Ask any teaching assistant and they’ll no doubt tell you that no two days are the same. It’s an extremely varied role, and the tasks and responsibilities can change from one class to the next.
Teaching assistants provide support to those children who need it most, as well as taking some of the burden from classroom teachers. The work they do can sometimes go under the radar, making them something of an unsung hero outside of the school gates.
“When I used to tell people I was a teaching assistant, the most common response I got was, ‘Oh, so you just play all day!’” says Niall Robinson, a Year 4 teacher from Essex who worked as a teaching assistant for four years.
Playing all day and being paid for it sounds great, but that isn’t what a teaching assistant does.
What might a TA be asked to do?
TAs will be directed by both the special educational needs and disability coordinator (Sendco) and the class teacher. They will sometimes be placed in the classroom with the teacher, and sometimes in a separate working space with small groups. The type of role you are given will vary from school to school, but it pays to be be prepared for pretty much anything.
Some TAs are used as one-to-one support with students who have education health and care plans and others will be used for intervention work.
A TA could also be asked to read one to one with students, and this is particularly common in primary schools. There will also be times when they will just be generally supporting the teacher in class.
Every TA will need to complete paperwork reporting on the progress for the students they support.
Other roles could include supporting on school trips, creating displays, running clubs and supervising the playground area during break time.
“When you are a teaching assistant, you work with so many different members of staff, in every possible classroom, and taking on more roles than you can count,” says one former TA.
Will I be asked to plan?
There will be an element of planning in the role, but only so far as that a teaching assistant will design activities for the students they are working with, rather than a whole lesson.
It is possible that you will be given lesson plans to evaluate and adjust for the needs of your students, based on your assessment of their progress. If there is work that you have set the student during your one-to-one time, or intervention sessions, then you will be expected to mark it.
Why is a teaching assistant different from a teacher?
In many ways, the role of teaching assistant is very similar to a teacher: you have a responsibility to be professional and liaise with outside agencies, such as social workers, and relevant health care professionals, such as speech therapists.
If there is a safeguarding disclosure, you would report this straight to the safeguarding officer of the school. You will be expected to take charge of the class at times and issue them directions and lead activities.
However, the role is distinctly different in that you will not be the one planning and delivering the lessons. The teaching assistant is there to support the teacher, and should take instructions from the class teacher or Sendco.
That isn’t to say a teaching assistant shouldn’t use their own initiative – being able to respond to situations in a sensible manner is crucial for the role – but a teaching assistant should always be taking their lead from the teacher.
What qualifications do I need to be TA?
Although there isn’t a government requirement for teaching assistants to hold any specific qualifications, many person specifications stipulate that candidates should have Grade C/4 in English and maths.
If you don’t already have this qualification, then using the National Careers Service search facility can help you find a course to study for the qualifications, or you can study independently and sit as an external candidate. To do this, choose an exam board and then contact them about centres where you can sit as an external candidate. AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas and WJEC all offer English and maths GCSE.
What could I go on to do next?
Many teaching assistants go on to take other roles, in education and elsewhere. A natural progression would be to become a higher level teaching assistant, which would offer more responsibility and an improved salary.
It is also common for teaching assistants to go on to gain qualified teacher status, with some training providers allowing you to complete the practical parts of your course in your current school.
Find out more about how to convert from TA to teacher.