03 May 2020
By Mark Richards
Teaching assistants are vital in schools. They are very much one of the indispensable cogs in the machine that enables the smooth and effective running of any school.
Teaching assistants provide much needed support to students in the classroom and around school. You only need to ask a child that is supported, their parents – or the teachers that have a TA support them in the classroom - to appreciate the work that they do.
The role of a teaching assistant is hands-on and can be demanding. However, it is an extremely rewarding role too. Teaching assistants are crucial in helping young people to thrive both in one-on-one situations and group settings.
Here is a guide to all the key information you need to know to be able to decide whether becoming a teaching assistant is the right career path for you.
Roles and responsibilities
The specific roles and responsibilities that a teaching assistant has can be quite varied and are at the discretion of the headteacher of a school. However, typical day-to-day responsibilities are as follows:
As you can see from the above list – which is by no means exhaustive – the responsibilities that teaching assistants are given can vary widely. Normally, TAs are ‘assigned’ to particular students according to their specific needs. In the case of visually-impaired and other serious disabilities, this can mean that the teaching assistant is with the pupil virtually all the time – in the classroom and around the school.
Having said that, it is usually left to individual departments and teachers to decide how best to deploy TA support. Of course, this works best when the teacher and TA work together in partnership. When this happens the support and benefit that is achieved for the pupils is a massive bonus for any teacher.
Benefits of being a teaching assistant
The role of a teaching assistant is an extremely rewarding one. The tangible effect that the support given has on particular pupils is something to make TAs proud. To put things simply, the progress that some pupils make would not be possible without the work of teaching assistants.
Becoming a teaching assistant can be the first step into full-time teaching. The role certainly gives people a real insight into what it is like to work in schools day-to-day in the classroom.
If you have a particular desire to support disabled children, or those with learning difficulties, being a teaching assistant is an ideal career.
The role also offers people the opportunity to work with children in a school setting without some of the pressures that make full-time teaching so demanding, such as planning lessons and marking pupils’ work.
How to become a teaching assistant
It is possible to become a teaching assistant through various routes. For example, college courses, such as a Level 2 or 3 Certificate in Support for Learning and Teaching in Schools, are available.
Another option is a teaching assistant advanced apprenticeship. Intermediate and advance apprenticeships are also available in childcare and teaching and learning.
However, equally, any qualifications or volunteering experience that applicants have in nursery work, childcare or youth work will be looked on favourably. Essentially, any previous experience of working with children will be an advantage.
There are no formal qualification entry requirements for Teaching Assistant positions. It is up to a local authority or school to set its own. College course and apprenticeship routes will obviously have their own entry requirements.
Schools are likely to expect to see a good level of numeracy and literacy skills in all teaching assistant applications – usually a Grade C or above in GCSE English and Mathematics.
However, whilst formal qualifications, may be seen as vital for teaching assistants by some schools, other skills – such as the ability to build relationships and have empathy with children – are just as important.
Teaching assistants need to have excellent communications skills and be able to motivate pupils to learn. Not only that, TAs must be able to understand the needs of a child.
Other vital skills are patience and flexibility and the role is of TA is often a multi-faceted one.
Basic digital skills will also be required.
What is the difference between teaching assistant, classroom assistant and learning support assistant and SEN teaching assistant?
Classroom assistant is the term that tends to be used in Scotland instead of Teaching Assistant. Essentially the two roles are the same. Similarly, in general, the role of a LSA (Learning Support Assistant) and that of a TA (Teaching Assistant) are largely the same – it is all about helping to create the best learning environment and conditions for pupils who have certain difficulties. A SEN teaching assistant will only be deployed, typically, with students who have special educational needs.
Options for experienced teaching assistants
HLTA, or ‘Higher Level Teaching Assistant’ is the highest grade of teaching assistant that can be reached. At this level, the role typically shifts from simply supporting or assisting the class teacher in certain areas, to having more specific individual responsibility for having a role in lesson planning or the development of resources. Some specialise in a certain subject (usually the core subjects: English, Maths or Science). Team teaching or leading a whole-class (under supervision of the class teacher), and supporting other staff are other roles that HLTA frequently take on. Transferring into full-time teaching is a logical step for those that way inclined.
Teaching assistant jobs - Temporary or permanent?
It is usually possible to find terms of employment as a teaching assistant to suit individual needs. Most positions are on a temporary contract basis – for example, 1 or 2 years, but are generally renewed on a rolling basis. Having said that, it is also common to find permanent positions. Similarly, both full-time and part-time positions are readily available. Over 60% of teaching assistants work part-time, through choice. There is a great deal of flexibility available for teaching assistants.
The absence of formal TA pay scales, like teachers have, means it is difficult to say exactly what starting salaries will be for a teaching assistant. Salaries vary from school to school and by local authority. Studies of average salaries for TAs also vary, but a salary range between £12,000 and £16,000 would apply to most TAs. However, it is difficult to compare salaries because there are so many contract options available.
When and where to find?
Secondary, primary and special schools all have teaching assistants. Positions are advertised in the same places that teaching vacancies are. Local authority jobsites also post vacancies. Openings are generally available to start at various points throughout the school year.
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