How to become a teaching assistant (With skills and FAQS)

Updated 6 September 2023

If you're interested in working with children and helping them to progress and thrive at school, then a career as a teaching assistant could be very rewarding for you. There are several ways of qualifying as a teaching assistant, but the most important requirement is a passion for education and a desire to help children receive the most out of their school experience. In this article, we discuss the different paths to work as a teaching assistant and the skills needed for the role. We also answer some commonly asked questions about working as a teaching assistant.

What does a teaching assistant do?

A teaching assistant (or TA) provides support to the teacher in a classroom and helps with different aspects of children's education. Teaching assistants sometimes work with pupils with additional learning needs, or just provide general support within the classroom setting so the teacher can focus their energy on teaching.

The roles and responsibilities of a teaching assistant depend on the TA's level of experience and qualifications, as well as the needs of the school or class. A teaching assistant's duties could include:

  • Helping teachers to prepare materials and equipment for lessons

  • Helping individual pupils and small groups to complete work assigned by the teacher

  • Supervising children, including on school trips and during school events like sports days

  • Getting the classroom ready for lessons and clearing away any equipment or materials afterwards

  • Helping teachers to manage children's behaviour in the classroom and helping children to stay on task during lessons

  • Looking after pupils who have to be taken out of the classroom, perhaps because they feel upset or unwell

  • Taking part in or leading extra-curricular activities, such as after-school clubs or breakfast clubs

  • Taking careful note of pupil's work and progress, and reporting this to teachers

  • Ensuring safeguarding procedures are strictly followed to provide a safe and healthy environment for pupils

  • Creating displays of children's work in the classroom or around the school

Duties of a Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) may also include:

  • Delivering tailored activities assigned by the teacher to small groups or individual pupils

  • Leading class activities with the assistance of the teacher

  • Leading classes during planned absences, such as when the teacher is on leave or performing other tasks

  • Assisting with lesson planning and marking

  • Assisting other support staff as required

Related: How to write a teaching assistant cover letter (With examples)

What skills do you need to be a teaching assistant?

To be a successful and well-liked teaching assistant, you need many skills and attributes, including:

  • Excellent active listening skills that help you understand the needs of children, who may not be the best at expressing themselves

  • Sensitivity and understanding to build strong relationships with your pupils

  • Excellent skills in verbal communication and the ability to motivate children to learn

  • Flexibility and willingness to work on different tasks each day

  • The ability to teach children how to do various tasks and help them learn difficult concepts

  • Patience and the ability to remain calm under pressure or in stressful situations

  • IT skills to perform basic operations on a computer or handheld device

  • Time management and organisational skills

Related: Interpersonal skills: Definitions and examples

How to become a teaching assistant

There is more than one way to become a teaching assistant. The route you choose may depend on your existing qualifications and work experience. Follow these steps for the most typical route to becoming a teaching assistant:

  1. Get qualified. Although you don't always need a specific certification to become a teaching assistant, studying for a teaching assistant college course, apprenticeship or T Level is a good place to start.

  2. Gain relevant work experience. Depending on the qualification you choose, your studies may include working on a placement in a school. If not, you could gain experience by volunteering at a local school, or even a nursery or summer school.

  3. Highlight your skills on your CV. If you've never worked as a teaching assistant before, your CV should highlight the transferable skills you've gained through other jobs, volunteering or work experience. This could include skills such as communication or time management.

  4. Apply to local schools and education authorities. To find work as a teaching assistant, look at the websites of schools in your area and your local school authority.

Related: Higher apprenticeships: Everything you need to know

Other ways to become a teaching assistant

Although a teaching assistant qualification will help you in your journey to becoming a teaching assistant, it's not necessarily a requirement. You could also become a teaching assistant through:

Directly applying to become a teaching assistant

If you already have experience working with children in an educational setting or a qualification in nursery work or childcare, you may be able to get a job as a teaching assistant without a specific teaching assistant qualification. Check the websites of local schools, educational authorities and academy trusts for open positions.

Each school sets their own entry requirements, but as well as some experience working with children, they usually want to see at least five GCSEs at grade A*–C including English and maths. It's beneficial to highlight your transferable skills from other jobs and relate them to the teaching assistant job description.

Related: Writing a teaching assistant cover letter with no experience

Volunteering to get TA experience

If you have not worked with children before but would like to become a TA, volunteering can be a great way to gain some hands-on experience. If you have children, you could ask at their school if they need extra help, perhaps to assist children with reading once a week or to supervise pupils on school trips.

This kind of volunteer work can often lead to opportunities for paid work or the chance to gain relevant qualifications.

Related: A complete guide to teacher interview questions

FAQs about working as a teaching assistant

Here are the answers to some common questions about working as a teaching assistant:

Are there legal requirements for becoming a teaching assistant?

As the job involves working with children, you need to pass an advanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. You may have to pay for a DBS check yourself or sometimes your employer might pay on your behalf.

What can a teaching assistant earn?

The average salary for a teaching assistant is around £11,000 per year. Teaching assistants often work part-time hours, so the salary you earn depends on the number of hours you work as well as your experience and qualifications.

Some schools and local authorities pay teaching assistants on a term-time only scale. This means you receive a set percentage of the salary for a full-time role, but paid in 12 monthly instalments throughout the year.

Related: How to write a child care CV (And 10 skills to include)

What are the working hours for a teaching assistant?

The working hours for a teaching assistant are generally from early morning to mid-afternoon, Monday-Friday during term-time. The exact hours depend on the schools you're working at. Your school may also require you to attend training days and evening events like parents' evenings.

What holidays do teaching assistants get?

Teaching assistants usually only work during term-time, so working as a teaching assistant is a particularly attractive career for people with children. The exact amount of holiday time a TA gets depends on the local authority or individual school, but schools typically have around 13 weeks of holiday per year.

Some schools offer activities during the summer holidays, which you could choose to get involved in. You typically receive pay for these summer activities in addition to your normal salary. The school holidays also mean that school administrators typically restrict taking time off during term time.

What specialisms are available to a TA?

Some TAs take on a specialism, such as maths, literacy, Special Educational Needs (SEN) or working with children whose first language is not English. A specialism may involve further training.

What career progression is available to a teaching assistant?

With experience, you could train to be a Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA). HLTAs do all the things that other teaching assistants do but also have extra responsibilities. There is no official requirement for a qualification to be an HLTA. However, there is a nationally recognised Level 4 certificate for HLTAs.

Some teaching assistants go on to train as teachers. This requires further study, but having experience as a teaching assistant means that you are well-placed to be accepted on a foundation degree or degree course.


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