How to become a teaching assistant

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Graphic of a classroom

If you love working with children, becoming a teaching assistant could be a fun and rewarding way to start your career.

You’ll help students overcome challenges in their learning and their life, have a creative, hands-on role in the classroom – and no two days will ever be the same!

Choose to train further and you could even teach classes, plan lessons, and have your very own subject specialism. Read on to find out how to become a teaching assistant, including the teaching assistant qualifications needed and the teaching assistant wage.

'Being a teaching assistant is a fun, rewarding career that really makes a difference'

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What do teaching assistants do?

Teaching assistants, also known as “classroom assistants” or “learning support assistants”, help students who need extra support, either one-on-one or in a small group. This means the teacher can concentrate on teaching the class, while students get the help they need.

Teaching assistants work in all types of schools. According to the TES, there are about 230,000 working in primary schools, 65,000 in secondary schools, and 30,000 in special schools.

Tasks include:

  • Teaching assistants give extra help to students individually and

    in groups

    Supporting students who are struggling with a particular area of work, such as reading and writing.
  • Helping students with learning difficulties (such as dyslexia) or impairments.
  • Keeping students on task.
  • Helping the teacher prepare for lessons – for example, by setting up equipment for a chemistry demonstration – and tidying up afterwards.
  • Creating displays of students’ work.
  • Helping students who are upset or unwell.
  • Help run extra-curricular classes such as breakfast or after-school clubs.

What is it like to be a teaching assistant?

Teaching assistants have a fair amount of flexibility, often being able to choose between part-time and full-time hours. They get to take the school holidays off, and unlike teachers, don’t have much preparation to do while they’re away.

Teaching assistants usually enter the profession because they like working with children (dur!), which makes the work rewarding and (usually!) fun.

Like teachers, teaching assistants sometimes have to deal with unpredictable situations and bad behaviour, which means you may need to develop a thick skin and a cool attitude under pressure.

You’ll be a role model and a mentor to students, which means it comes with a big slice of responsibility.

The best way to get a feel for what it’s like to be a teaching assistant is to here from them. Check out this video, in which lots of teaching assistants explain what they do and how it makes them feel:

What skills do teaching assistants need?

As you’ll have seen in the video, teaching assistants really care about the children they work with, and believe that the extra help they provide is important in helping students develop.

To become a teaching assistant, you also need to have:

  • The ability to explain complicated things simply, so that students who haven’t understood the teacher don't get behind.
  • Excellent people skills. You won’t just work with students, but parents and teachers as well.
  • Good numeracy and literacy, as an important part of the role is to help students in these areas.
  • Good organisational skills.
  • The patience to help students who learn slowly, and to deal with difficult behaviour.

It will also help you become a teaching assistant if:

  • You’re creative, so you can help with displays, and arts and craft activities.
  • You speak a language other than English which is common in your area. This way, you can help students who are still learning English keep up with the lesson.

What qualifications do I need to be a teaching assistant?

You don’t need any specific teaching assistant qualifications, although schools will generally look for:

  • GCSEs at C+ / 4+ in English and maths.

Experience working with young people will also help. You might have gained this through:

You’ll need to get checked out by the Disclosure and Barring Service (generally known as a DBS check) before you can start work. This is to make sure you don’t haven’t committed any crimes which could stop you from working with children. Don’t worry – for most people, it’s just a formality!

How much do teaching assistants get paid?

The teaching assistant wage is not high. Typically, you’ll earn between £11,500 and £19,000 per year, and work between 32 and 40 hours a week.

Although you get the holidays off, some schools link pay to the number of weeks you work.

What teaching assistant training is there?

With further training, teaching assistants can even teach lessons

Once you become a teaching assistant, you don’t have to stop there!

There are four grades of teaching assistant, and you’ll take on more responsibility and extra tasks as you progress through the levels. To start progressing, you’ll need to complete a level 2 qualification (such as an NVQ) in support work.

When you reach the top grade, you’ll become a “higher level teaching assistant”, or HLTA for short. HLTAs do things like:

  • Help plan lessons.
  • Develop support materials for lessons.
  • Specialise in a particular subject (or subjects).
  • Lead a class, under supervision.
  • Manage other support staff.

At the moment, it’s difficult for schools to get the funding they need to offer teaching assistant training to progress to HLTAs. If you’d like to progress, it might be worth asking about this when you apply for a job.

You can earn more as an HLTA, typically up to around £22,000.

Some teaching assistants go on to train as teachers. It may even be possible to train in the school where you work as a teaching assistant. Becoming a teacher involves gaining qualified teacher status or “QTS”, which you can read about in our guide to becoming a teacher.

How to become a teaching assistant

  • Most schools and colleges are run by local councils, so the best way to find vacancies is to search their websites.
  • Independent (private) schools may also have vacancies. If you'd like to work in an independent school, you should find out if there are any within a commutable distance, and look on the careers or vacancies pages of their website.
  • Try Googling "teaching assistant jobs in [your area]" – any jobs sites advertising vacancies will come up, with your local council's site near the top.
  • You can also train to be a teaching assistant with an apprenticeship (a paid job with training). Visit the Find An Apprenticeship website and search "teaching assistant" to see vacancies. You'll have to set up an account to search.

For an insider view on what it's like to become a teaching assistant, check out our interview with Sophia, who tells us how much she loves her job - and how she got there in the first place.

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Career Zone: Education & Teaching

Image credits

Lead image by GraphiqaStock via Freepik

Teaching assistant with girl in pink T-shirt by US Navy via Wikimedia Commons

Teaching assistant taking class via Flickr

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