Teaching assistant

Teaching assistants support teachers and help children with their educational and social development, both in and out of the classroom. In secondary schools, teaching assistants are often known as learning support assistants.

What’s involved

The roles and responsibilities of teaching assistants are varied and differ between schools. Your job can include:

  • getting the classroom ready for lessons
  • listening to children read, reading to them or telling them stories
  • helping children who need extra support to complete tasks
  • helping teachers to plan learning activities and complete records
  • supporting teachers in managing class behaviour
  • supervising group activities
  • looking after children who are upset or have had accidents
  • clearing away materials and equipment after lessons
  • helping with outings and sports events
  • taking part in training
  • carrying out administrative tasks

To support pupils with particular individual needs, some teaching assistants work one-to-one, while others work in small groups. Many schools employ teaching assistants with particular specialisms, including literacy, numeracy, special educational needs (SEN), music and creative arts. If you are bilingual, you might do more work with children whose first language is not English.

Experienced and specially-trained teaching assistants can be expected to supervise a class for a teacher who is off sick or undertaking training. While every class must be allocated a qualified teacher, higher level teaching assistants (HLTAs) would be expected occasionally to lead a lesson.

Skills and experience you’ll need

  • An ability to build good working relationships with both pupils and adults
  • Good organisational skills
  • Flexibility and creativity
  • Enjoy working with children
  • Good literacy and numeracy skills
  • Ability to manage groups of pupils and deal with challenging behaviour
  • Patience and a sense of humour
  • In some jobs it could be useful if you have IT skills or are fluent in local community languages

Entry requirements

Individual schools set their own entry requirements and decide which qualifications and experience they need. You can get an idea of what you're likely to need by looking at jobs advertised locally. Many will require you to have qualifications in literacy and numeracy at GCSE or equivalent. Previous qualifications in nursery work, childcare, playwork or youth work can be useful for finding work. 

The following qualifications are available for those not yet employed in the role:

  • Level 2 Award in Support Work in Schools
  • Level 2 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools

However, these awards are solely theory-based, without requiring a placement in a school, so it is important to check with the school whether they would accept the qualification.

You may be able to become a teaching assistant through an apprenticeship scheme. A new level 3 apprenticeship for teaching assistants was approved in 2018. Find out more details about the apprenticeship on the Institute for Apprenticeships website. You can also find out more general information and look for apprenticeships on the Government website (England).

Before you can begin working with children, the school will carry out enhanced background checks through the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

Training and development

Once working as a teaching assistant you should complete an induction programme. New and experienced teaching assistants can expand their knowledge by taking other qualifications such as:                                                      

  • Level 3 Award in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools
  • Level 3 Certificate Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools
  • Level 3 Diploma in Specialist Support for Teaching and Learning in Schools

These qualifications are available at local colleges and through apprenticeships. To gain the certificate and diploma you would be assessed at work, so your job would need to include responsibilities suited to each qualification. With experience, you may be able to progress to senior assistant or be assessed for higher level teaching assistant status.

As an experienced teaching assistant, you may be able to study for a foundation degree. You can find a list of courses by searching under 'Teaching assistant studies' in the subject group section of the UCAS foundation degree website.

Some TAs go on to train as teachers. So if you’re thinking of going into teaching in the long term, then working as a TA can be an excellent place to start your teaching career. To find out more about careers in teaching, see the Get into Teaching website.

But of course training isn't just about qualifications. There is all sorts of training available to teaching assistants, for example

  • Training linked to delivering specific interventions
  • Understanding how children learn through play
  • Recording data and using it to support children’s learning
  • First aid at work certificate
  • Introduction to the social and emotional aspects of learning
  • Emotional Literary Support Assistant courses (ELSA)
  • Observation and evaluation skills
  • Understanding monitoring and tracking student progress
  • Understanding the SEND code of practice
  • How to support students who have SEND effectively
  • Developing effective intervention programmes
  • Developing social aspects of learning interventions
  • Training based on the specialist skills, e.g. in learning, behavioural, communication, social, sensory or physical difficulties; EAL; support to gifted and talented pupils; supporting particular curriculum areas.
  • How to engage disaffected students
  • Providing an inclusive learning climate for students
  • Secure understanding of SEN conditions and interventions/strategies
  • Secure knowledge of child development and developmental delays
  • Becoming an in-house mentor
  • Child protection training

Find out more on our continuing professional development (CPD) page.

Useful links

Have a look at the teaching assistant role profiles under the teaching and learning support job family to find out more about the different levels you could work at.

Find out about the professional standards for teaching assistants.

Note: In Scotland the term 'classroom assistant' and 'pupil support assistant' is used more than 'teaching assistant'. For more information contact Skills Development Scotland: www.myworldofwork.co.uk

In Northern Ireland contact Careers Service Northern Ireland: www.nidirect.gov.uk/careers

In Wales / Cymru contact Careers Wales: www.careerswales.com