If you think you’d like to work in a school but don’t have recent experience, you could start by arranging a visit to observe at a local school or offering to work as a volunteer to get the chance to decide which role interests you most.

If you or your friends and relatives have children, the school they go to is an ideal place to start. Or you could find out about other schools in your area on the school finder website (England). This allows you to search for schools in your area using your postcode. You could also find out about schools in your area by going to your local council's website. 

If you already know the school you could start by having an informal chat with your child’s teacher or the head teacher. Otherwise, write a letter addressed to the head teacher which explains why you are looking for voluntary work and mention something specific about the school that appeals to you (visit the school website to help you or read the Ofsted report). State when and for how long you can volunteer. Also write about your skills and experience. If you speak different languages, for example, that could be very useful to the school. It may be that the knowledge and skills you’ve gained in your current or previous roles may be relevant to particular roles within the school workforce so you may also want to include your CV.

If the school offer to meet with you, think of it like a job interview. You can wear a suit or smart clothes to make a good impression in case the school has a dress code. Ask about the school’s behaviour policy, dress code, what time classes start and when you would be expected to start and finish each day

Getting an additional qualification does not automatically mean more money. However a higher qualification might mean that you can take on increased responsibilities and therefore your job might be re-graded.

Changes to job descriptions which result in increased responsibilities may have a significant impact on gradings and therefore pay and may require a grading review. You can also apply to a job which is graded higher if you have the necessary qualification and/or experience.

You can find out how your qualifications relate to UK qualifications by contacting the UK National Recognition Information Centre (NARIC). NARIC is the National Agency responsible for providing information, advice and opinion on vocational, academic and professional skills and qualifications from all over the world.

If you do not already have a work permit, contact UK Visas and Immigration. 

Jobs in schools are advertised locally and schools themselves usually make the final decision on who to appoint.

For details of what financial help is available locally, talk to your UNISON learning rep or the member of staff at your school responsible for staff development.

Useful links for funding advice:



Nothern Ireland


Whether or not you can get time off for learning or training depends on what is agreed locally between your union and your school. In some cases, this is a matter of custom and practice; in others, it is set out in a formal learning agreement. To find out more, talk to your UNISON learning rep or contact your local UNISON branch.

The first port of call should be your UNISON learning rep: they are fully-trained specialists with extensive local knowledge of available courses, sources of funding and lots of contacts in the world of lifelong learning. They are also really good at offering you a word of encouragement when it's most needed. To contact your UNISON learning rep ask around at your place of work or contact UNISONdirect and they will put you in touch with your local branch.

Your headteacher or colleague responsible for staff development will also usually be very helpful. The vast majority of them usually recognise that it is in their interests to encourage and facilitate staff training.

If you are a UNISON member and would like to become a UNISON learning rep (ULR) in your school and offer support to others, find out more on the UNISON website.

Currently there are no national job descriptions for school support staff jobs, but there are model role profiles which schools can use as a basis for forming job descriptions. These can be downloaded here.

Taking a course and gaining a new qualification can boost your self-confidence, raise your profile among your colleagues and lay the best foundation for developing in your current role or moving onto a new one. It can also, in some cases, increase your pay. Many courses are now flexible so you can study at your own pace and in your own time so there is no need to give up work or miss out on being with the family.

Don't think about it as going back to school, especially if you couldn't wait to make your escape from the classroom when you were younger: learning as an adult is a completely different experience.

You get to study with people working in the same role as you, on courses where most people find that everyone looks out for each other.

You get to pick up ideas about the job you do, which you can share with your colleagues and help the school take on board.

And you get the satisfaction of brushing up old skills or acquiring new ones, which can help you develop in your current role or move on to another one - and in some cases can even lead to a bigger pay packet, depending on local circumstances.

Whether you're a cleaner thinking about brushing up your reading skills or a science technician interested in further professional development, we hope that this website can help you find the courses and qualifications that are right for you.

School support staff come from a variety of different backgrounds. Some choose work in schools after having a family or to fit in with childcare arrangements. Many have a strong desire to help in their local school and find helping children develop to be a very fulfilling career option.

Whether you're behind the canteen counter encouraging pupils to eat a nutritious lunch, helping children with a computer problem, preparing the grounds for a sporting activity, ordering library books or supporting a child with special needs in the classroom, schools can be enormously rewarding environments to work in.

Many of the roles don't usually require formal academic qualifications and some jobs can be applied for without the need for previous experience, although there are obvious exceptions (e.g., teachers, school business managers, librarians and many technicians).