduates in residence’ to support certain subjects.
In the case of boarding schools, these roles are residential and can include bed and board, which could be a good option for a recent graduate.
Look for these roles on the TES jobs site under Independent Schools.
International schools in certain countries (which don’t require a teaching qualification as a prerequisite for a work visa) can recruit graduates as teaching assistants.
However, on return to the UK, work experience accrued in international (private) schools isn’t always recognised in the state sector, so if you are considering becoming a teaching assistant as a step into teaching, think about this carefully.
Again, look for roles through the TES. International education fairs are also useful places to look for these roles.
In primary schools, TAs can specialise in literacy or numeracy support.
In secondary schools, although these positions are rarer, TAs can be appointed to support particular subjects. These positions are increasingly advertised to graduates with degrees in specialist subjects.
HLTAs will often also take on specialist work (with a Level 3 salary), supporting SEN students or translating and supporting those who do not speak English.
Your salary should, although may not, reflect any extra responsibilities; each TA role will be negotiated with the school as it is likely to change year on year according to student needs.
What Qualifications Do I Need to Become a TA?
Anyone with at least four GCSEs (including English and maths) and DBS clearance can apply to be a TA, although vocational training is available through further education providers for those that want to pursue further training.
The available certificates are:
- Level 1 Preparing to Work in Schools
- Level 2 Support Work in Schools
- Level 3 Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools
Intermediate (Level 2) and advanced (Level 3) apprenticeships are also available.
Training includes placements in schools where you will be supported by other experienced TAs as well as training providers at a college.
Although not necessary, these courses provide you with demonstrable experience of working with children, as well as solid experience that will support you better in applying for a teaching assistant role or, later, to go on to train as a teacher as an undergraduate.
Routes for Graduates
As previously mentioned, having a degree is not a requirement for becoming a teaching assistant, although increasingly, secondary schools are advertising for TAs with degrees in relevant subjects.
This is more often in the sixth form, to provide support to SEN students who are taking a more specialist subject at A-Level; for example, psychology or business studies.
Some primary schools also recruit graduate teaching assistants with English, maths or related degrees to support literacy and numeracy.
If you have a degree, there is no need to undertake further training to become a teaching assistant. However, demonstrable experience of working with children is useful when applying.
Will I Need Work Experience?
Demonstrating you have the key skills to fulfil the responsibilities of the role will be essential when applying for a job as a TA.
If you can evidence through experience that you have a genuine interest in working with children and young people then you are likely to be able to find work quickly.
To find work experience in classrooms, approach a school directly.
Work experience or qualifications in areas like playgroups, nurseries or youth centres will also be looked upon favourably. You could also consider mentoring younger students whilst at university.
What Salary Can I Expect?
Your salary will vary depending on the type of contract you hold with your school or agency.
There is a full-time TA salary pay scale, with starting salaries at around £17,364 for Level 1 roles, and between £18,000 to £23,000 for those who take on Level 2 to Level 4 responsibilities.
Not all TAs will hold full-time contracts, however, and the variety of employment types makes it difficult to calculate take-home pay.
Some schools will not include holiday pay in a TAs salary, employing staff on part-time (pro-rata) contracts for the days worked across the 36 weeks of the school year. Alternatively, they may opt for rolling, term by term contracts which, again, would not include holiday pay.
Other arrangements might include working through an agency who will pay your salary, likely weekly, after submitting a timesheet.
So, take-home pay for TA roles could be much lower than officially recognised.
It suits schools to employ TAs flexibly as, with the coming and going of students with varied needs, TAs aren’t always required in the same capacity term on term. So, job security is a luxury, and permanent positions are highly sought after.
After getting work as a TA, you can quickly work towards becoming a Level 4 Higher Level TA, which will open up more opportunities for your career.
If you have been working as a teaching assistant for a long time, it is possible to gain qualified teacher status (QTS) with a short conversion course called Straight to Teaching.
If you are a graduate, working as a TA would provide the ideal experience for applying to an Initial Teacher Training programme of any kind.
Where Should I Look for Jobs?
Teaching assistant jobs are broadly advertised, usually between May and July ahead of the September start of the following academic year, but jobs appear all year round.
You can approach a school directly if a job is advertised, or sign up with a teaching agency who will be able to match you with suitable roles, after interviewing you and ensuring you have the necessary work experience.
To look for listings try:
Key teaching agencies include: