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Free QTS Numeracy Skills Test ebook for TAs who want to become teachers…

Some Teaching Assistants may be considering a move into teaching. To qualify as a teacher, one needs to obtain qualified teacher status (QTS), by passing a series of assessments. Part of the assessment requires trainee teachers pass the QTS Numeracy Skills Test and the QTS Literacy Skills Test.

Some prospective teachers can find it a little daunting revisiting maths, but there are numerous help guides available.

Tom O’Toole, author of Guide to the QTS Numeracy Skills Test, is offering his new ebook free this week (24th – 27th February 2015).

The ebook is packed with typical questions asked in the test, with answers and explanations. Also included are top tips and practice tests!

If you think this ebook may be useful, download it for free this week (24th – 27th February 2015).

Tom O’Toole is interested in knowing more about teaching resources, so if you have any suggestions – links, organisations etc – please comment below.

This offer has now ended.

Foundation Degrees for Teaching Assistants – Frequently Asked Questions

Foundation Degrees for Teaching Assistants – FAQs

By Jean Edwards, Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Northampton.

Jean EdwardsI am a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Northampton. I’m also Admissions Tutor for the Foundation Degree Learning and Teaching so I meet and talk to many volunteers, Teaching Assistants and HLTAs who want to develop their roles in school and their own education. I also teach on the FD and BA courses and I’ve enjoyed seeing our students go to achieve their ambitions personally and professionally.

I was a teacher, deputy head then head teacher in primary and lower schools for nearly twenty years and I have also written about teaching of mathematics, English and Art. My most recently published book was ‘Teaching Primary Art’ by Pearson in 2013.

Contact Jean at Jean.edwards@northampton.ac.uk, follow her on Twitter @JeanEd70 and keep an eye on the FDLT blog.


What is a Foundation Degree?

A Foundation Degree is university level academic study alongside employment in a workplace. Most Foundation Degrees in areas of education would require you to be employed in an educational setting for a proportion of each week. Foundation Degrees take a minimum of two years (longer if you are studying part-time). You would have the opportunity to develop your skills, knowledge and understanding in relation to your work-based role, often learning the theory that underpins your practice. You are likely to develop your existing role in your workplace and begin to consider the next steps in your career.

How will a Foundation Degree support me in my current role and future career?

In your current role a Foundation Degree can be an opportunity for you explore the theory and research that underpins children’s learning and develop the strategies you use to support their learning. You also have the chance to work with fellow students in other educational settings and appreciate the wider world of education in which your role and setting are based.

Some student comments:

Gemma said:

‘Here are a couple of ways in which the foundation degree has impacted my current role…I learned so much through the Foundation Degree.  One area of learning that continues to impact my role today is that of reflective practice. Learning how to reflect means that I am continually improving the support I give children through in school, which benefits the children and gives me a sense of achievement and satisfaction in my role.  The Foundation Degree also developed my skills and knowledge in the core subjects enabling me to support children in these lessons with greater confidence than before.’

Siobhan said:

Balancing work with study has been challenging yet very rewarding. The degree has enabled me to develop Literacy and time management skills and I have been able to gain a comprehensive understanding of the workings of a school being able to research education theories in the learning environment.’

Ayesha said:

‘The thought of starting back at University learning was very daunting. However, as I became engaged with the Foundation Degree sessions, I found myself thriving for more information and knowledge. It has permitted me to enhance my role at my setting with all the new and updated information, strategies and examples from the different members of the cohort. It has shown me that I am able to implement most of my learning in my every day teaching. Likewise, it obligates me to confidently help bring changes to the learning and teaching of the children and nonetheless my colleagues at my setting. The head teacher also encourages these positive changes. Therefore this Foundation Degree has not only helped me gain academically, but has made me self-assured and now I am undertaking the Top up BALT Year.’

Many students who complete Foundation Degrees go on study for a ‘top-up’ to achieve their BA (Hons). This usually follows a similar study pattern as the Foundation Degree. Having an Honours degree could support you in applying for other professional courses, such as for Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) and is a minimum level of education for many roles in support and education.

Students who have completed the BALT at the University of Northampton have gone on to become primary teachers, assistant head teachers and we also have a head teacher amongst our graduates. Our graduates have developed their careers in others areas than class teaching: a secondary head of year, a music technology teacher, a trainer in the NHS and as SENCos in schools.

Videos of students who have completed a Foundation Degree


How do I know if I am ready to apply for a Foundation Degree?

Most Foundation Degrees would have some admissions criteria such as:

  • A Level 3 qualification (BTec, NVQ, NNEB, A levels, HLTA)
  • A number of years’ experience in your area of work (paid or voluntary)
  • The support of your employer (who will be asked for a reference)
  • Some GCSEs (English, Mathematics and Science) might be part of the criteria and would also be important for those planning to go further towards QTS.

When applicants apply for the Foundation Degree learning and teaching at the University of Northampton they are invited for interview so that they can meet the tutors and explore their readiness to start the course. Sometimes applicants are ready to begin the course at the beginning of the next academic year; for others they might spend some time ensuring that they have all of the requirements in place. When we interview applicants the morning consists of a group discussion, some basic literacy and numeracy tests and an individual interview.

What support do I need from my employer?

Your employer would have to release you from work to attend the course. Some support from your workplace, perhaps by providing a work-based mentor, might be a course expectation. You would have to provide a reference from your employer stating that they support your application.

Beyond this it would be important that your workplace understood and encouraged you in your studies.

Many schools have supported students on the FDLT over more than ten years. Schools seem to appreciate the opportunity to support their teaching assistants and HLTAs in their development as professionals in the education workforce. In my own school I found the TA who studied her FDLT developed her confidence, her skills and her initiative – seeing areas where she could support children and suggesting strategies we could put in place and carrying these out with positive effects on children’s learning.

One of our local Headteachers who supported memebers of staff on the Foundation Degree Learning and Teaching said:

Two aspects of FDLT appealed to me as a headteacher: firstly, the idea of ‘growing our own’. When you spot a TA with the potential to become a teacher, what could be better than to help train someone in whom you already have confidence and who knows your institution? But, it also provides the opportunity of valuable CPD and that can make a real difference in the classroom. The gain in confidence from study and from working with other like-minded TAs is visible and so beneficial for all concerned.

Where can I do a Foundation Degree?

Many universities offer Foundation Degrees and some universities also offer these at other sites (local colleges and schools) that might be nearer than your nearest university.

How do I fund a Foundation Degree?

Foundation Degrees, like other Higher Education studies, are usually funded through your application for Tuition Fee Loans and Maintenance Loans and Grants.

You can find out more about this at the Student Loans Company website – http://www.slc.co.uk/

What is university study like?

On a Foundation Degree it is likely that you would study modules designed to explore aspects of your role such as professional studies; the curriculum and how children learn; inclusion, special educational needs and diversity and some work-based learning related to your setting.

When at university you would often work with other students, furthering your knowledge and understanding through taught sessions, discussion and practical learning experiences. You would be expected to pursue independent learning outside taught sessions based around directed study, reading and preparation of assignments.

University study is assessed through written assignments such as essays and projects; work-based activities such as portfolios of evidence; presentations and online discussions.

You can get a sense of some of the activities that are part of the learning experience by looking on the FDLT blog here – http://mypad.northampton.ac.uk/fdlt2012/

Foundation Degrees in education – some examples of titles:

Childhood and Learning Support Studies, Community Learning, Early Childhood Studies, Early Years Studies, Early Years (Sector Endorsed), Education in Context, Foundation Degree in Childhood Studies, Inclusive Studies for TAs, Learning and Teaching, Learning Assistants in Secondary Schools, Learning Support (Teaching and Learning), Professional Practice (Early Years), Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools, Working with Children, Working with Children and Young People in Education

For more information about the Foundation Degree Learning and Teaching (FDLT) at the University of Northampton, check out their blog – http://mypad.northampton.ac.uk/fdlt2012/applying-for-fdlt.

The View from the Chalkface by Anita Wooltorton

A few weeks ago, Joy Judge asked me to write something for TA Focus, and I quickly agreed. My first question was “What do you want me to write about?”

“Ooo, anything you like, really… about being a T.A. or a union rep., something along those lines”.

Right! No problemo! No sooner said than done! A large slice of the proverbial Mr Kipling’s coming right up! And I started to think…to plan…to ponder…

…Nothing…nada…niente; my brain slowly turned into the set of a 70’s Spaghetti Western, with nothing moving but a lone tumbleweed rolling down the deserted dirt street of a town devoid of ideas.

Only now, as I face the first day back at the chalkface, after a blissful few weeks which flitted by all to fitfully, do I feel that I can tackle the subject of what it means to be a TA: I needed that distance because, when you actually consider the statement “I am a Teaching Assistant”, nobody, until fairly recently, has had the vaguest damned idea about just what I was claiming!

Let me explain. A taxi driver drives a taxi, a window fitter fits windows, a teacher teaches, but just who or what does a teaching assistant assist; are we there to assist the teacher or the teaching, or, as has been the case in the vast majority of positions which fall under the general heading of TA, is neither a better answer?

Most people who came into this profession have found themselves supporting the learning of individual students, sometimes out of the classroom but mostly in class, with most of these students having been encumbered with a statement of special educational needs. The burgeoning growth of TA numbers is pretty consistent with the scramble by educational specialists and psychologists to have their papers on various ‘-isms’ and ‘-xias’ and the need for inclusion recognised by the establishment, and the closure of nasty, expensive special schools which kept these students out of the mainstream : what was an innovation in the 1970’s is now a job which employs over 300,000 people in the UK, and has become the accepted norm in just about every school in the country.

However, in the charge towards inclusion wherever possible, whether it was the right thing for the individual student or not, normally quite sane, measured, methodical people in education failed to ask themselves the very questions they expected their teaching staff to ask of their students each and every lesson: What are we aiming to achieve by placing TAs within schools? Who is the best person for this job? When should they be employed? Why are they necessary? Where should they work? How will we measure their achievements?

The failure to ask these very basic questions grew as the TA employment numbers ballooned. What we see, as teaching assistants became part of the education framework, are assumptions made in high places that whilst we were deemed necessary, to ‘deal with’ statemented and other problematic students on a day-to-day basis, little thought was given to the how, what, where, when & why aspects of our employment…presumably, those educational specialists missed that part of the equation, and with the unquestioning acceptance of generations (in professional career terms) of education ministers and officials, local authority personnel, headteachers, teachers, etc. the cheap, thoughtless, unprofessional misuse of teaching assistants became the status quo.

Hard words? Let me take you back to my first job as a Learning Support Assistant, when my then SENCo informed me that the gentleman in charge of education for my local county council viewed teaching assistants as “a bunch of middle-aged women who sit at the back of the class with the ‘numpties’ and try to keep them quiet”.

His words were harsh, totally unprofessional, and politically incorrect, but, you know what? He had a point, because the study, ‘Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants’ by Peter Blatchford et al, (when someone actually did get around to starting to research what we do), found that ‘middle-aged women’ was what most of us were, and sitting at the back of the class with the most vulnerable students was what most of us were doing . Because none of the ‘movers and shakers’ in education had asked those important questions, teaching assistants found themselves, over the years, doing anything and everything, from photocopying and general admin for teachers, to actively teaching whole classes on virtual slave-labour wages for headteachers who enthusiastically interpreted ‘cover supervision’ to mean anything that would get them out of a hole, cheaply. But by far the largest group were those of us trailing after statemented students from class to class, in an endless battle to ensure that they ‘kept up with the rest’.

Some of us found our way into schools by volunteering to help out with our own kids, and subsequently found that it suited, hours- and holiday- wise, and the money on offer came in handy; ‘pin-money’, if you like. As the years went by, this idea of women, locally based, of ‘a reasonable standard of education’ (whatever that means!), working hours which suited their commitments (if not their bank balance), became entrenched in education circles, especially as teachers moved further and further away from the schools they taught in, and moved jobs more frequently to keep pace with increasingly accelerated career paths: We, the support staff, became the stabilising factor, the friendly face of the status quo in schools…we weren’t going anywhere…

And we colluded in this contrived educational sleepwalking, because we are nice people; we wanted to help, to work in education with the vulnerable and less able, to feel a part of something that mattered, and we wouldn’t rock the boat, even if we wondered how watching an hour-long film about a kid breaking up a classroom could, in any way, shape or form, be called sufficient training on ‘behaviour problems and how to deal with them’, or how we could work in a Maths department effectively when nobody seemed bothered that we didn’t know how the new Maths being taught worked! We’re nice people, and those higher up must know what they were doing, right?

Okay, this scenario may not be the same for every TA reading this, but I’m willing to bet that I’ve struck a few chords with more than a few of you, and some of you will still be doing the same old dance.

However, our past doesn’t have to be our future, and it is up to us to push for the changes so badly needed in the implementation and career development of TAs. Whilst there are chinks of light appearing as the great and good slowly absorb what Blatchford et al have concluded in their offerings on the use and implementation of TAs, it is a slow, uphill battle to achieve the proper training, status, recognition and remuneration we deserve.

For every school that is waking up, smelling the coffee, and realising what a positive resource we could be, given the correct funding and encouragement, there are countless other dinosaurs, still lumbering around, waiting for everything else to evolve around them. For example, how can a secondary school attract the right people to work with the most vulnerable and needy students when the headteacher still refuses to advertise TA jobs properly, claiming it is an unjustified expense when ‘word of mouth’ will do? It’s like the old vaudeville joke about the bloke applying for a handyman’s job who couldn’t do anything in that line, but who claimed he qualified as ‘handy’ because he just lived around the corner! The trouble is, when it is your child who comes into daily contact with this person, the joke loses what little humour it had.

We, all 300,000 of us, need to get our act together, and drag the reluctant  dinosaurs into this century. Try something for me, will you? Ask about training for your job, and if you want to specialise, see what courses on ‘-isms’ and ‘-xias’ etc. are available in your area, because these courses are for you, and the students you work with deserve the best, not the cheapest, option. If you attend an interview for a school support job, make a point of asking what the school can do for you, what are the career prospects, and if they, like the academy sponsor who came to one of my previous schools with glorious plans for the teaching staff, but who stared at me like I’d just hit him in the face with a frozen halibut when I asked him his plans for TA career enhancement, my advice would be to ‘run like a bunny in the opposite direction’ because “…Erm…well…we really do value what teaching assistants do…erm…” just ain’t good enough anymore!

Ask for specifics; do they want a Teaching Assistant to assist teachers in a certain department as a specialism working with all (and I mean, all) abilities of student, or do they want Learning Support, trained to work with students with specific problems, or do they want a Learning Mentor, guiding all abilities throughout their school life? The possibilities are endless, what we need is appropriate training, a level of respect to reflect that status, and the proper pay levels that go along with it.

Personally, I will breathe a sigh of relief when I see our profession attracting as many male applicants as women,  not simply being used as a stepping stone into teaching, but as a career choice in its own right. Only then will I forget “middle-aged women sitting with the ‘numpties’”.



Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants : How Research Challenges Practice and Policy. Blatchford, P. Russell, A. and Webster, R. Routledge (London and NewYork). 2012

What’s the best way to train to be a teaching assistant?

Advice on Teaching Assistant training by a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator)

If you are interested in becoming a teaching assistant, the first step is to find out the criteria of the Local Authority, for example whether they will expect you to have a relevant qualification or some practical experience.

If the Local Authority doesn’t have specific criteria, you can decide on how best to prepare yourself for the role. However, whether you decide to enrol on an official course or not, getting some hands-on experience, either through voluntary work or a course placement, will be really valuable. Firstly, it can help you check whether you enjoy working with children in this capacity, and whether your skills and personality are suited to the role. Secondly, watching other Teaching Assistants or the classroom teacher interact with the children will provide you with really useful training and ideas for how best to support the children you will be working with in the future. And lastly, having practical experience on your CV shows potential employers your enthusiasm for the role and that you already have experience working with children. You may even find that the school you are working in has vacancies in the future which you are well placed to apply for.

Doing a work placement as part of a course can be particularly useful and the course leaders and material will help you get the most out of your placement. Course leaders will also potentially provide feedback to help you improve your skills.

Whatever route you choose, finding out as much as you can about what being a Teaching Assistant is like, in theory and in practice, will help you decide whether the job is the right one for you, and help when it comes to applying for vacancies.

My Favourite Teaching Assistant Course Modules

Kathryn Arnold previously wrote about the challenges of her Teaching Assistant course. In this post, Kathryn discusses her favourite modules and why.


When studying for the ‘Level 3 Teaching Assistant Diploma’ via Stonebridge Colleges, one of the modules that particularly interested me was ‘Supporting pupils with Special Educational Needs’. I have always wanted to specialise in this area, and whilst Stonebridge Colleges do offer a specific course for SEN teaching, I wanted to also learn how to work with mainstream children and how a mainstream school works as a whole.

I was firstly interested in studying the factors that may affect learning, for example; hearing problems, sight problems, attention span and maybe even family life at home. I learnt about ways to deliver equal opportunities to all pupils, and prevent barriers to learning. I feel a Teaching Assistant going into a school environment already knowing how to tackle potential learning barriers is so important and makes you successful at your job.

Within this module, you also learn about the roles of the teaching staff – the relationships formed between teacher and learner, the learning environment and the teaching skills needed for independent learning. This helped me to learn what my particular role as Teaching Assistant would involve, and the importance of my support and guidance to pupils. The part of this module which I found most difficult was all the information on current legislation and school policies. This, although extremely important, can be quite dull to revise. I did however enjoy learning about the wide range of support staff available and on board for pupils with Special Educational Needs – I was so wrong when I thought it was just the teacher and TA! You will learn in this module about the roles of support staff such as;

• Occupational Therapists
• Physiotherapists
• Speech and Language Therapists
• Educational Psychologists
• Paediatrician

All these roles, alongside the class teacher and the Teaching Assistants, can provide equal amounts of support to these pupils. You never know, you might learn that another role suits you better! I think that knowing about everybody’s role within a school environment ensures great communication and support for the pupils.

You will also learn about resources available for pupils with Special Educational Needs, for example; Braille for blind pupils/pupils with poor vision, alternative keyboards for pupils with poor motor skills, and technology to maximise hearing. I found this information very useful, and it prepared me for resources that would have confused me had I not have learnt about their purpose.

Another extremely useful subject I learnt about during this module was case studies for pupils with Special Educational Needs. You can expect to feel totally confident going into a job in a school knowing that this is something you can contribute to. The module offers revision on how to write them, what they should include, the objective of a case study and the school guidelines on confidentiality. Knowing all of this information means that teaching staff can entrust you to do this job with ease! Case studies are a fantastic way to ensure the pupils needs are met, that they have learning outcomes and an appropriate challenge for their ability, and the learning experience and provision are suitable for them. If a pupil with Special Educational Needs is placed in a mainstream school, this should not affect their learning and they should feel comfortable and be able to meet targets in that provision.

The exam paper for this module contains 6 questions, each requiring at least a paragraph for an answer. This particular module, in my opinion, required the most writing and I think this is mainly because of all the legislation that goes hand in hand with Special Educational Needs. The main requirements for the questions are to describe, explain or outline certain aspects of what you have learnt. As I’m sure you can imagine, this means a sentence is just not going to cut it! Each question weights 5 marks, and therefore I always think it makes sense to raise 5 points/ideas. You most definitely have to refer back to your notes, use your brain and enjoy what you are learning about in order to pass this module. It is obviously important to fully understand, and I found the revision absolutely valuable to what I want to do with my life. I passed this module, which I feel hugely down to my genuine interest in the subject as it wasn’t easy. Finishing the module helped me feel prepared to work with pupils who have Special Educational Needs, and I really felt I could support them in preventing barriers to learning, and ensuring a great learning experience.

Studying for Level 3 Teaching Assistant Diploma

Kathryn Arnold is studying for a Level 3 Teaching Assistant course. She discusses her journey and how she finds communicating online. The qualifications acquired at the end of Kathryn’s course are the Stonebridge Associated Colleges: Teaching Assistant Diploma and Level 3 Teaching Assistant Award.


I have always wanted to work within a school environment, and after studying childcare, and spending some time working as a nanny, I decided to take that next step. After searching on the internet, I came across a Level 3 Teaching Assistant Diploma course being offered by Stonebridge College as a work from home scheme. The course requires no experience, which told me that it offers plenty of learning opportunities. There are 9 modules to this course :-

  • Supporting the teacher
  • Supporting the pupil
  • Supporting the curriculum
  • Supporting the school
  • Supporting ICT in the classroom
  • Supporting pupils with Special Educational needs
  • Supporting literacy development
  • Supporting numeracy development
  • Working with others

I was initially impressed by the content of this course, and upon checking it was legitimate, I decided it was the one for me. I found the syllabus exciting, and I liked how I could do it at my own pace. Another great factor is you have a personal tutor on board who you can email at any time you may get stuck, and who will mark your exams. The cost of this course was affordable and seemed standard across all available courses online.


How long will it take me to complete?

The duration is really depends on your lifestyle. For example, as a full time mother, with her own small business and a constant mountain of ironing on the go, it has taken me just over a year and I am now about to complete my final exam. For me, this relieves the pressure of deadlines, and fitting revision in to my weekly schedule. The college does offer a calculator  on their site, in which you can type in how many hours a week and it will tell you roughly how long the course will take to complete. The course is available as an online study, or paper format which means the papers get posted to you. I chose the online study option, because I personally find it much easier to work that way, but it really depends on your learning style.


What’s involved?

Upon receiving my student login details and exploring the student site, I opened up my first assignment. There is no right or wrong way to revise here, whether you prefer to print the revision and highlight section, or write out pages of notes – it’s totally up to you. I found myself doing a mixture throughout the papers, dependant on my mood!! Each assignment contains tons of information, focusing on things like; methods that the Teaching Assistant could use within certain situations, factors that could affect learning, the learning environment and tools used within that, adhering to the correct laws and legislations, helping pupils develop, and ensuring their safety. There are many more elements to the course, but those are just a few examples of the sort of thing you can expect to learn about.


How to approach exams

Once you feel that you have revised sufficiently, you can do your first exam. The exam contains 5-6 essay questions in which you will be expected to write at least a paragraph on each question. You have, of course, always got your notes to refer back to, however you will also be expected to have an input on activities/methods you as the Teaching Assistant could use, for example; when learning about measurement and mass, pupils can differentiate between a weight held in each hand (a sentence from my own exam on supporting numeracy development.) Once you have sent your exam paper off, the tutor will usually mark within a few days and send back your grades. Unfortunately on a few occasions I have never received mine and have had to chase them up! I have recently discovered though, that your grades are automatically submitted to your student page as well, so all hope is not lost. This does however mean you don’t get your feedback – just pass or fail.

I have, so far, passed each module, and I particularly liked receiving feedback on how they thought I was getting on. The final exam paper is extremely daunting though and I am currently plucking up the courage to start it! It involves a huge summary of all the modules and the main points that have been learnt throughout the course. This exam would require a long essay, so a lot of using notes and putting in the hard work and effort. I will feel a huge sense of relief when it is finished!

The course as a whole is excellent for anyone who likes independent learning, and no deadlines! Initially, as a young mum I thought the cost was quite large, however in hindsight it really is worth every penny. The communication between tutor and pupil could be slightly better, but it hasn’t really affected my learning. I would wholeheartedly recommend the course, for anyone who has the drive to succeed, a good initiative, and commitment. The course will fully prepare you to work in a school environment, even without work placements on offer. I personally have childcare experience, but if you don’t you could always volunteer in a school if you think it’d help you along the way. I’m hoping it will improve my job prospects and make me more employable.

Mundaneness and Complacency – Why I Needed To Become A TA

Karen Smith is a TA in the making. Her account documents the struggles with changing careers, starting a new course and the excitement that has followed.

Last summer, I decided to become a Teaching Assistant. My sister is a science lab technician at a local secondary school and told me there were always TA positions being advertised. I’ve always been good with children, especially when they’ve been challenging, so I figured I’d be good at the job. Plus, I had worked as a graphic designer for so long, I was starting to get itchy feet.

I enquired about any open positions at the school, but was told the minimum qualification they would accept is a Level 2 QCF or equivalent. This came as a shock because I already had A Levels and a degree in Biology. It was also apparent that the school was not hiring good enough TA staff as turnover was pretty high. Were they only going to accept those with a ‘Level 2 QCF’ qualification?

I dug deeper and discovered many schools in the area were requesting the same qualification as a minimum. Frankly, I had no idea what a Level 2 QCF was! I briefly read through the course information and glanced through the unit headings. No need for more study, I thought, so I reconsidered the change in career and resumed normal life.

Those next few months were tough. The more I thought about becoming a Teaching Assistant, the more I yearned for a change. My job had become stale and uninteresting and I started to feel trapped an uncreative. I’d get up for work and feel an absolute dread. The money was good, yet it didn’t seem to fill the gap inside me.

I looked up those course details again and wondered if I had been hasty all those months ago. Suddenly, the course content looked really appealing. The emphasis was on child development and safeguarding their welfare. Yes, it would mean studying again for some months, but the subject matter was really up my street. Even if I decided not to continue with a TA career, surely I would have learnt a great deal about how children develop? I’d learn how to communicate properly with children and apply it to my own offspring one day?

I browsed through a number of online courses and settled with a Level 2 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools. This appeared to be the most popular of them all and the local schools nodded their heads in agreement when I visited to discuss my options.

Suddenly, there was a spark inside of me. I was going to study in the evenings while working, but arrange a work placement during a sabbatical period. That was 4 months ago and I’m now well into my course. Sure, it’s tough trying to squeeze everything in. I barely get time to watch TV or talk to my partner! But it’s only for the short term. The work I’ve already done at my local school has raised eyebrows and I’m being pencilled in for future roles.

I am really excited about my future. Somewhere along the way, I had become complacent and comfortable with life. But as I approach 30, I want to be proud of my achievements. Is it cheesy to say I want to ‘make a difference’? Of course it is! But I’m saying it with a big smile on my face!

More on teaching assistant courses

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Teaching Assistant Courses and Agencies – A TA’s Story

Rebecca from Staffordshire has worked as a Teaching Assistant for many years and is now studying for her Level 3 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools. Here she details her experiences and advice for other TAs

My TA story

Teaching Assistant Course thoughtsIt’s about 10 years after I first started my work as a voluntary teaching assistant and I’m currently in the process of studying for my Level 3 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools: TA Level 3 in basic terms. Why am I only doing it now? Well, that is a simple question with a much trickier answer.

I started volunteering when in Secondary school and followed this through at University before returning to my Secondary school after graduating. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and friends had suggested teaching so I went to get some more experience after my initial voluntary work during Sixth Form. I’d ended up doing very basic teaching assistant work in the Music department and, because I was a good student, the staff were more than happy to have me helping out again. I even managed to teach some lessons while I was there, under the supervision of the class teacher and my students loved it. A chance encounter with one of my other teachers queried if I’d ever experienced Primary before I tried following a career in Secondary Music so I went to try and I loved it.
I soaked up experiences like a sponge and completely rethought my future. Primary I could be so much more useful and creative. I really managed to connect with the children and I loved every minute of my volunteering.


“I really do love working with children. The look on their face when they suddenly understand things they didn’t before is amazing but it’s more amazing to know that you’ve helped them understand that.”

I ended up switching schools at the end of the year to gain experience in a different school and things completely changed. From a two form entry Junior school, I moved to a tiny village Primary school with under 80 pupils and a two year rolling programme. I’m very pleased I had this experience because working with two year groups in a classroom is quite a difference from one form or two form entry but for me it was like going back to really experience my first Primary school. Most teaching assistants may find they work with lower ability or SEN students. In this setting you have two groups of lower ability: one from each year. However, the entire year group may be all of 12 students. In my class at the moment I have 21 students who are the entire year 3 and 4, conveniently the class I had two years ago! I say conveniently because I need a ‘home’ group to work with for College and I already know these children.

There are some schools that you just fall in love with. This was one of those schools. When my previous plans fell through and my finances took rather a large hit from my volunteering without any paid work, I signed up to an Agency and regretfully left this school for a year. I used everything I’d learnt gradually being a volunteer to be an official unqualified yet paid teaching assistant. My consultants were very helpful, interviewing me thoroughly to create a full profile of me to send to schools when contracts came through in the hope that schools would choose me. Sometimes, the consultants would choose their candidates for a contract then send them to the school. Despite being unqualified, I gained a significant amount of work and had schools requesting me to go back. In one year I worked at 5 different schools, had about 10 different classes I worked with, assisted during two Ofsted inspections (3 in one calendar year if you count the one my current school had back in October!) and gained a lot of experience. One single form entry Primary school, one Secondary Community Special school, one Middle school, one Pupil Referral Unit and a one and a half form entry Primary school gives a lot of children, teachers and experience.

The teachers I worked with quickly realised I was good at my job. I followed and took my lead from them; I was willing to do anything and learn anything. I was comfortable working with the children and knew how to be professional. One lady, who I am very privileged to have worked with, told me, on my last day, that I was the best TA she’d ever worked with. Over the term I’d ended up being with her she’d been able to rely on me. She’d delegated to me. I’d sorted her paperwork, photocopying, displays, done guided reading, group work, assessments, cover lessons and just about anything else she trusted me with. I was her go to girl. When I left, a class of year 5 I’d had were in tears and I had a number of handmade cards off them. Clearly it is not just a teacher that has an impact on the children and their education!

When I finished at my last school, I had a similar reaction though most of the children were more excited about the fact that it was the summer holidays but I will always remember the first few days of that contract. The third day in and first with the usual class teacher back from a course, I was asked how I worked. I told her I liked to generally have some idea as to how things worked but that I was quite happy to go with the flow. Then she stated that being Deputy Head she sometimes had to leave the classroom at a moment’s notice and asked if I’d be happy being left in charge, alone, in front of her class. When all that’s running through your head is ‘you barely know me, I barely know this school or these children’ always say ‘yes, that’s fine by me’. You will learn so much more and your school will appreciate it. Believe in yourself, you can do it. As my College tutor said, being a TA means you could be asked to take over the class at any moment so take any chances you are given as trials. It’s scary at first but you will get used to it and it’s a very privileged position to be in.

So, why did I decide to do the qualification now? I’m not going to lie; I wanted to go into teaching and for various reasons, I’m not at the moment. As a result I’ve taken a side step so that I can be officially qualified. Although it was proven I was good at my job and was employable, lacking that piece of paper to say I’m qualified reduced my opportunities. It made me ineligible to apply for jobs in local schools because they all wanted the qualifications rather than knowing that you could do it without the qualification. At least through the agency, schools trust you more because you and your skills have been vetted by them.

Would I advise anyone to go and be an Agency TA? It was great being able to experience so many different schools and so many teaching styles but you never know when, where or how long you’re going to be anywhere. If you can cope with being on call, by all means sign up and you won’t regret the experience.

Would I advise doing the TA Level 3 qualification? There’s a lot of work to do in it and although you can do the bare minimum, I never do because I like knowing more. I’m half way through my class taught section in College but still have the in school assessment to come. I’m pleased I have a class of friends to help me through this first section rather than doing it as an online course by myself but I think I might leave my decision as to whether it was worth it until July!

Would I change working with children? Not a chance. I don’t have any of my own and I’m in a privileged position to be able to work with them all day then go home and not have to worry about anyone apart from what someone else has on the TV but I really do love working with children. The look on their face when they suddenly understand things they didn’t before is amazing but it’s more amazing to know that you’ve helped them understand that.
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The Life of a Male Teaching Assistant

Stephen Myers is a teaching assistant for a primary school in the West Midlands and has written a guest post on the challenges of working with SEN students.

“Seven years ago I decided to change my career path and, after much deliberation, settled on a training course to become a teaching assistant. As inferred, it wasn’t a split decision and there were a number of factors involved in the process. My daughter’s school friend is autistic and my daughter had told me about the wonderful job her friend’s teaching assistant had been doing to help support her in mainstream education.

I had been a cab driver for several years prior to my decision, but it was time to find something meaningful in life. Something that would make my daughter proud and a job that could enable me to work around my primary job as a single parent. But I was worried about being one of the few percent of male TAs. I worried about what my friends thought and whether I was actually up to the job of working with young people.

The process of finding a teaching assistant role back then wasn’t too difficult. I volunteered here and there for several months and completed a few courses and suddenly a TA role surfaced to help support some new TA students joining the school. The students begged me to take on the role, which I did and I haven’t been happier.

I got ribbed by my cabbie colleagues for a while (I was still working part time at the cab office), but when they saw how I had changed and grown, they supported me fully. I was also initially taken aback by how few male teaching assistants there are and felt a little intimidated working with so many (talented) women. They took me under their wings and I became the little brother of the family!

I love my job and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. In the last seven years, I’ve improved my knowledge by taking further specialist SEN courses and I’m looking at working in a special needs school at some point in the future. I know I’ve been a great role model for a number of students I’ve supported – all through understanding, listening and injecting a little sense of humour into the mix.

Some male students often find it difficult to communiate with female members of staff about personal problems, which I’ve helped them overcome.

My daughter is proud of what I’ve achieved and she’s even studying to become a teacher herself.”


Read John Woodcock’s Diary of a trainee Teaching Assistant

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Charitable grants for coursesSome of us may find we want to pursue a course, but are struggling with the financial strains of every day life. Many charities recognise this and are happy to help out financially with bills, clothing, living expenses and course fees.

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