A teaching assistant is a valuable asset to the modern classroom. They help to support the classroom teacher in organising lessons, while supporting children in their learning.
Over the years, the role of a teaching assistant has changed. In previous decades, teaching assistants have not been seen as education professionals. Nowadays, teaching assistants need to have qualifications and experience behind them, and are highly sought after in the education sector. Teaching assistants teach in nursery education, as well as in infant, junior and secondary schools. If children have specific learning needs, they can support them with this while in the classroom.
To become a teaching assistant, alongside a love of teaching, you need patience and the ability to reserve judgement in order to support children with a wide range of learning requirements. This helps students to reach their potential, and succeed in their education.
If you’d like to find out how to become a teaching assistant, this guide should tell you what you need to know.
What does a teaching assistant do?
The role of a teaching assistant will depend on their level of qualification and overall experience in their field. It also depends on the role they have taken within the school they work in. One of the key roles of a teaching assistant is to create learning activities and help plan lessons. This ensures that all pupils can stay focused and on track with their learning goals.
Another main role of a teaching assistant is to support students academically and emotionally. They may also carry out other tasks in the classroom include:
- Helping the teacher to address and manage difficult behaviour from students
- Monitoring students in class
- Providing admin support such as preparing resources.
- Monitoring students during exams
- Covering colleague absence
- Organising or managing extra-curricular activities like sporting clubs, breakfast clubs, after-school clubs, revision and detention sessions
- Covering break or lunch duties for teachers
- Providing full teaching cover (if they are qualified)
Teaching assistants can be hired by a local council, or a particular school that they are contracted to work in. If they are hired by a local authority, they may work across several schools, and set their own pay for the work they do as a contractor. The National Association of Professional Teaching Assistants (NAPTA) supports and provides services for teaching assistants in the UK.
Important skills for a teaching assistant
Even if you have no prior experience, it is possible to become a teaching assistant. The qualifications and skills you will need will vary greatly depending on the school you are working at, and the type of role you work in.
At a basic level, you will be expected to have literacy and numeracy skills at GCSE level or higher. You must have some willingness and passion for working with children. Having experience of working with children will be beneficial. Some teaching assistants take theory-based qualifications to help bolster their careers and improve their prospects, such as a Level 3 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools.
Aside from this, most of the skills you will need for the role include having good communication and empathy skills, so that you can foster good working relationships with children from all walks of life, helping them to realise their potential.
You’ll need to be highly organised, as you’ll often need to switch between classrooms, or between pupils who have different needs. Every day will be different, and you’ll need a calm and clear head, and plenty of patience to ensure that you are not overwhelmed. You’ll need to make sure that you deal with situations correctly, and in line with school policy at all times.
If you are a teaching assistant, having a second language or basic IT skills can also be useful, especially if you will be supporting a classroom in which English is the second language.
What qualifications do you need to be a teaching assistant?
There is no universal qualification that you need to take in order to become a teaching assistant. Some schools will let you become a teaching assistant with no qualifications or experience.
However, having some qualifications on your CV will help you to stand out from other applicants in a job interview. These include Level 2 and Level 3 Qualifications, like an Accredited Level 3 Support Teaching Diploma. Such qualifications are designed to prepare you for working in a school, while giving you greater recognition among employers.
Courses typically cover how to establish professional working relationships with pupils, safeguarding, equality and diversity, communication, lesson planning and more. For some qualifications, you may be required to have a school placement while completing them.
Routes to becoming a teaching assistant
There are several routes you can take to become a teaching assistant. First of all, you can just volunteer, or apply. If you are happy to do unpaid work supporting children with their learning, this may lead to a close connection with a school and a job offer as a teaching assistant. If you don’t have qualifications, this route may also be a good option, as the school may support you financially in obtaining these.
A second route is by taking a Level 3 Award in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools. This qualification is a great starting point to becoming a teaching assistant, as it will prepare you for working in the classroom. Once you have completed the diploma and have a paid position or a volunteer placement, you can then progress to a more advanced qualification if you choose.
Taking a Level 4 Higher Level Teaching Assistant Certificate is the next step, and involves you getting ‘granted’ status from a school. Once this qualification is complete, you can take part in a scheme called ‘train to teach’, which enables successful students to complete a Postgraduate Certificate of Education (a teaching degree), whilst working in the school of your choice and receiving a salary over two years. If this is your goal, another way to achieve this is to apply directly to a university, although this will require A-Level qualifications to get a place.
Training to be a teaching assistant
The following courses will help you to become a qualified teaching assistant:
- Quality Licence Scheme Level 3 Support Teaching Diploma
- Accredited Level 3 Child Development Diploma
These courses will help prepare you for working in the classroom alongside teachers, arming you with the theory and knowledge needed to prepare lessons and help children with their learning. Each module will include an assignment to help you track progress, and all qualifications are CPD certified.
Can you be a teaching assistant without experience?
In short, the answer is yes – you can become a teaching assistant without any experience. But it is still likely that you will need some qualifications like basic GCSEs if you’re getting started.
There are many volunteer opportunities available that you can sign up for if you discuss your options with your local school. For many, this is a great way to gain experience and build a profile as a strong candidate for teaching assistant positions. Remember that work experience doesn’t always have to be previously paid work.
Becoming a SEN teaching assistant
A special educational needs (SEN) teaching assistant specialises in supporting children who have learning difficulties in the classroom. This can be on a one-to-one basis or as a group in classrooms, or at a SEN school.
The role of a SEN teaching assistant may include helping children to understand and read instructions, developing their confidence, helping them to focus on tasks, and helping them to carry out school work in ways that work for them.
Training as a SEN teaching assistant
To become a SEN teaching assistant, you will need the same training as general teaching assistants, and may need to take qualifications like a Level 3 Teaching Support Diploma to excel in your career and stand out to employers. Being a SEN teaching assistant can be very rewarding but also challenging, and you will need lots of patience and an adaptable approach.
As you’ll be working with children who have special physical and educational needs, you may also need qualifications in specific conditions like autism, sign language, and so on. Having a safeguarding course under your belt will also equip you with the knowledge you need to safeguard children.
Generally speaking, schools set out their own rules and requirements for what they need from a teaching assistant in terms of qualifications, so a good starting point is to speak to your local school about career opportunities.