The Teaching Assistant Guide

Table of Contents

    The Teaching Assistant Role: An Opportunity to Make a Difference

    The number of teaching assistants (TAs) in UK schools has more than tripled since 2003, reflecting their increasing value in today’s education system. This rise stems largely from efforts to ease teacher workload pressures and promote the inclusion of students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in mainstream schools. TAs play a vital part in facilitating this inclusion and providing critical support to vulnerable students.

    Paul Whiteman of the NAHT headteachers’ union affirms, “TAs do an incredible job – they are the unsung heroes of the education system, providing the support for vulnerable children that is so vital.” Expenditure on TAs is a common use of the Pupil Premium, additional funding based on the number of students eligible for Free School Meals. TAs can have a truly meaningful impact in the lives of disadvantaged students.
    The teaching assistant role, while challenging, is deeply rewarding for those passionate about empowering children. If you are an empathetic, dedicated individual, it may be the perfect way to gain experience in schools. As a TA, you’ll provide classroom and learning support under teacher direction, working with individuals, small groups or entire classes. You may be allocated to a specific teacher, tailoring support to their lessons and students. Or you may join a team of SEN TAs led by the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) to aid students requiring additional assistance.

    What is a Teaching Assistant?

    Core responsibilities include assisting with lesson planning, activity supervision, marking and individualised instruction. The role calls for creativity, patience and commitment to accommodate diverse learning needs. It offers the profound opportunity to connect with students, gaining their trust and helping them thrive. You’ll collaborate with staff but also rely on your own initiative and judgment in supporting students’ growth. If you want to make a difference in children’s lives, a TA role enables you to do so each day. Witnessing students succeed with your guidance is a truly gratifying experience.

    We have written more about the role of a special educational needs (SEN) teaching assistant.

    Becoming a Teaching Assistant

    In this article, we outline the responsibilities that you can expect to have in the teaching assistant role, these roles may also be called classroom assistant, learning mentor or Learning Support Assistant (LSA). We’ll also detail the top qualities and requirements needed for securing a job. These are our other posts that may be of interest.

    Guide to Writing a Personal Statement for a Teaching Assistant Post

    Interview Questions and Answers for SEN Teaching Assistants.

    Effective Use of TAs:

    There is an increasing amount of evidence based practice about the effective use of teaching assistants in schools. The EEF suggest the following elements are examples of exemplary practice for teaching assistants supporting pupils. We have a full article on working effectively with teaching assistants.

    Collaborative Planning and Feedback

    • Teachers and teaching assistants (TAs) have allocated time to jointly plan lessons, review content, and discuss pupil progress.
    • School leadership establishes clear expectations on using preparation time effectively.
    • TAs have a solid grasp of lesson concepts, skills, outcomes and learning needs before entering the classroom.
    • Mechanisms exist to capture TAs’ insights to inform next instructional steps.

    Promoting Independence

    • TAs provide the minimal support needed, encouraging pupils to take ownership of learning.
    • TAs look for opportunities to allow independent attempts, success and challenge.
    • TAs use strong questioning skills to guide, not dominate, interactions.
    • TAs allow sufficient wait time for pupils to respond independently.

    Targeted, Structured Interventions

    • TAs deliver research backed interventions that extend class teaching.
    • Sessions are brief, regular, focused, and carefully scheduled.
    • Extensive training enables TAs to implement interventions with fidelity.
    • Teachers are aware of intervention structure and content.
    • Assessments guide joint teacherTA planning and review of interventions.
    • Connections are made between interventions and wider curriculum.

    Maximising Classroom Integration

    • Teachers ensure highquality teaching reaches all pupils, especially lower attainers.
    • TAs work with various pupils to supplement, not replace, the teacher.
    • TA support enables access to classroom teaching for specific individuals/groups.
    • Teachers and TAs work as a team with clarity on their respective roles.
    • TA deployment responds flexibly to evolving pupil needs.
    • TAs support wholeclass delivery, rove, and assist with admin tasks.

    What are the responsibilities of a teaching assistant?

    Dynamic, coordinated partnerships between school staff help pupils make progress. Teachers and TAs respond to pupils’ ‘real time’ needs when support is focussed and immediate. The responsibilities of a teaching assistant can vary significantly from day to day. This makes it a varied role that will keep you on your toes. Making best use of TAs is consistent with schools’ obligations under the SEND Code of Practice. TAs work with a range of pupils within the class and supplement and extend teachers’ work, rather than replace them. Support for specific individuals or groups is structured so it helps them access general classroom teaching. They’re vital in helping children gain literacy and numeric skills, particularly at key stage one.

    Some teaching assistants work with children with special educational needs or whose first language isn’t English, while higher level teaching assistants may take on additional responsibilities such as teaching classes on their own, covering planned absences and allowing teachers time to plan and mark.

    Responsibilities include: 

    • Preparing the classroom for lessons and tidying it up afterwards 
    • Helping pupils with their learning, focus on maths, reading and writing
    • Assisting with lesson planning 
    • Supporting children across the curriculum 
    • Providing extra assistance to children with special needs (SEND)
    • Recording and reporting a student’s progress to the teacher 
    • Marking work and contributing to assessment systems with comments
    • Motivating and encouraging students 
    • Supervising students during school trips or activities 
    • Attending meetings 
    • Looking after children who are unwell 
    • Running lunchtime clubs
    • Managing playtime activities
    • Accompanying pupils to Forest school 
    • Swimming or Lifeguard duties especially if the school has a hydropool

    Higher level teaching assistants may also take additional responsibilities, such as: 

    • teaching classes on their own 
    • covering planned absences 
    • supervising group activities
    • setting up equipment for lessons and keeping classrooms safe and tidy
    • helping deliver programmes of learning activities
    • adapting or creating appropriate teaching resources and materials
    • motivating and encouraging pupils
    • monitoring and recording children’s behaviour and progress
    • helping with school events, trips and activities.
    • managing other learning support staff 

    What are the qualities required to be a teaching assistant?

    Becoming a teaching assistant isn’t for everyone. It takes a particular individual to thrive in the role. In addition to being committed and passionate about helping children, you also need the following qualities: 

    • Good communication skills with the ability to communicate clearly to teachers and students 
    • Active listening skills 
    • Compassion and sensitivity towards children 
    • Knowledge of the curriculum  
    • Ability to use a computer 
    • Can work well under pressure 
    • Ability to adapt to whatever the situation requires 
    • Maturity and professionalism 
    • Excellent communication skills and the ability to relate to people of all ages and backgrounds
    • Good literacy and numeracy
    • Organisational skills
    • Patience and the ability to manage challenging behaviour
    • Sensitivity and understanding for building good relationships with children
    • Excellent verbal communication skills
    • Active listening skills to understand the childrens’ needs
    • Patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
    • To be flexible and open to change for working on different activities
    • To enjoy working with other people
    • The ability to teach pupils how to do something
    • The ability to create the best conditions for learning new concepts
    • To be able to carry out basic tasks on a computer or tablet

    A Career as a Teaching Assistant

    Teaching/Classroom Assistant Employers

    • colleges and sixth forms
    • academies
    • independent schools
    • nurseries
    • primary schools
    • secondary schools
    • special schools
      • SEMH (Social Emotional and Mental Health)
      • PMLD (Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties)
      • Autism provisions
      • VI (Visual Impairment) and MSI (Multisensory Impairment) provisions
      • Schools for Deaf Children
      • Alternative Provision
      • PCSN (Profound Severe and Complex Needs)
    • tutoring services

    Routes into the teaching assistant job include:

    • a college course
    • an apprenticeship
    • volunteering within the setting – Look on the school’s website to see if they have a volunteers policy
    • applying directly when job adverts are posted
    • Work experience placements – 

    Qualifications Required To Be a Teaching Assistant

    Schools may ask for teaching assistant applicants to have, or to be working towards:

    • 2 or more GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D), or equivalent, for a level 2 course
    • 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, for a level 3 course
    • 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including English and maths for a T level

    There are no set educational requirements for teaching assistant jobs, so this is a role that’s open to both university graduates and school leavers. Some schools may ask for applicants who are educated to A level standard or equivalent as a minimum. If you’re a graduate, you can have a degree in any subject to become a teaching assistant. I have worked with some TAs who used to be teachers or senior school leaders and wanted a job without the workload expectations.

    Whatever your background, you could consider taking a part time or short online course to help prepare for work as a teaching assistant. Many are available online and help you explore the basics of education, different kinds of schools and how to keep children safe.  However, experience of working with children is essential. You can gain this by approaching schools directly to ask for experience, voluntary work, job shadowing, or by helping at summer camps or play schemes.

    If you wanted to prepare “off the job” You could take a college qualification for example:

    • Level 2 or 3 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools
    • Level 3 Diploma in Childcare and Education
    • T Level in Education and Early Years
    The Teaching Assistant Role: An Opportunity to Make a Difference

    Pay and Career Options For TAs

    This is a current challenge for schools and staff. The NCFE, an educational charity that also provides qualifications for those in the teaching sector, conducted a survey of teaching assistants (TAs) across the UK and found that three quarters had thought about leaving in the past year. Annual pay for TAs can be as low as £12,000 a year, for term time only contracts.

    • Starting salaries for fulltime, permanent TAs (level 1) are typically around £18,300.
    • With increased responsibility (level 2), you can expect to earn £18,880 to £19,000.
    • Experienced TAs (level 3) and those with additional specialisms or SEN responsibilities can earn £19,260 to £25,000.

    Many TAs are employed on part time, term time only or casual (zero hours or cover) contracts, so actual take home pay can be less. Look at the job advert if it says Pro-rata this means you will get that wage reduced by the number of weeks not worked usually the school holidays.

    There isn’t a national pay scale for teaching assistants. However, most schools follow the local government pay scale for support staff, this varies depending on the type of school. Unlike state funded schools, independent, academy and free schools don’t have to follow LA pay guidelines.

    Professional Development (CPD) Opportunities for Teaching Assistants

    EEF evidence says that upskilling TAs raises their professional profile and status, and makes them feel more valued. Once employed you’ll typically take an induction course in house which will be a mix of face to face training and online statutory training, followed by ongoing teaching assistant training and development. This usually consists of a mixture of in house and externally led training courses usually during training or INSET days. Often training is provided by your local Specialist Teaching and Learning Service (STLS). Ofsted will expect some things of teachers, that teachers have received ongoing training on how to manage, deploy and work with TAs. That TAs are fully equipped with the skills to support learning for pupils across the attainment range. That their skills and particular specialisms are understood and utilised by the teacher.

    Areas of statutory and bespoke teaching assistant training:

    • working with pupils with specific learning difficulties or disabilities, such as dyslexia, autism or poor motor skills
    • supporting English as an additional language (EAL) pupils
    • supporting gifted and talented pupils
    • engaging students with emotional and behavioural difficulties
    • promoting inclusive learning environments for students
    • child protection policies and procedures.
    • Thrive or Nurture approaches
    • behaviour training
    • sensory processing

    Professional development is generally encouraged in all schools with the caveat of time and financial limitations. The school will usually be support you to complete the qualifications and training needed to progress within school. These can include Level 2 and 3 qualifications in supporting teaching and learning, if you don’t already have one, which are completed while working in a learning environment. With experience you can take a Level 4 Certificate for the Advanced Practitioner in Schools and Colleges. This work based qualification provides opportunities to develop skills in areas such as leadership, mentoring and coaching. Experienced teaching assistants with the right skills and experience can apply for higher level teaching assistant (HTLA) status.

    What is the best union for teaching assistants?

    I would suggest that anyone working in education joins a union. In the UK there are three main unions that represent teaching assistants. Each has a different offer and costs. Generally people join a union for protection in case of allegations or schools changing pay and conditions including redundancy. It is worth seeing if your school has a union representative on the staff (they work for the union alongside their school role) and finding our which union other staff belong to. Three three main unions for support staff are:

    Recommended Reading For Teaching Assistants

    How To Be an Outstanding Teaching Assistant
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