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Skill National Bureau for Students with Disabilities
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Becoming a teaching assistant

If you enjoy working with children, are interested in their development and learning and have good organisational skills, you could consider becoming a teaching assistant (TA).


What is a teaching assistant?

Teaching assistants work alongside school teachers, helping pupils to get the most out of their learning. They support individuals or groups of pupils, and they assist the teacher in the classroom. Some TAs specialise in literacy, numeracy, special educational needs, English as an additional language or the creative arts.

Teaching assistants don't usually lead lessons but they may supervise a class if the teacher is temporarily unavailable. The role depends on the age of the children. In a nursery or primary school, with children aged three to eleven, tasks can include:

  • setting up equipment and getting things ready for lessons
  • helping pupils who need extra support to complete tasks
  • listening to children read, reading to them or telling stories
  • comforting and caring for children if they have an accident or are upset
  • helping the teacher to maintain records
  • helping with school activities, sports events and outings

Most teaching assistants in secondary schools work as special needs assistants. This may include taking notes for pupils in lessons or carrying bags and books. Secondary schools usually have learning support departments, where teaching assistants work with individuals or small groups of pupils to complement the work being done in class.

Full-time teaching assistants normally work regular school hours, Monday to Friday, term time only. They may sometimes have to be at school for training days or parents' evenings. Full-time salaries range from £10,000 to £15,000 depending upon experience and responsibilities. Many teaching assistants work part-time.


Skills and qualifications

There are no set qualifications to work as a TA. However, increasing competition for vacancies means that employers can select candidates with a range of skills and qualifications. Local authorities and individual schools decide what they want, therefore you should do some research locally.

For an entry level position, you'll usually need to demonstrate good reading, writing and numeracy skills and have some experience of working with children.

A good starting point if you don't have previous experience is to volunteer part-time in a local school and then train as a teaching assistant.

The majority of qualifications are aimed at people who are already working or volunteering. You can work towards qualifications in supporting teaching and learning in schools, such as NVQs and Apprenticeships at Levels 2 and 3. You can also take training courses to support pupils you'll be working with, for example sign language classes to support deaf pupils. When you're experienced you can study towards foundation degrees in subjects such as teaching and learning support, or education studies. These qualifications can be stepping stones to becoming a higher level teaching assistant (HLTA) or taking a course of initial teacher training.


Higher level teaching assistants

School support staff who want to develop their career, have more of an impact in the classroom, increase their subject knowledge and have a more involved role in supporting young people can work towards becoming a higher level teaching assistant (HLTA).

HLTAs have an increased level of responsibility and can expect to receive a slightly higher income than a regular teaching assistant. However pay rates are set by individual employers and salaries vary quite a lot.

You need to meet various standards for HLTA status, including gaining a nationally recognised qualification at level 2 or above in literacy and numeracy. You also need to demonstrate that you meet professional standards in relation to values and practice, knowledge and understanding and professional skills.

You'll need support from your school to organise funding, identify your training needs and prepare for the assessment process, which culminates in a half day assessment visit to your school. Qualified HLTA's can specialise in areas that particularly need classroom support, such as maths, science and food technology.


Disability support

Most schools and local authorities are positive about employing disabled people because they want to attract skilled individuals from a variety of backgrounds. Disabled teaching assistants can also provide an understanding of the difficulties that pupils sometimes face and help young people raise their aspirations.

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have to make reasonable adjustments for disabled staff. This means that, as well as not discriminating against you in the recruitment process, they're expected to provide support and make changes to the workplace to help you do your job. Colleges also have to make adjustments for disabled students if you're studying towards classroom support qualifications.

Common reasonable adjustments include making adjustments to buildings, providing specialist equipment and flexible working hours. If you're in a paid position, including if you're taking an Apprenticeship in supporting teaching and learning, you can apply for Access to Work funding. This government scheme can help by paying towards, for example, extra equipment costs and travel to work, which can include taxi fares.

Teachers TV has a Disability Equality Duty video which gives an insight into support for disabled school staff. It includes a feature on Henry Holmes, a visually-impaired teaching assistant who is one of our Teaching Ambassadors. Follow Henry as he takes his students on an outward-bound course and find out how he overcame obstacles to become a higher level teaching assistant (HLTA). You can read more about Henry on his case study page.


Further resources

The TDA website has detailed information on becoming a teaching assistant. You can visit their career development framework to learn more about qualifications. Skills4schools also has lots of useful information on training opportunities for support staff.

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