How to Become a Teaching Assistant

June 20, 2024
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Teaching assistants – TAs – are a valuable component of most classrooms and play an important role in supporting both teachers and pupils during the school day. If you’re looking at becoming a teaching assistant, or are simply curious as to what the role entails, then this article will help you understand more about what teaching assistants do, the qualifications you need and how to get a teaching assistant job that you love.

teaching assistant helping a student

What Do Teaching Assistants Do?

A teaching assistant – also known as a TA, classroom assistant or learning support assistant – is someone in the classroom who supports the main teacher and helps children with their daily activities, whether that’s reading, writing or other learning. Teaching assistants can work both full-time and part-time, with individual children or with groups of children, and usually work during term-time only.

Typically, a teaching assistant will help with tasks such as:

  • Preparing lesson materials alongside the teacher.
  • Helping the teacher deliver their lessons.
  • Leading classes, whilst the teacher supervises.
  • Assisting with extra-curricular activities.
  • Supervising break and lunch times in the playground or canteen.
  • Setting up classrooms for lessons and tidying materials away.
  • Sitting alongside pupils as they work, being on-hand for support.
  • Listening to pupils read.
  • Watching, recording and reporting the progress of individual pupils.
  • Offering emotional support to pupils. 
  • Watching out for any challenging behaviour or needs that aren’t being met.
teaching assistant teaching two students in a lesson

You could also consider becoming an SEN Teaching Assistant – Special Educational Needs (SEN) teachers work specifically with children and young people who have special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). For example, pupils with autism, ADHD or dyslexia. Being an SEN teaching assistant can be an incredibly rewarding career path to follow. If you’d like to find out more about how to find a role in SEN, take a look at our dedicated article: How to Become a SEN Teacher.

Teaching Assistant Qualifications

There are various different entry routes for becoming a TA and there’s no specific course or degree that will ensure you have the right teaching assistant qualifications. At the least, most schools will ask for you to have certain GCSEs – usually maths and English – and will want you to have some experience of working with children. It’s then up to the individual school to specify any particular qualifications they want you to have.

Aside from having the basics – good GCSEs and experience with children – the most common routes into becoming a teaching assistant are through a college course, an apprenticeship, volunteering and/or applying directly for the role:

  • Teaching Assistant College Courses – to take a college qualification, you’ll first need at least 2 GCSES at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D), or equivalent. You can then look to take a college course related to teaching, such as a Level 2 or 3 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools, a Level 3 Diploma in Childcare and Education or a T Level in Education and Early Years.
  • Teaching Assistant Apprenticeships – an apprenticeship allows you to combine work with training, giving you hands-on experience of the role alongside theoretical knowledge. An example of a teaching apprenticeship would be a Teaching Assistant Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeship (open to those with 5 GCSEs at grade 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent, including English and maths).
  • Volunteering – gaining experience of working in a local school, nursery or children’s community organisation helps to boost your CV and can sometimes lead to paid work or the chance to obtain a qualification. Volunteering ensures you have relevant work experience and are in a good position to apply for a teaching assistant role when it comes up.
  • Apply Directly for a Teaching Assistant Role – schools, academy trusts and local authorities regularly advertise teaching assistant roles on their websites or job boards, and you can apply directly for them. Whilst each school will set their own entry requirements, you’ll usually need at least GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) in English and maths and to show you have experience of working with children.

After working as a TA for some time, you may then decide to take your teaching qualifications further and become a higher level teaching assistant (HLTA). This role has more responsibility and more pay than a normal teaching assistant, so it may be a role that you look to train for in the future in order to progress your career.

teaching assistant leading a class

Tips for Teaching Assistants

The following tips are all classroom-specific skills that will help you stand out from the crowd when applying for a role as a teaching assistant. If you can demonstrate these abilities through work experience and good examples, you’ll be head and shoulders above the rest as a teaching assistant:

  • Behaviour Management – being able to efficiently and effectively manage behaviour in the classroom, and set behaviour expectations, is an important skill for all teaching assistants. Your role will require you to use both proactive and reactive strategies that are appropriate for the situation and the particular child, so that positive behaviour is encouraged and challenging behaviour is recognised and managed.
  • Positive Learning Environments – establishing a positive learning environment allows children to flourish – physically, socially and emotionally – in the classroom. A good teaching assistant is able to make all pupils feel welcome, safe, encouraged, respected and ready to learn.
  • Motivation Skills motivation in the classroom is important for teaching assistants because it helps children to learn, encourages positive behaviour and creates a sense of wellbeing. A good teaching assistant is able to engage with pupils so that they feel focussed on learning and remain curious about the classroom.
  • Communication Skillseffective communication is vital in the classroom for academic success, and this includes communication through speaking, listening, reading and writing. Teaching assistants must be able to show strong communication skills – not only with students, but also with colleagues and parents.
teaching assistant with a pupil

How to Get a Teaching Assistant Job

Individual schools often have their own entry requirements for their TA roles and will determine what qualifications and experience they want you to have. Take a look at jobs advertised locally to you to see what the best entry route is, as this will help you decide which qualifications or work experience to focus on.

Many schools also look to employ teaching assistants with a particular specialism, such as SEN, literacy, numeracy, music or specific languages, so having a specialist area can be beneficial when applying for a teaching assistant role.

Being able to speak another language can be especially helpful in parts of the country where there are communities containing a high percentage of pupils for whom English is their second language. Many schools look for teaching assistants who can support those children where English is an additional language (EAL) or for children who communicate using British Sign Language (BSL) or Makaton.

You should also take a look at your personal skills and traits to ensure you are well-suited for the role of TA, as it can be a demanding and tiring profession. A good teaching assistant has skills such as:

  • Sensitivity.
  • Empathy.
  • Active listening.
  • Verbal communication.
  • Patience.
  • Creativity.
  • Flexibility.
  • Teamwork.
teaching assistant supporting a student

Once you’re sure the role is for you, the National Careers Service is a good place to start if you’re looking to find an apprenticeship or training course related to teaching, and the Government’s Find a Job service can then help you look for available teaching assistant roles in your area.

Whilst it can be hard work, being a Teaching Assistant is a valuable and rewarding career and one that can last you a lifetime. If a Teaching Assistant role is one you’re aiming for, then ensuring you have the right qualifications, experience and personal skills is a good place to start, and will easily set you up for finding your dream job in a school you love.

Further Resources