How to become a Teaching Assistant

Teaching assistants are important in the modern classroom. They provide support to the class teacher as well as helping, supporting and challenging pupils within the learning environment.

The role of teaching assistant (or TA) has changed in recent years. Now considered a professional in education, a qualified and experienced TA is a much-sought staff member. TAs need to be patient people with a passion for education and a non-judgemental attitude. They will support a wide range of learning activities, helping students to succeed and reach their potential.

TAs work in primary and secondary schools, as well as in nursery education and colleges. They can work with children with specific additional learning needs or they can provide support within the general classroom setting. 

A TA will support the teacher with preparation in the classroom, and Higher-Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs) facilitate small groups in the classroom under the guidance of the teaching staff.

How much each TA is paid depends on the local authority pay scales, the school’s pay scale (if they employ TAs directly), as well as qualifications and experience.

Some schools pay TAs on a term-time only scale, meaning that their position will pay around 84% of a full-time post but payments are still made over 12 months. This will be described as a pro-rata salary.

There is no national pay scale for teaching assistants, which means that pay and conditions will vary from one employer to the next. Always check the salary and terms and conditions on offer, as free schools, private schools and schools that have opted out of local authority control do not have to pay according to Local Education Authority (LEA) salary scales.

TA Qualifications

You don’t need a degree to be a TA and some schools will employ unqualified people, training them ‘on the job’. 

For more senior positions, schools will expect a certain level of TA setting.

• Literacy and Numeracy – In recent years, there has been an increasing emphasis on numeracy and literacy for both students and staff. TAs need to be confident applying numbers and writing the English language. You may need to sit a test to prove this. 

• A good educational grounding – You need to have a good standard of education, with most schools stipulating GCSE level of education, with a grade C or above in Maths and English. Some TA posts will also ask for GCSE level education in sciences.

• TA qualifications – There are numerous TA qualifications and courses that you can complete in order to show a level of skill and competency. Completing TA qualifications can also demonstrate that you can exercise the expected standard of professional conduct.

To volunteer in a school, nursery, college or another educational setting, contact the school or organisation direct.

Most will welcome volunteers but you will need to be prepared to undergo a DBS check, as well as to be supervised in the initial stages of your placement. 

In some cases, volunteers will often be taken on in a paid capacity, or used to provide extra-curricular activities.

TA posts are sought after, and thus you will need to show you are qualified, that you have an awareness of some of the key additional learning and behavioural challenges students face, and that you are experienced.

Some schools look to TAs to challenge their more ‘able and talented’ students. This means that you might supervise a small group or provide one-to-one sessions where students complete further work on a certain subject. Again, TAs are instrumental in helping gifted children to reach their potential.

Continuing Professional Development

TAs are encouraged to continually develop their skill set. This can be done in numerous ways:

  • Undertake the Higher-Level Teaching Assistant qualification – HLTAs are sought after as they can provide short-term cover for absent teaching colleagues. TAs usually complete this qualification alongside their work in a school or college.
  • Specialist certificates – Some TAs specialise in key areas, something that makes them a valuable resource. For example, working with children with speech and language needs and/or disabilities (such as poor motor skills).
  • English as an additional language – In some city schools and colleges, students do not always speak English as their first language, and they may need significant help in learning English and continuing their education. There can also be many cultural challenges present, with schools relying on EAL trained TAs to provide the support these students need.
  • Gifted and Talented – Providing advanced learning opportunities for gifted and talented students are also welcome skills in the classroom. As a TA, you may wish to specialise in this field.
  • Inclusive learning – The ways in which we learn need to vary depending on the skills we are attempting to gain. It is no different in a school or college, and this is why a TA skilled in creating an inclusive and informal learning outside of the classroom is highly sought after. From challenging students with physical activities to creating clubs that answer their basic needs, a TA is instrumental in helping children and young people reach their potential.

There are many routes for TA progression. As well as specialising in key areas (such as additional learning needs), being a TA is also an excellent stepping-stone to becoming a teacher.

If you are interested in teaching, being a TA provides you with a realistic insight into today’s world of education. Many schools also support TAs who are looking to make the transition into teaching. More importantly, being a TA has a positive impact on the learning of all the students with whom you work.

For more information, you can read the full guide on how to become a Teaching Assistant here.

Learn here how you can become a Higher Level Teaching Assistant or how to transition from a TA to teacher

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