An overview of the role

The role of a teaching assistant is to provide assistance and support to a qualified teacher in the classroom and also to teach in a limited capacity. The duties of a teaching assistant can vary widely and depend upon whether they are working at a primary or secondary school.

What are the responsibilities of a teaching assistant?

The responsibilities of a teaching assistant include:

  1. Managing the class
  2. Supervising class activities and group work
  3. Assisting the teacher with the planning and preparation of class activities
  4. Preparing the classroom for lessons and tidying away afterwards
  5. Looking after upset or ill students
  6. Supervising outings
  7. Completing all necessary administrative tasks
  8. Making contact with parents if necessary, for example, to find out why a child is not in school

What I love about being a TA is the variety. No two days are the same. I can be arty, creating props and backdrops for school plays as well as class art work, I get to use my brain, solve puzzles, help children reach their full potential and generally be useful.

Rob Porter, Teaching Assistant 1

What are the key skills required by a teaching assistant?

Key skills for a teaching assistant include:

  1. Excellent communication skills
  2. Excellent interpersonal skills
  3. Empathy
  4. Creativity
  5. Practical skills
  6. Teamwork and leadership skills
  7. Basic literacy and numeracy ability
  8. Patience

What qualifications does a teaching assistant require?

There are many routes to becoming a teaching assistant and as schools set their own requirements, the qualifications needed can be extremely flexible.

You will likely require GCSES in English and maths (or equivalent). Any qualifications related to nurseries, childcare or youth work are also desirable. Once you have some experience in the role you can study for an HTLA in order to become a higher level teaching assistant. Your school will normally cover the cost of your training, but you can fund it yourself if they do not.

A degree is not necessary to work as a teaching assistant, however if you intend to take a teaching assistant role as the first step towards a full career in teaching, a degree is worthwhile. Many educational recruitment agencies seek out graduates specifically and pay them a higher rate but this is not a guarantee.

Before beginning work as a teaching assistant, you will also have to undergo background checks which the school will carry out through the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). These checks focus on the candidate’s criminal record, including spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings.

Although severe offences will of course be an obstacle to being hired, minor convictions do not usually present much of a problem to the aspiring TA.

Convictions that will not prohibit candidates from applying for a teaching assistant role include:

  1. A driving ban/points on your licence
  2. Drug possession (provided the conviction is not very recent)
  3. Minor theft (such as shoplifting)
  4. Minor affray (in the context of a football match or political demonstration)

Do I need relevant work experience to become a teaching assistant?

Specific experiential requirements for a teaching assistant position vary widely between schools. However, any experience working with children will stand applicants for a teaching assistant position in good stead.

Sectors in which experience is especially valuable for a teaching assistant application:

  1. Childcare
  2. Education
  3. Sports
  4. Tutoring

If your degree subject has a practical placement in one of these sectors that will likely be counted as experience.

Prospects and salary for a teaching assistant

Pay for a teaching assistant does not alter appreciably in response to experience. The salary for a newly trained teaching assistant is not appreciably lower than for an experienced one. Specialising, however – particularly in areas such as learning difficulties – will raise your salary to some degree.

Pay also differs depending on the kind of school you are working at. State schools follow wages set by the local authority (SA), whereas independent schools, free schools and academies are free to set their own rates.

It is also rare for schools of all kinds to be upfront about money on application forms. It is common for teachers and TAs alike to find out their salary only after accepting the job.

On average, a teaching assistant can expect to earn:

  • Entry level teaching assistant: £12,000
  • Experienced teaching assistant: £15,500
  • Specialist teaching assistant: £21,000

Should you wish to become a full teacher, being a qualified teaching assistant will aid you considerably – not simply in terms of qualifications and experience, but also to help you decide whether the role of a teaching assistant is right for you. It is a demanding role and not suited to those for whom it is not a vocation.

Being a TA has made me see the difference we can make – ensuring all students are given an equal chance to reach their potential.

Joe MacDonald, Teaching Assistant 2

Is the role of a teaching assistant right for me?

Pros of being a teaching assistant:

  1. It can be an extremely rewarding role and the relationships you form with your pupils will be meaningful in a way that few careers can be
  2. The role of a teaching assistant (particularly if part-time) can easily be tailored around another occupation, such as a second part-time job or childcare. You can work flexible hours and set your own schedule within reason
  3. Good job prospects – despite recent threats to the role, teaching assistants are the backbone of the education system and you will always be in demand
  4. Excellent (albeit restrictive holiday time

Cons of being a teaching assistant:

  1. Pay is low and often pro-rata (you will be paid term-time-only wages). Pay cuts over the past couple of years have increased financial pressure among teaching assistants to the point where many consider the job unfeasible
  2. Overtime is very common, but being paid for overtime is rare
  3. Permanent contracts are not common and getting rarer, replaced by fixed-term or temporary (usually annual) contracts. This is particularly the case with specialist TAs employed to work primarily with one special needs pupil
  4. The hours that a TA officially works (planning and preparing for lessons) are far greater than the ones they are paid for
  5. Due to lack of funds, four out of five head teachers surveyed in 2018 have had to reduce the number of teaching assistants they employ
  6. It can be an emotionally demanding role, particularly if you are working with children who have social or mental health problems
  7. The role of a teaching assistant necessitates plenty of paperwork and other repetitive administrative tasks
  8. Activities such as calling parents to inform them that their children are being disobedient/fighting with others/not present in school require good emotional management and stability

Related occupations

Occupations related to the role of a teaching assistant include:

  1. Primary school teacher
  2. Secondary school teacher
  3. Special educational needs teacher
  4. Tutor

References:

1. http://www.theeducationnetwork.co.uk/life-of-a-teaching-assistant/

2. https://www.tes.com/jobs/careers-advice/teaching-assistant/meet-tas-what-life-being-a-teaching-assistant