Support roles in Scottish schools

In Scotland teaching assistants are known as classroom assistants. Like teaching assistants in England, they work in schools to help teachers with a range of tasks in the classroom. However classroom assistants are not supposed to be used as stand-in teachers providing cover for whole classes.

However recent changes which cut supply teachers’ pay and resulted in recruitment difficulties have been followed by reports that some Scottish schools are asking classroom assistants to take classes because they cannot find alternative cover.

Other support roles available in Scottish schools

  • Special needs assistants, also known as special needs auxiliaries, SEN auxiliaries or support for learning assistants, work in schools helping children with a variety of special educational needs, including pupils with autism. They tend to work one-to-one with children.
  • Language assistants - native speakers of foreign languages – also work in Scottish schools, helping language teachers. However job prospects in this area appear poor with recent figures revealing that despite the Scottish Government’s pledge to ensure that pupils leave school with two foreign languages, the number of language assistants has dropped by 80 per cent, from 300 in 2005-06 to just 59 per cent in 2011.

Qualifications needed to get into these roles

No formal qualifications are required but doing a respected course and having previous experience will help your prospects of employment. A range of standard courses which are designed to be suitable for support staff in both England and Scotland are available.

Qualifications which are recognised throughout the UK include the NCFE Initial Training for Classroom Assistants, an NVQ Teaching Assistants Level 2 and 3 and an HNC in Childcare and Education.

Most local authorities also ask new support staff to undergo some form of induction training.

If you’re keen to do a Scottish Vocational Qualification it is worth asking if your local authority is willing to support you.

SVQs assess your skills in the workplace though you may also have to go to an FE college or training provider to learn the theory underpinning your chosen qualification. You will be assessed regularly in your workplace but do not sit any formal exam. Normally there will be somebody in your workplace who will help you to work towards your SVQ.

Obtaining an SVQ generally takes between 18 months and two years for an SVQ level 3 or one year for an SVQ level 2.

There are no time restrictions on how long you take to complete an SVQ, so you can work at your own pace.

Special needs assistants do not need any formal qualifications either but again they will improve your chances of getting work.

There is a Higher National Certificate and a Higher National Diploma in ‘supporting special learning needs’, which are specifically aimed at those who wish to work with children and adults with special learning needs.

The Early Years Childcare and Education level 3 qualification includes optional elements for some special needs staff.

What about career development?

Professional Development Awards have been developed for classroom assistants and support for learning assistants. However there is no equivalent of England’s Higher Level Teaching Assistant status in Scotland.

Are there any shortage areas?

The demand for support staff is variable across Scotland. Some councils are reducing the numbers of support staff to make savings following recent budget cuts. The market is very local. It is possible to land in the right place at the right time but it would be a very big risk to move somewhere in the hope of picking up a support staff job.

Support staff pay and conditions

Support roles are not well paid, although recent pay cuts mean that classroom assistants can now earn more than supply teachers doing short-term placements. Pay for support staff is set by each council so if you are flexible about where you’re based you stand a better chance of getting better pay.

A look through recent job advertisements reveals that Argyll and Bute is advertising a part time 12 hours per week classroom assistant position at £14,307-£15,165 pro rata. In Fife, a classroom assistant vacancy working 12.5 hours per week is advertised at £16,087 - £18,114 pro rata. Midlothian meanwhile is advertising a learning assistant post of 12.5 hours per week at £16,342 - £17,338 pro rata.

Applicants are generally asked to provide evidence of basic literacy and numeracy at Standard Grade General level, or equivalent, or a relevant qualification such as an SVQ2 in Early Years Care and Education or a National Certificate unit in Childcare and Education.

Candidates may also have to show evidence of previous experience of working in their chosen field and be willing to undergo additional training in areas such as first aid and calming techniques.

Where to go for more information on support roles in schools in Scotland

For more information on support staff qualifications visit the Scottish Qualifications Authority website.

For more on supporting learners visit the Education Scotland site.

More articles about teaching in Scotland

Considering the move from England to Scotland?

The differences between teaching in England and Scotland

The teaching jobs market in Scotland

Popular teaching in Scotland job searches on TES

View all the teaching jobs in Scotland currently advertised on the TES

Teaching jobs in Aberdeen

Teaching jobs in Edinburgh

Teaching jobs in Glasgow

Headteacher jobs in Scotland

View all secondary teaching and lecturing jobs in Scotland


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