How to become a teaching assistant

We’ve pulled together all the essential information you need to decide whether the pivotal role of teaching assistant might be right for you.

What is a teaching assistant?

Teaching assistants are vital in the smooth running of primary and secondary schools where they usually work alongside class teachers.The role is varied and often includes the following:

  • Working one to one or with small groups of pupils
  • Supporting pupils with learning difficulties or disabilities
  • Preparing the classroom for lessons eg setting up equipment
  • Tidying up and keeping the classroom in good order
  • Creating displays of pupils’ work
  • Helping on school outings or at school events

Teaching assistants, learning support assistants and classroom assistants (a term mainly used in Scotland) do broadly similar roles, though this will vary from school to school. You can find more information on our teaching assistant typical job description page.  

Why might I want to become a teaching assistant?

Teaching assistant roles are very flexible Full and part time roles are common and as they are term time only it can be an ideal job if you have children of your own. It is a very rewarding role which will see you having an impact on the lives of the children you work with day to day. It’s also possible to specialise in areas that interest you, or complement your skills. If you speak a foreign language, have an aptitude for working with special needs pupils or have a passion for a specific subject, your school may encourage you to develop your skills in these areas and carry out a more specialised role.

What qualifications do I need?

There are no nationally specified requirements for becoming a teaching assistant – though each local authority or school will outline their specific requirements. Once you’re working as a teaching assistant, you will usually complete an induction course and many local authorities will offer you the opportunity for training and development once you’re in post.   

Are there any specific skills or experience that are highly valued?

You’ll be acting as a role model and mentor for the children you work with, so it’s vital that you have good reading, writing and numeracy skills. Great communication skills are a must too as you’ll need to be able to communicate well both with your colleagues and with the pupils in your care. Good organisational skills, patience, flexibility, creativity and an ability to build relationships with children, teachers and parents are also skills that will stand you in good stead.

Ideally you should have some experience of working with children – perhaps volunteering to listen to children read, or helping out with Scouts or Brownies. This will both give you a better chance of securing a role, and give you a good idea of whether you’re likely to enjoy it. 

As you’ll be working with children, you’ll have to pass a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check. Schools are very strict on this as they’re responsible for safeguarding the welfare of the young people in their care. 

Is there a possibility of career progression?

Some teaching assistants go on to train as teachers – and working as a teaching assistant can be an excellent first step on this long term career path. There is also quite a lot of scope for career progression within the teaching assistant role itself - there are four grades of teaching assistant. 

The exact requirements for each grade is determined by the local authority or school and it’s common for schools to support teaching assistants in completing the qualification and training required to progress as a teaching assistant. To progress beyond entry level (known as TA1) you will usually need to complete an NVQ or equivalent. 

The highest grade of teaching assistant is a ‘Higher Level Teaching Assistant’ or HLTA.  At this level you might:

  • Have a role in planning some lessons
  • Be involved in developing support materials
  • Specialise in a particular subject
  • Lead a whole class under supervision
  • Be responsible for supporting other support staff

To become a HLTA, you need to meet the national HLTA standards. When you’re ready, your school can support you in making the transition from teaching assistant to HLTA. For more information refer to our teaching assistant career development article and our page on the role of the HLTA.

Where am I most likely to get a teaching assistant job?

Primary, secondary and special schools all have teaching assistants as important part of their staff team. The role varies between the different settings, in a secondary school you are more likely to specialise in a subject, or be assigned to a specific pupil with special needs for instance whereas in a primary school you may take on a more general role, working with a particular class regularly across all areas of the curriculum.  In a special school, you may be assigned to a particular pupil, or work regularly with a class. Due to the more complex needs of special school pupils, it is not uncommon for classes to have more than one teaching assistant. 

There are currently 230,000 teaching assistants working in primary schools, 65,000 working in secondary schools and 30,000 working in special schools. 

More information on becoming a teaching assistant

Information about Higher Level Teaching assistants from the TDA

The National Association of Teaching Assistants

TES Teaching Assistant Forum

Tips on applying for teaching assistant roles

Teaching assistant career development

Teaching assistant job interview advice

Typical teaching assistant job description – What does the job involve?

Becoming a higher level teaching assistant

Teaching assistant pay and conditions

Teaching assistant interview question bank

Find a job as a teaching assistant on TES Jobs

View all the teaching assistant jobs

View other support positions

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