How to become an HLTA in 7 steps (definition and skills)

Updated 30 September 2022

Higher-level teaching assistants (HLTAs) are a specialised group of teaching assistants who train to work with children and young people who have complex learning needs. HLTAs are also responsible for monitoring the progress of pupils with special educational needs or disabilities to provide tailored support during lessons. Learning more about how to become an HLTA can help you to start taking the necessary steps now and decide whether this is the career for you. In this article, we explain how to become an HLTA along with what they do and what skills to highlight in applications.

What is an HLTA?

An HLTA does all things regular teaching assistants do just with an increased level of responsibility. They have gained the relevant HLTA qualification and although they usually work alongside teachers to deliver lessons, they can teach classes themselves. An HLTA usually supports a teacher in a mainstream classroom or works alongside teachers in specialist settings. As most HLTAs support children and young people with special educational needs (SEN), they often work directly with individuals or small groups, but they do sometimes take part in whole-class activities. Their daily duties vary depending on the nature and severity of their pupils' needs.

HLTAs keep pupils on track with their lessons and making sure they're engaged and motivated throughout the lesson. As an HLTA, you may be responsible for managing a student's behaviour in the classroom and handling disruptive behaviour by showing genuine empathy towards students who are acting out or causing trouble for other pupils. This goes beyond discipline and focuses more on conflict resolution, engaging with children and implementing modern forms of consequence that move away from punishment and towards reinforcement.

Related: How to become a teaching assistant (with skills and FAQs)

How to become an HLTA

To learn how to become an HLTA, follow these steps:

1. Study for your teaching assistant qualification

The first step to becoming a teaching assistant is to obtain your qualification. There are several options available, but it's important to note that not all of them are accredited by the Institute of Education. It's possible to get a teaching assistant qualification via a range of different methods, including a BTEC Level 3 Certificate in Education and Training, a degree in education or a foundation degree in learning disabilities or adult education.

2. Develop the necessary skills

The HLTA job role is a senior position that requires high-level teaching and communication skills. It's important to showcase your suitability for this role by developing the following:

  • communication

  • good organisation

  • experience in working with children and young people

  • an understanding of child development, including child protection issues

  • understanding of attainment and achievement in schools

  • knowledge and experience of inclusive education, behaviour management and special educational needs (SEN)

  • knowledge of school policies and procedures, safeguarding, pastoral care, equal opportunities and inclusion

  • ability to work independently and as part of a team

  • reading, writing and numeracy

  • willingness to stay up to date with educational policy and training

Your ability to communicate effectively is one of the most important factors to your success as an HLTA. You're required to explain concepts clearly and concisely, while also listening carefully when students ask questions or present concerns. Understanding how to communicate with SEN students in a way they can process and understand is essential as well.

Related: How to write a professional teaching assistant CV

3. Get experience working with children and young people

It's possible to find out about opportunities by contacting local schools directly or looking on job websites. Many HLTAs begin by working as normal teaching assistants, using the support and funding provided by the school they work at to train as HLTAs. During this time, they're able to build up a rapport with members of staff and the senior leadership team, which can be beneficial when HLTA positions become available.

4. Begin the process of taking the HLTA assessment

If you're already working as a teaching assistant, talk to the SEN lead at your school and explain you're looking to become qualified as an HLTA. To become an HLTA, you require the support of your school and headteacher plus the necessary funding, which is usually provided by the local authority. During the HLTA assessment process, show you meet the HLTA standards. To establish what's required of you, the first step is to complete a training needs analysis and a ‘preparation for assessment'. The school, regional provider of assessment or local authority carry these out and help identify what skills and experience you still require.

Related: What is a skills assessment test and how is it used?

5. Complete a level two or above qualification in literacy and numeracy

Another requirement for the HLTA assessment includes having a nationally recognised qualification in literacy and numeracy at level two or higher. Accepted qualifications include:

  • GCSE English or English Literature in grades A*–C (4–9)

  • CSE English Studies CSE grade 1

  • GCE O-level pass in English language or English literature

  • CEE English grades I, II and III

  • Basic Skills Certificate in adult literacy level 2

  • Key Skills Communication level 2

  • Functional Skills English for speakers of other languages (ESOL)

  • GCSE Mathematics in grades A*–C (4–9)

  • CSE Mathematics/arithmetic grade 1

  • GCE O-level pass in Mathematics

  • CEE Mathematics grades I, II and III

  • Basic Skills Certificate in adult numeracy level 2

  • Key Skills Application of number level 2

  • Functional Skills English level 2 Maths level 2

If you don't already have one of these qualifications, ask your head teacher for recommendations on a suitable course. They may even be able to assist with funding.

Related: Writing a personal statement for teaching assistant roles

6. Attend the HLTA preparation course

After you've completed the 'preparation for assessment' and have the relevant level two qualification, your local authority can enrol you on the HLTA preparation course. This is a three-day course that helps you learn about the professional standards in HLTA roles and how these relate to assisting SEN students in schools. It also prepares you for the assessment tasks and the school visit.

Related: 34 special needs teaching assistant interview questions and answers

7. Take the HLTA school visit assessment

An HLTA assessor visits your school for half a day. During the visit, they assess you against the HLTA standards and spend time talking with you and looking at the documentary evidence that supports the assessment tasks you have already completed. The assessor also speaks to your head teacher plus a teacher who has been closely associated with your work. These discussions allow the assessor to explore particular aspects of your work and confirm your suitability for the role.

Related: What does a teaching assistant do? (Plus duties and salary)

Teaching assistant responsibilities and duties

The role of an HLTA varies from school to school, but their typical duties include:

  • supporting the emotional and social development of pupils and reporting any issues if required

  • helping the teacher manage challenging pupil behaviour and promote good behaviour

  • listening to pupils read, either as a group or one to one

  • monitoring pupils' progress and providing regular feedback to teachers

  • carrying out administrative tasks, such as preparing the classroom for activities

  • administering first aid where necessary and comforting pupils who are upset

  • making resources for use in class

  • providing support during exams, going on school trips and covering staff absences

  • helping with extra-curricular activities such as after-school clubs and revision sessions

  • providing additional support to pupils who require more help with their learning or behaviour

  • working alongside other support staff to develop learning plans

  • working with parents to ensure that children are up-to-date with their learning objectives

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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