Teaching Assistant Focus

Make a difference to special needs education

What is a teaching assistant?

Welcome! If you’ve stumbled across this website, you’re either interested in becoming a Teaching Assistant (TA) at some level or you want to know more about what they do. Either way, you’ll be able to find a raft of free information here.

For the last ten or so years, TAs (also known as learning assistants and special educations needs assistants) have played a pivotal role in ensuring children with learning difficulties in mainstream education are supported. Learning difficulties can include a whole spectrum of issues from autism, problems learning to read and write, behavioural issues or simply assisting children whose first language is not English.

Teaching assistant in a classroom

The role can include helping to get lessons started, supervising various activities or helping the teacher prepare lessons and supervising larger groups.

Originally, the TA’s role was predominantly to help the teacher in basic ways, but the role has expanded over the years and many TAs specialise in other areas of support. For example, some TAs may specialise in languages and physical and/or learning difficulties.

It is possible to become SEN (special education needs) qualified, which enables TAs to prepare and deal with difficult situations in the classroom which teachers would otherwise need to deal with.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Summary of a Teaching Assistant

Hours per week 30 – 40
Qualifications required? Not always, but useful
Starting salary £12,000 +
How to apply for jobs Usually application form
Background check required? Yes – DBS
Competition for jobs High, due to convenient hours


Statistical Data

According to research carried out by the DfE in April 2014, TAs are 92% female and the number of TAs are still increasing!

How do I become a Teaching Assistant?

Becoming a TA is fairly competitive for the advantages listed at the bottom of this article, but if you are keen and show potential, you may not need a qualification to start work. Some candidates work voluntarily to gain experience and assess whether the role is for them, whereas others prefer to gain an understanding of the role by completing courses and gaining qualifications. Either way is perfectly fine as you may want to gain a good understanding via a course or spend a number of weeks/months in an actual TA role, thus getting hands on experience within the environment and setting.  The best advice would be to contact the LEA (local education authority) for the school(s) you are interested in working as they may have specific criteria. Some LEAs will only require some enthusiasm and little experience working with children, but others require a qualification such as the Level 2 or Level 3 QCF (formally NVQ) Supporting Teaching & Learning in Schools. Most QCF courses (Certificate and Diplomas) will require a work placement so it would be advisable to prepare early for such a course. It is fast becoming the norm for LEAs request a suitable Teaching Assistant qualification.

child readingTA roles appeal to those who want to help children who have some form of learning difficulties. Therefore, a genuine desire to help such children is a must. These roles are often more prominent in primary schools, although secondary schools still require specialist input. Many parents are often attracted to this kind of role as it ties it with normal school working hours. Parents tend to seek work within the schools of their own children. Potential teachers can also start off as a TA in order to either gain experience or assess whether a teaching job is ideal for them. The Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) status allows more responsibility and can often see the TA plan lessons alongside the teacher. Various skills including working within a team effectively, patience and flexibility are desirable.

It is worth mentioning that working with children will require a thorough background check, managed by the Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS) – known previously as the CRB check.

Image courtesy of Stoonn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Typical job responsibilities

  • assisting the teacher in various ways.
  • reading with children or being read to.
  • helping the teacher with administration.
  • supporting children and assisting them with completing tasks.
  • maintaining classroom behaviour.
  • preparing the classroom for lessons.
  • supervising small or sometimes larger groups of children.
  • assisting with extra curricular events.
  • taking care of children who are going through difficulties
  • secondary schools may require knowledge in relevant subjects such as English, mathematics and science.
  • SEN qualified TAs will assist with other languages, numeracy or literacy problems.


  • Candidates can often start a TA role with little or no experience.
  • Courses can be taken on the job or in preparation (parents with young children often find direct learning course more suitable than hands on training).
  • TA roles can lead to further careers in teaching.
  • Hours worked are usually between school hours during term time, so are very useful for parents with children.


  • Salary can be on the low side – between £12k – £17k annually for full time assistants and up to £21k annually for those with HLTA status.
  • Some students can be challenging.


Teaching Assistant Courses – Award, Certificate or Diploma?

When schools make the decision to employ TAs, it is likely that they will contact the Local Education Authority (LEA) for details of required qualifications and/or experience for the role. Some roles are more specialised than others so it’s important to find the right candidate with the relevance skills set. Because of this, it is advised that you contact your LEA before starting any course, to ensure you’re not throwing away good money. Some LEAs may not require a QCF/NVQ qualification and may just accept GCSEs or equivalent.

Which course is best for me?

What are QCF (formerly NVQ) courses?

The QCF (or Qualifications and Credit Framework) use units within each course to make learning and achieving qualifications more flexible. Each unit takes a certain amount of time (typically 10 hours) to complete and there are three distinct types of QCF qualification, each requiring a certain number of credits:


This includes just 1 to 12 credits and is seen as an introduction to a particular area of work and doesn’t require hands on experience. In the case of a teaching assistant, this may suit someone who is interested in what the role involves and the background. LEAs are less likely to accept this type of qualification as no hands on experience is necessary. Examples are:

  • Level 3 Award in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools.
  • Level 2 Award in Support Work in Schools.


This qualification includes 13 to 36 credits and is achieved by theory and hands on experience in the form of a work placement. This can be voluntary or paid work, part or full time. If qualifications are required, this will likely be the minimum requirement. Examples of this would be:

  • Level 2 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools.
  • Level 3 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools


Includes 37 credits and upwards. This qualification suits someone more advanced within their role and also requires an actual work placement of some sort, as with the Certificate. Examples are:

  • Level 3 Diploma in Specialist Support for Teaching and Learning in Schools.

> Which course is best for me?

> What units are included in each course?

Can I transfer some units to other qualifications?

Every unit within a qualification has a unique code allocated by Ofqual. If a student can obtain a QCF unit in one qualification, which is also included within another qualification, the unit does not have to be repeated and can be transferred.

For example, the  Level 2 Award in Support Work in Schools includes a unit called ‘Child and Young Person Development ‘. This mandatory unit is also required for the Level 2 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools so can be counted towards both qualifications.

How do teaching assistants engage with students?

Watch this short video on how TAs work with students:



  • Peta Smith on October 9, 2013 at 5:40 pm said:

    Thanks for this. I didn’t realise there were different courses within the levels.

  • Minime on October 9, 2013 at 7:48 pm said:

    Thanks – great article.

  • MSmth on October 26, 2013 at 9:23 pm said:

    Just found this website after researching a little on working as a TA. Sounds like lots of hard work, but very rewarding.

  • Ellie Vine on December 29, 2013 at 9:31 am said:

    Do teaching assistants really need to become qualified? I was a teacher, but retired in 2005. I don’t remember the assistants being particularly helpful, but things may have changed since then.

  • Brum Gardner on January 10, 2014 at 8:55 pm said:

    The starting salary quoted is a trifle high. I am a HLTA on just over £11k. Salaries and contracted hours vary considerably from LEA to LEA. That said; it’s the best job in the world.

    • Claire on May 13, 2014 at 9:36 am said:

      Great information.

      I work as a supply TA currently, I also volunteer one afternoon a week as a TA & also work two days a week as a MSA.

      I recently did my Teaching Assistant Level 3 course online as I don’t do enough hours in the school as I also have another job, the course was great and really insightful.

      I’ve been applying for jobs ever since and not even getting to an interview.

      I’m at a total loss over what else to do?

      Any advice would be much appreciated.

      I started my work and volunteer work once my husband had a promotion and I was able to cut my hours down from full time, so I am a bit of a late starter. I’ve wanted to be a TA for nearly 5 years so I’m lucky I do it part time but would love to do it more so I can leave my other job and solely work as a TA.


  • VI on January 21, 2014 at 6:36 pm said:

    Thanks a million for the TA information here. And for the rest of the website.

  • G Gillingham on February 27, 2014 at 7:13 pm said:

    I’m visiting TA Focus as a trainee TA. Loving the site and the activity on Facebook! Gx

  • Jo on March 5, 2014 at 7:04 pm said:

    The salary quoted here would be for a TA working 52 weeks a year for 37 hours per week. But TAs only get paid for 38/39 weeks per year and usually work for about 25 hours per week. They don’t get paid for holidays as many people think, their salary is averaged out over the year so they get paid every month. So the actual salary they receive is a lot less than this.

  • Samantan Gill on April 26, 2014 at 4:06 am said:

    Hi. I just wanted to say that I appreciate the teaching assistant information on this site. We need all the support as TAs as possible.

  • Claire on May 13, 2014 at 9:32 am said:

    Great information.

    I work as a supply TA currently, I also volunteer one afternoon a week as a TA & also work two days a week as a MSA.

    I recently did my Teaching Assistant Level 3 course online as I don’t do enough hours in the school as I also have another job, the course was great and really insightful.

    I’ve been applying for jobs ever since and not even getting to an interview.

    I’m at a total loss over what else to do?


    • Joy Judge on May 13, 2014 at 9:47 am said:

      Hi Claire.

      Thanks for your message. I would address a few things:

      1. Why aren’t you getting to interview stage?

      How long have you been gaining experience in these positions? I would suggest contacting some of the schools you have been applying to and asking why you have not got to interview stage. It could simply be huge competition or that you haven’t sold yourself enough in the application form. It’s a very competitive market out there, but persevere. This may help – http://www.tafocus.co.uk/teaching-assistant-jobs/teaching-assistant-application-forms

      2. Was your TA qualification an Award? This would mean no work placement during the course. Some LEAs are a little uncomfortable with this as they want experience. That said, you DO have experience. I would contact the school/LEA and check that your Level 3 qualification meets their minimum requirements.

      3. Come and visit us on Facebook. There are a number of TAs who may be able to help you (https://www.facebook.com/teachingassistantfocus)

      4. These guys may be able to help, too. Those using the forum may have some great advice (http://ta.forumup.org)

      5. Give some of the teaching recruitment agencies a shout. I know of one pretty good one (Teaching Personnel – http://www.teachingpersonnel.com) who specialise in TA roles as well as teaching.

      Best of luck, Claire.

  • Adam on December 31, 2014 at 4:02 pm said:

    Hi, thanks for the article. It’s been very helpful and informative.
    I worked as a T.A in a secondary school for the last ten years, and absolutely loved it. I was about to start my HLTA qual a couple of years ago but the government cut funding. So didn’t do it. Unfortunately I was made redundant this year and really want to get back into working as a T.A. I’ve recently got a job as a Cover Supervisor but it’s no where near as interesting or rewarding. I’m just looking for some advice of what to do now. Most T.A jobs are advertised as requiring level 3 or equivalent. Although I’m very experienced as a T.A, I didn’t gain any qualifications in the role. My experience should be a massive advantage, but I know how much emphasis is put on having certain qualifications now. Would you advise me to skip level 2 and go straight to the level 3 course?
    What do you think would be the best move for me to get back into working as a T.A? I really miss it.
    Thanks, Adam.

  • Gemma on January 12, 2015 at 5:58 pm said:

    I have recently attained a degree in Education Studies which involved three yearly placements in the primary setting.
    I have been looking for a TA job with absolutely no success, not even getting an interview.
    I feel I have lots of experience and am currently volunteering at a local primary school, helping out in EYFS and Key Stage 1. I am also privately tutoring two primary aged boys weekly.
    Is there anything else I could be doing to help me find a TA job; with my experience do I need to take another course?
    Thank you!

    • Joy Judge on January 16, 2015 at 10:55 am said:

      Hi Gemma, thanks for your comment.

      You seem to be gaining a wealth of experience. I would check that your application forms aren’t letting you down – perhaps a call to the schools you have applied to and asking them why you were not successful? I wouldn’t take another course unless your LEA or local schools feel that you ought to.

      Unfortunately, the process of finding a TA role takes some time. This link may help with finding lots of TA roles – http://www.tafocus.co.uk/a-little-tool-to-help-find-teaching-assistant-jobs/

  • Melissa on February 12, 2015 at 11:03 am said:

    I have recently decided to make a switch from a successful career in business to working with children in schools. I already hold a BA and MBA from top schools in America but in business fields. While my children are still young, I would like to work as a teaching assistant to decide whether I would like to retrain as a teacher. I have been volunteering in various nursery and primary schools for the last 8 years and my children’s school has already offered to help me with my placement for a course. I am wondering if I can go straight into the Level 3 Certificate course or if I should (or need to) start with the Level 2 course. I would really appreciate your input. Thanks

  • Margarida on June 27, 2015 at 3:12 pm said:

    Teaching assistants should get the 52 weeks pay per year! This is not fair on us for the amount of work we have to do. The government should actually come into classrooms and have the first hand experience about what TAs do to support the pupils. I do it because I am passionate about nurturing/supporting children and not for the money which is very low pay for what I have to do on a daily basis. TAs should be paid exactly 52 weeks per year as teachers!!!

  • Mary on July 1, 2015 at 10:49 pm said:

    I’ve always wanted to work in a school and I am currently working in a school as a ta through an agency. I am a over seas graduate with a honours degree in EArly childhood care health and education. I am looking into doing a course in ta to get a permanent job and build towards a HLTA, what’s the best route to take ?

    Kind regards

  • Laura Barden on July 29, 2015 at 7:47 pm said:


    I have recently left school and want to become a teaching assistant. As I have no qualifications in this field I was just wondering what my options were.

    Many thanks

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