How to become a teaching assistant

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At a glance

What a teaching assistant does and what experience or qualifications you’ll need to become one.

What is a teaching assistant?

A teaching assistant helping a student © micromonkey @ Fotolia.com

A teaching assistant (TA) works alongside a class teacher in either a primary or a secondary school. He or she might work one-to-one with individual pupils or with a small group.

TAs mainly work with pupils within the classroom, but sometimes they take children to an adjoining area or room - where they might listen to children reading or carry out another activity, such as a booster session for pupils struggling with a particular subject.

Teaching assistants (known as classroom assistants or learning support assistants in some schools) also carry out tasks that allow the class teacher to concentrate on teaching. They might prepare the classroom for a certain lesson (eg setting up equipment for a maths lesson), tidy up at the end of a session, or put together displays of children’s work.

They help teachers on school outings and at sports events. And if a child is upset or has an accident, the TA can focus on that child while the teacher carries on leading the whole class.

Sometimes TAs have a particular specialism - for example, they may speak an additional language (which is especially useful when some pupils in the class have that language as their first language).

In a secondary school, TAs usually work with pupils who have learning difficulties or a disability.

TAs can go on to develop their career and become a higher level teaching assistant (HLTA). This requires a college course, and leads to extended duties which may include taking lessons during a teacher’s absence.

Why might I want to become a teaching assistant?

If you’re looking for a job to do while your children are growing up - and you’re passionate about learning and helping children to achieve their potential - being a TA could be the job for you.

TA work is flexible (full and part-time posts are available) and it’s term time only. Plus, unlike teachers, teaching assistants don’t have to arrive early or stay on after the bell rings at the end of the day.

For these reasons, parents often choose to become TAs in their child’s own primary school - or another primary nearby - as it means their work fits in well with their child’s day and eliminates the need for childcare before and after school.

Some TAs go on to train as teachers. So if you’re thinking of going into teaching in the long term - maybe you want to train when your children are older or perhaps you just want to get some classroom experience before you commit to training - then working as a TA can be an excellent place to start your teaching career.

How do I become a teaching assistant?

There is no set entry-level qualification for being a TA - although your local education authority (LEA) will have guidelines as to what sort of people they are looking to employ.

TAs need to have good reading, writing and numeracy skills, as well as good organisational and communication skills.

And, ideally, TAs need to have either had some experience of volunteering in a school (perhaps you’ve been helping pupils with their reading once a week) or have worked with children before (you might have helped run an activity for children in your neighbourhood). It’s not essential to have this kind of experience, but it will put you in a much better position if you apply for a job.

As with anyone who works with children, you will need to have a CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) check in place before you can work as a TA.

If you’re thinking about working in your own child’s school, start by speaking to the head teacher or deputy head. Ask if any vacancies are likely to be coming up in the near future and say that you would like to be considered.

And if there are other parents employed at your school as TAs, ask them about their job and find out what experience they had before they applied.

A list of current vacancies for both teaching and non-teaching/support staff (such as TAs) can usually be found on the jobs page of your local council’s website.

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