Teaching assistants have become an integral part of the modern classroom, supporting teachers and playing a pivotal role in children’s learning and development. With a significant number of responsibilities, schools and local authorities increasingly expect applicants for vacant teaching assistant (TA) positions to have some form of formal qualifications. In this guide, we’ll give you a rundown of becoming a teaching assistant and share what you can expect from the role.
What is a teaching assistant?
A teaching assistant or TA for short works in schools and colleges, providing support to teachers. TAs supervise classroom activities and work with children and young people to further their education. In some cases, teaching assistants will work on a one-to-one basis with children that have special educational needs (SEN).
Teaching assistant key responsibilities
The primary role of a teaching assistant is to support the teacher, but what does that entail?
TA Key responsibilities
The role and responsibility of a teaching assistant will differ between schools and your skills and experience, but broadly, you can expect your job to include all of the following:
- Preparing the classroom for lessons
- Reading to children and listening to them read
- Helping children that need extra support to complete exercises
- Assisting teachers with lesson planning
- Supporting teachers with behaviour management
- Taking care of children who have had an accident or are upset
- Supervising classroom activities
- Clearing away and tidying up after lessons
- Helping with planning and going on school trips
- Assisting with PE and sports events
- Carrying out administrative tasks
- Playing an active role in safeguarding children
- Assisting in the administration of medicine
- Covering lunchtime and breaktime duties
- Monitoring children’s development
- Experienced teaching assistants who have completed more qualifications may, in addition, be required to:
- Provide specialist support for English and maths
- Support the use of ICT in the classroom
- Engage in personal, professional development
- Support children’s speech and communication
- Support bilingual children
- Work with children that have special educational needs
As you can see, the role of a modern classroom assistant is diverse and requires several skills. Importantly though, it’s a role that almost anyone can do with the right mindset.
What can you earn as a teaching assistant?
Your earnings as a teaching assistant will be based on a pay scale that your employer sets, i.e. the local authority (LA) or school. What you earn will be affected by your experience and qualifications, with TAs that can provide more support usually making more. In addition, some LAs and schools will pay based on a term-time only scale (pro-rata), which means that while your wages are paid evenly across 12 months, you’ll only be paid for the time you’re working.
As you might expect, working hours for teaching assistants can vary quite significantly, which will affect how much you take home each month. Although, for this guide, we’ve provided some example salaries, please take these with a pinch of salt though for the reasons mentioned above:
- Level 1 – Full-time starting salary – £17,842 per annum
- Level 2 – Full-time salaries between £18,000 – £20,000 per annum
- Level 3 – Full-time salary up to £25,000 per annum
In time we’ll create a more detailed article looking at what you can expect to earn as a teaching assistant.
How to become a teaching assistant
The process of becoming a teaching assistant in the UK is relatively straightforward and is open to anyone* with the right attitude and desire to work with children.
*Subject to DBS checks
Here’s what you need to do:
Research the role and see if you’re a good fit
Firstly, spend a bit of time researching the role to understand what’s involved, what it pays and what your day-to-day duties will likely be. While there are no prerequisites to becoming a teaching assistant, you need the right mindset and a specific set of key skills. Later in this guide, we’ve detailed what those attributes are so you can see if you’re a good fit.
Enrol in a level 2 teaching assistant course
Many schools and colleges will expect you to have completed your Level 2 NCFE Cache Award in Support Work in Schools and Colleges before applying for either a paid or voluntary position. The good news is, with De Montfort College, you can gain this valuable teaching assistant qualification online, and you can enrol at any time. Because we’re a home study college, the costs are typically much lower than brick and mortar colleges, and you can study at your own pace from the comfort of your own home.
Once you have a position in a school or with another organisation, use it as an opportunity to gain experience. Put yourself forward to help with various things and give yourself as much exposure to how schools work and work with children. When you take part in new activities or take on new responsibilities, please make a point of noting it down, so that come the time you write your CV, you have a list of all of your recent experience and achievements.
Continue your professional development
You’ll undoubtedly want to progress your career, and therefore you should look at further teaching assistant courses. The next logical step would be a Level 3 course, and you can choose; an Award course if you’re not currently working in a school or a Certificate course which is the work-placement version of the same thing. Following that, you might look to undertake a Level 3 Diploma, which will give you the skills and knowledge you need to provide more specialist support in schools. You also might choose to embark upon some shorter CPD (continuing professional development) courses to bolster your knowledge in specific areas. Ultimately, the more knowledge and skills you have, the more employable and valuable you are to schools.
Progress your career
Continue to work hard, and who knows where your career may take you.
Where can you study to become a teaching assistant?
There are three primary ways you can study to become a teaching assistant:
- Online via a home study college – arguably the best and easiest way to learn to become a teaching assistant is by doing it online with a home study college like De Montfort. Unlike traditional colleges, you can enrol and start at any time of the year, and as it’s all online, you can study at your own pace and around your existing commitments. You get the same qualification that you would with your local college, but for a fraction of the price.
- Enrol with a local college – while it’s not as convenient as online studying and usually more expensive, some of you may still prefer visiting a physical college. You’ll need to check with your local college to see if they offer teaching assistant courses and if they do, find out when they start as they will usually have fixed intakes, either once or twice a year.
- Find an apprenticeship – some schools will offer apprenticeships where you can get on the job experience and study for your qualifications simultaneously. Often schools will give you a choice between doing your course online or via your local college, so take a bit of time to consider which will be the most convenient for you.
Teaching assistant courses
There are several courses you can take to start or progress your career as a teaching assistant. There are two primary types, Award courses, which are knowledge-based and don’t require a work placement, and Certificates and Diplomas, for which you need to be working or volunteering in a school.
At De Montfort College, we only deliver NCFE CACHE accredited courses, meaning you get an official government (and school) recognised qualification when you complete your studies.
Award Courses – perfect if you’re not yet working in a school
Our NCFE CACHE Award courses are perfect if you’re not yet working in a school and would like to gain an official qualification that all schools recognise. There are no entry requirements, and you can enrol today and get started straight away. Start with the Level 2 course and then move on the Level 3 if you’d like to further your knowledge and skills.
Click the links to learn more:
NCFE CACHE Level 2 Award In Support Work in Schools and Colleges
NCFE CACHE Level 3 Award In Supporting Teaching and Learning
Certificate and Diploma Courses – work placement required
For those fortunate enough to already be working in a school or college, you can opt for our Certificate or Diploma courses, all of which include practical assignments.
Click the links to learn more:
NCFE CACHE Level 2 Certificate In Supporting Teaching and Learning
NCFE CACHE Level 3 Certificate In Supporting Teaching and Learning
NCFE CACHE Level 3 Diploma In Supporting Teaching and Learning
Entry requirements for teaching assistant courses
A plus of doing your training online with De Montfort College is that there are no entry requirements. We operate an inclusive policy, meaning we don’t exclude people based on past exams and qualifications.
Many local colleges will require you to have a certain number of GCSEs to enrol, which may mean you can’t embark on your desired career path. Bearing in mind that you get the same NCFE CACHE qualification through online study, rather than visiting your local college, it’s easy to see why many individuals and schools turn to De Montfort College to deliver their courses and qualifications.
Skills you need to be a teaching assistant
Teaching assistants have a range of responsibilities; therefore, schools and local authorities are looking for people who have either got many of the required skills or are willing to gain them through study and experience.
Here are just some of the skills you’ll need to be a successful teacher’s assistant:
- A professional, positive and can-do attitude
- Awareness and regard for children’s well-being, both physical and emotional
- A positive approach to working with children and a desire to inspire and motivate them
- An ability to recognise and respect diversity in the classroom
- An excellent work ethic, always willing to go the extra mile to aid the childrens’ development
- The ability to build relationships with both children and teachers
- Able to communicate with various other key stakeholders, such as parents, language therapists, carers advisers, educational psychologists and more
- Willingness to keep up to date with policies and legislation
- Happy to undergo a criminal record check with the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)
What is it like being a teaching assistant?
Teaching assistants have an extremely rewarding, albeit demanding role to play in developing children and young people. As a qualified TA, you’ll work closely with children daily and be integral to their educational development. You’ll build close relationships and undoubtedly take pride in seeing the children you work with advance through their education. Arguably, the biggest attraction to working as a teaching assistant is knowing that you are making a difference in the lives of the children.
That all said, being a teaching assistant isn’t without its challenges; it’s a demanding role that requires patience, energy and empathy. While children can be a source of great pride and joy, their behaviour can be challenging. As a teaching assistant, it’s more than likely that you will be working with children who require additional support and have some behavioural issues. You may also work with children with complex learning difficulties or perhaps who don’t speak English as their first language. Finally, not all of the children you work with will welcome your support; they may feel singled out or even embarrassed that they seemingly need your assistance. You need to be tactful and diplomatic to earn those students’ trust, and best support them.
None of these challenges is insurmountable, and you will have the support of your colleagues and other professionals, but you should be prepared for it to be a challenge.
Being a teaching assistant is undoubtedly one of the more rewarding career paths you can take, but just like anything we do, there are obstacles and challenges to navigate.
Finding work and volunteering opportunities
Many employers will expect their applicants to have some experience working with children and young people, and having some will undoubtedly stand you in good stead. Even if it’s only for a short period, you should look for voluntary positions with local schools, nurseries and colleges.
Teaching assistants can be found in a variety of settings, and not only in schools. There are pupil referral units where students can’t cope with mainstream school attendance, sports specialists and clubs and even informal education providers such as language or maths tutors.
Make a list of the local schools, organisations and associations that provide a form of education to children and contact them. Although sending an email is the easy option, you’ll make a better impression if you phone them; remember you’re dealing with people, and you must build relationships.
Term times and holidays
Term times in the UK start in early September, with the first term running until Christmas; this first term of the school year is known as Autumn or Winter Term and typically has a week’s break (half term) around the end of October.
Christmas holidays typically run from around the 21st of December through to the start of the New Year. You then have Spring Term, which runs until the Easter holidays in April, with the half-term being around the middle of February.
After a two-week break for Easter, you’ll enter the final term of the school year, the Summer Term. Summer Term starts around the end of April and continues through to the end of July, with half-term being around the end of May.
There are also public holidays throughout the year, and you can expect several teacher training days where children won’t be in school, but you may be.
To find out term times for schools in your local authority, please visit the Government’s website.
About De Montfort College
As a specialist provider of teaching assistant training, we have a proven track record for helping our students obtain their NCFE CACHE qualifications. We’re a home study college, which means all of your studying is done online from the comfort of your own home. While the course materials are delivered electronically, you’ll still be assigned a dedicated tutor who will be on hand to support you through the course.
If you would like to learn more about becoming a teaching assistant, please request a callback, and one of our education team will be in touch.