How to become a teaching assistant

What is a teaching assistant? And what do you do to become a TA?

Tes Editorial

Teaching Assistant

Teaching assistants first became commonplace in schools in the early 2000s, so it is possible that, during your own school career, you never encountered them. Today, they are considered integral cogs in the running of a school, providing much-needed support directly to students. TAs provide a hands-on role in helping children to learn in a one-on-one setting or in groups.

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


What is a teaching assistant?

The role of TA is full of variety and an ability to be flexible is a requirement. Features of the job include: 

• Supporting the teacher with the delivery of the lesson.

• Supporting pupils with learning difficulties or disabilities.

• Preparing the classroom for lessons, such as 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. 

Why might I want to become a TA?

The flexibility of the role is one of its key characteristics and is a lure for many people taking the position. 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 every 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 pupils with special needs and disability, 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.

Although the pay is typically pro rata, you can boost it by taking on extra responsibilities, such as a lunchtime midday assistant or after-school club supervisor. 

We spoke to three teaching assistants to see what the job is like day to day. Find out what they had to say.

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 TA, 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 experiences 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, numeracy and communication skills. 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, such as helping out with scouts or brownies. This will give you a better chance of securing a role and a good idea of whether you’re likely to enjoy it. 

As you’ll be working with children, you’ll have to pass a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. 

If you have any experience or knowledge of special educational needs, such as autism, dyslexia or speech delay, this would be particularly useful.

Sometimes TAs are employed to work with students who have particular medical needs, and a medical background or knowledge of medical conditions would be desirable.

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. To learn more about the switch from TA to teacher, see our Straight to Teaching QTS programme.

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 are determined by the local authority or school and it’s common for schools to support TAs 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.

For more information, refer to our story on the role of a HLTA.

What other careers could being a TA lead to?

The skills and experience you acquire while working as a TA could lead you into many other careers. As mentioned above, many TAs go on to train to be HLTAs or move into classroom teaching.

Other routes might be into more therapeutic professions, such as speech and language therapy, or working for organisations such as the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. 

TAs sometimes remain in education but specialise in a particular area of interest: for example, habilitation for students with specific learning needs, such as vision impairment.

Where am I most likely to get a TA job?

Primary, secondary and special schools all have teaching assistants as an 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.

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. Because of the more complex needs of special-school pupils, it is not uncommon for classes to have several teaching assistants. 

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