Teaching Assistant/Learning Support Assistants

The Job and What's Involved

Teaching assistants/Learning support assistants (known as classroom assistants or auxiliaries in Scotland) support teachers in schools. They work with individual children, small groups or the whole class. The work often involves helping children with special educational needs, such as learning difficulties, physical impairments or those for whom their first language is not English.

Duties can vary depending on the age of the children. In a nursery or primary school, with children aged three to eleven, a teaching assistant's tasks may include:

  • Setting up equipment and getting things ready for lessons.
  • Listening to children read, reading to them or telling stories.
  • Helping children with number work by using counting games or learning tables.
  • Playing games and encouraging children to play together.
  • Talking and listening to children.
  • Assisting with and displaying art and craft work.
  • Supervising dining and play areas.
  • Escorting pupils between classes, at sports events and on outings.
  • Comforting and caring for children if they have an accident or are upset.
  • Helping children, particularly those with special educational needs, with co-ordination skills such as holding pencils correctly or tying shoelaces.
  • Helping the teacher to maintain records.
  • Liaising with other professionals, parents and carers.

Most teaching assistants in secondary schools work as special needs assistants. This might involve accompanying a pupil around the school, taking notes for them in lessons or carrying bags and books. Secondary schools usually have learning support departments, where teaching assistants work with individuals or small groups of pupils, often complementing work being done in class.

Full-time teaching assistants normally work regular school hours, Monday to Friday, term-time only. They may sometimes have to be at school at other times, such as for training days or parents' evenings. Many teaching assistants work part time.

They mainly work on the school premises, in classrooms, dining areas and playgrounds. They sometimes accompany children on school trips.

Classrooms can be noisy and some tasks can be messy and dirty.

New teaching assistants may start on around £12,400 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Teaching assistants work throughout the UK, in nursery and primary education, special schools and mainstream secondary schools. Jobs are available in both the independent and maintained sectors. Teaching assistants are employed directly by schools or local education authorities (LEA's).

There are about 150,000 teaching assistants in the UK and the number is growing.

Vacancies are advertised in The Times Educational Supplement and local newspapers. It is also worth approaching LEA's directly to ask about vacancies.

Anyone who applies to work in schools has to undergo checks for previous criminal convictions. However, a criminal record will not necessarily prevent someone from taking up a post.

Education and Training

There are no set entry requirements. However, it is encouraged for applicants to have a good level of general education and to be able to demonstrate an aptitude for English and maths. This is important in order to support classroom literacy and numeracy. People normally need to be at least 18 years old to begin training.

Personal qualities and relevant experience of working with children, such as nursery nursing, playwork and youth work, are of more importance than specific academic qualifications. A good starting point is to volunteer to help part time in a local school and then take a course to train as a teaching assistant.

The National Council for Further Education (NCFE) offers an Initial Training for Classroom Assistants (Stage 1 and 2) course, suitable for those wishing to begin study in this area. No previous experience is necessary for Stage 1.

Apprenticeships have now been developed for teaching assistants. They offer a work-based route to an NVQ/SVQ Level 2 for Teaching Assistants, and can lead onto higher-level qualifications.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Teaching assistants are usually trained on the job by teaching staff or senior teaching assistants. To gain qualifications, candidates are assessed in a classroom environment.

In Scotland, new recruits can do Professional Development Awards at a number of colleges on a part-time, day-release or evening basis.

Qualifications for those already working in the classroom include:

- NVQ/SVQ for Teaching Assistants at Levels 2 and 3
- NCFE Certificate for Teaching Assistants at Levels 2 and 3

Many local authorities in England and Wales provide the Specialist Teacher Assistant Certificate (STAC). This is a one-year course for those who have been working in a primary school as a teaching assistant (paid or voluntary) for at least one year. Applicants must be at least 18 years old and have GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) in English and maths, or equivalent qualifications.

Experienced teaching assistants may be able to study for a certificate or diploma of higher education or foundation degree specifically for teaching assistants or learning support assistants. This can act as a stepping stone to a degree course.

Teaching assistants in England can achieve Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) status, as long as they have reached the required standard in literacy and numeracy (Level 2 in the National Qualifications Framework). This provides recognition that a teaching assistant is working competently against a set of national standards defined by The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA).

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A teaching assistant should:

  • Be able to build good relationships with children, teachers, parents and carers.
  • Be comfortable working in a position of responsibility.
  • Be able to work well under the supervision of a teacher.
  • Understand the importance of confidentiality.
  • Be aware of child protection and safety procedures.
  • Be patient and kind, but firm when necessary.
  • Have good spoken and written communication skills.
  • Have good numeracy and computer skills.
  • Be well organised.
  • Have lots of energy.

Your Long Term Prospects

With HLTA status, a foundation degree or equivalent qualifications, teaching assistants can progress on to teacher training by taking a degree leading to Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). Further information is available on the HLTA website. For more information on the entry requirements for becoming a teacher, see Teacher.

Teaching assistants can also move into other work with children, such as day nursery, playgroup or playleader work, childminding or residential childcare.

Get Further Information

Council for Awards in Children's Care
and Education (CACHE), Apex House,
81 Camp Road, St Albans AL1 5GB
Tel: 845 347 2123
Website: www.cache.org.uk

National Council for Further Education (NCFE),
Citygate, St James' Boulevard,
Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4JE
Tel: 0191 239 8000
Website: www.ncfe.org.uk

Scottish Executive Education Department,
Victoria Quay, Edinburgh EH6 6QQ
Tel: 0131 556 8000
Website: www.scotland.gov.uk

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