Every Teaching Assistant plays a pivotal role in UK schools. They offer support and much needed continuity for students and teachers. Whilst working as a teacher, Teaching Assistants gave me was invaluable to me and my students. It might be ‘insider’ information about students; who should sit where, their current mood, specific task ability, or differentiating resources further to better suit individual learners. The better my relationship with the teaching assistants that support me, the better my lessons.
Many people don’t seem to realise how many support staff are needed in a modern school. Classroom and behavioural support staff, technicians, mentors and administration staff often outnumber teaching staff. There are differences between how primary and secondary schools utilise classroom and teaching assistants.
At primary, teaching assistants are more likely to work with the same teacher and class all of the time. At secondary Teaching Assistants are much more likely to follow students or classes as they move from teacher to teacher. This difference in provision can mean that some students find the transition between primary and secondary difficult. Used to having an extra adult in the room for support, some students struggle with the more independent secondary system. For those students, teaching assistants offer the support and continuity that they need the support their learning.
Teaching Assistants can take small groups of students for extra spelling, maths tuition or deliver a lesson with the teacher. In short, Teaching Assistants are invaluable in any classroom, so if you’ve found this article because you want to be one… Read on….
What is the difference between a Teaching Assistant and a Classroom Assistant?
In most cases, the only difference is terminology. Some may use one of a number of terms such as; TA (Teaching Assistant), LSA (Learning Support Assistant) or Classroom Support Staff. Where schools want to differentiate between the various roles within a school, they may use more than one term. Typically in this case schools may use ‘LSA’ for a more pastoral role, and use teaching Assistant for more academic roles. The best way to determine your role and responsibilities, is to read the specific job description.
In the following article, I’m going to use the term ‘Teaching Assistant’.
What is a Teaching Assistant?
As a Teaching Assistant, your primary role is to support teaching and learning for the benefit of all students. Your role and responsibilities will vary dependant on the age of the students supported, ability and specific learning needs. You may be deployed to support one specific funded student, or may be permanently attached to one specific teacher or class.
What can I expect from the role?
The role of the Teaching Assistant is considered by many to be as important as that of the class teacher. Without teaching assistants, many students would find accessing lessons difficult and for some, the Teaching Assistant offers a lifeline. Also, in the current climate of increasing class sizes, Teaching Assistants offer teachers a vital second pair of hands and eyes. Their support can help maintain the pace and rigour of a lesson, whilst assisting to maintain high expectations.
Along with the more academic support you can offer, you may be asked to assist outside of the lesson. You may be asked to prepare equipment prior to a lesson or help with practical lessons such as science experiments. You might be asked to support an off-site trip or look after students that have had accidents or are upset. Some schools may ask you to specialise in literacy or numeracy, taking small groups for extra reading or maths work.
What skills and qualifications do I need to become a classroom assistant in the UK?
The expectation of most schools will be that you have basic literacy and numeracy skills. Qualifications in Maths and English at GCSE or the equivalent level 4 or 5 in Scotland are good evidence. Experience of working with children and young people is always an advantage, whether that be voluntary or in paid positions. You do not need a degree to become a teaching assistant. However, a degree could be an advantage, as it shows that you potentially already have a competent level of basic skills. Many schools now offer qualifications in child care nursery, developmental play and youth work. These can be an advantage as can some understanding of children’s behavioural development. Likewise, fluency in additional languages, Makaton and British Sign Language can also be an advantage. Schools that cater for moderate to severe learning disabilities could potentially put more value on these existing skills.
What qualifications can I gain?
Formal qualifications in teaching and classroom assistance have 4 levels, entry-level to HLTA (higher level teaching assistant). Qualifications include; The Level 2 award in Support Work in Schools and the Level 2 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools. Both Levels 1 and 2 are available to those not yet employed in the role, those new to the job and experienced practitioners. A HLTA qualification gives you training in development of lesson support materials and lesson planning. A HLTA qualification allows unsupervised lesson delivery, and management of other classroom assistants.
What experience do I need to become a Teaching Assistant?
All schools will have different requirements so both experience and qualifications requirements will be specific to the school. Previous experience of play or youth work can be useful. All experience of building relationships with young people is relevant and a key skill for anyone working in a school. Many Teaching Assistants start by volunteering at a school and are later given the opportunity to take a paid position. Volunteering at the local school can help build your CV and give you a good feel for working in education.
In a mainstream education setting, experience can simply be that of being a parent. Schools where students have a high level need, many ask for more experience and qualifications. All schools will place a lot of emphasis on an individual’s personality and their potential. Many schools will then offer training through their ongoing CPD calendar that complements your personality and skills.
What training should I expect as a Teaching Assistant?
After finding your Teaching Assistant position, you’re most likely going to undertake an induction course. The school will most likely enter you into their ongoing training and development programme. You’ll most likely take part in the schools CPD* program. You might even find that your school has a separate training program for Teaching Assistants and Support Staff. Any training will depend on your responsibilities. You may be sent on general training related to autism, dyslexia or supporting students with poor motor skills. More specialist training may include support EAL students (English as an additional language), or counselling. You are just as likely to support students that are identified as being gifted and talented, as those needing emotional or behavioural support. Personal development is strongly encouraged within education, so you will find yourself taking part in training.
How much does a Teaching Assistant earn?
The starting salary for full-time permanent Teaching Assistants is usually between £11,000 and £15,000. With increased responsibility and training, Teaching Assistants can expect to earn between 15,000 and £21,000. HLTAs earn between £21,000 and £25,000 pro rata**. Teaching assistants are often only employed on a part time or term time contract. Something to remember is though, is that pro rata pay often means that take home pay can actually be considerably less. Although there is no national pay scale for a Teaching Assistant salary, many schools stick to what has been historically set out by the local authority. More recently pay has varied more recently due to the recent academisation process.
Do I need any special checks to work as a Teaching Assistant?
Along with the references and checks for any new job, you will require clearance from the Disclosure and Barring Service. This is necessary because some criminal offences bar individuals from working with young people and vulnerable adults. For the role as a Teaching Assistant, you will be asked to complete an Enhanced DBS check. The school will apply for the check on your behalf and the result will be sent to your home address. You will then be required to share your DBS check with the school, prior to commencing work.
Want to know more about becoming a Teaching Assistant?
In my personal experience, the most successful teachers work closely with classroom assistants and technicians. We welcome the help and value the support Teaching Assistants offer . I started my career in education was as a Behaviour Support Assistant. I have first-hand experience of how rewarding support roles in schools can be and how vital they are to our education system.
If you’d like to know more about being a Teaching Assistant, there’s some really useful articles here:
* CPD stands for Continuing (or continuous) Professional Development, the process of tracking and recording skills, knowledge and experience that you gain whilst working. This training can be both formal and informal, delivered internally or by external training providers and/ or peers. It is a record of your experiences, what you learn and how you develop your personal practice in response.
** Pro rata means the advertised wage is divided over the number of weeks that you’re employed in a year. Frequently, classroom assistants are only contracted during term time so strictly speaking are not paid for the term time breaks. Your salaried wage is divided over the 52 weeks of a year, minus term time breaks. Your salary is usually paid on a monthly basis through a PAYE system.