Teaching Assistant Focus

Make a difference to special needs education

Home » Archive by category "Teaching Assistant News" (Page 5)

The Children Need Me: My TA Story

Sarah, from Surrey, works in a London secondary school as a TA. Her heartbreaking story depicts the situation of one of her statemented pupils.


There are times when my boyfriend turns to me and says: “Why do you do this job?!” Sometimes I do find it hard to leave work behind at the school gate. I trained as a teacher years ago, but found the work exhausting. I went on to do other things and returned as a TA because I felt it gave children the support they needed and I could leave work without the heavy burden of marking etc.

That was until I met Danny (name changed). Danny is an angry kid. He gets into fights, throws books and furniture across the room and is unbelievably sad. He’s also supremely clever. The teachers used to talk about him all the time, rolling their eyes and throwing their hands in the air in despair. How could you blame them really? They were scared of him. The Educational Psychologist got involved and Danny became a statemented pupil. That’s when I first met Danny. It had taken months for the application to go through, and when it did, my TA colleague had gone on maternity leave, so I filled in.

As with many kids at the school, Danny comes in tired and hungry. He shrugs if I ask him about his breakfast and he regularly tells me about his after school activities, walking around the streets and parks when his classmates are in bed. He hates his home life, but it’s never discussed. I know too much anyway, from the teachers and other TAs. Mostly he behaves ok, but his anger takes over, especially when he feels criticised or bullied by his classmates. Two weeks ago, he got into an argument with another kid about a ruler. It escalated and the ruler was smashed several times on desks and other furniture. No-one was hurt, but Danny broke down when I took him outside. He cried and shook inconsolably for 10 minutes and my heart began to break as he told me why he felt anger, loneliness and terrible sadness. I can’t repeat what he said, but it made me realise the emotional burden some of these kids carry around with them.

Danny and I regularly discuss his interests and his aspirations. He wants to become a photographer and we’re planning on spending some time in the arts department with various cameras and equipment to make even David Bailey proud. We’re also considering ways to ensure he’s fed during registration for most days.

Danny appreciates what we do, especially the time I spend with him. I can’t say he’s always nice to me. Some weeks he doesn’t want me around him and complains I’m just like the teachers. He behaviour is destructive and he hardly learns a thing. Other weeks his creative side shines through and the sparkle in his eyes return.

I sit at home and worry about Danny, as if he were my own. When my children are in bed by 9pm and I flit around the house with time on my hands, my mind drifts and I wonder if Danny’s on the streets with his friends. It’s the sadness in his eyes that haunt me most, but I know he’s only a few years away from being able to leave home. If I can just be there for him and ensure that at least one person will listen to him and guide him, then maybe he’ll turn out ok.

I remember my difficult years at school, how I left home at 16 and how, more importantly, my teaching assistant made a difference to my life. She was so patient and understanding during some difficult times, I can assure you. I put her through hell some weeks, but she was always there for me.

So when my boyfriend asked me why I do this job, I simply reply: “Because the children need me.”

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.
More information on Teaching Assistant courses


A quiet revolution. How small changes to TA practice can yield big results

By Rob Webster – Researcher Associate, Institute of Education, London

In my previous post for TA Focus, I considered why the threat to cut TA jobs discussed in the media would be a bad move for schools and politicians. In this post, I want to reflect on the intrinsic value of TAs. I have the privilege of working an ever-growing number of schools that are involved in a ‘quiet revolution’. They are making small adjustments to TAs’ practice that have potentially far-reaching consequences for pupil learning.

Here, I draw on this work to explore some things you can do to sharpen your practice and maximise your contribution to the classroom.

1. Know your role

Teacher-TA liaison time before lessons is rare, so TAs often go into classes without knowing what will be taught, what tasks will be done or what the teacher expects from the pupils TAs support. TAs sometimes fall into the trap of thinking the teacher expects pupils to complete the work set and to complete it correctly. So learning can get bypassed in favour of ‘getting the job done’.

Good teachers make the role they want TAs to take in lessons explicit, and do not rely on TAs having to mind-read. Broadly speaking, TAs can only be as effective as teachers enable them to be. So they need to think carefully about TAs’ contribution to learning and communicate their intentions. Insist on knowing what the teacher expects from you at the start of the lesson. Ask her what skills or knowledge the pupils you support should be developing, and what learning she wants them to achieve by the end of the lesson.

2. Hold your nerve

Research has found that TAs’ interactions with pupils can be unintentionally unhelpful. Compared with teachers, TAs do more heavy prompting and spoon-feeding. Let me be clear: I do not blame TAs for this. As we know, unclear expectations have a part to play in this. But such interactions inadvertently get in the way of learning. Much of TAs’ behaviour is driven by a need to say something, when it might actually be better to leave space for pupils to think, talk and work. So how can TAs act differently in their talk with pupils?

Firstly, ensure pupils have enough time to process and think about their answers when you or the teacher asks them a question. Do not worry about the few awkward moments of silence. Secondly, avoid the temptation to give or lead pupils to the answer. In those moments of silence, TAs can feel the urge to end the pupil’s struggle. Instead, encourage them to draw on their ‘learning toolkit’ to help them help themselves (see below). Finally, know when to take a step back. Gradually fading out adult support creates opportunities for pupils to practise and grow their self-scaffolding skills.

3. Make what you say count

Interactions with pupils are at the heart of learning. For example, how we pose questions has a considerable bearing on how pupils develop as learners. TAs are privileged insofar as they get that ‘quality time’ with pupils that teachers have less of: working one-to-one and with small groups. So make it count.

One thing we have seen lots of schools do is train and encourage TAs to use more effective questioning. This includes asking more open-ended questions. There are plenty of resources on-line you can refer to give you some ideas: here is a good introductory video.

4. Knowing what to do when you don’t what to do

One potentially transformative style of questioning is what we call ‘knowing what to do when you don’t what to do’. Put simply, this means answering a question with another question. For example, if a pupil asks you how to spell ‘ceiling’, the most obviously helpful response is to spell it out letter by letter.  But this squanders a valuable opportunity for learning. Alternative responses ensure the responsibly for learning remains with the pupil; for instance:

  • “How can use your knowledge of phonics to help you spell it?”
  • “Are there any spelling rules you know that might help?” (I before E, expect after C)
  • “Is there a resource you can use to help you”? (a dictionary).

An overarching aim of education is to develop self-sufficient learners, comfortable with taking measured risks. Assisting pupils to handle challenges and uncertainty at the early stages of developing their stores of knowledge and skills is a vital part of achieving this aim for every pupil. Done well, this is something that TAs could contribute to enormously.

5. Extracting the learning juice

Whether we like it or not, a major part of learning is failure. David Beckham could not do this the first time he pulled on a pair of football boots; it took him years of practice, experimentation and learning from his mistakes. TAs often work with struggling pupils who develop a negative self-image of themself as a learner; those who think they are not as competent or successful as their peers. Some develop avoidance or dependence strategies: “Safer to wait for my TA to tell me the answer, than risk giving it a go and getting it wrong again”. But taking shortcuts on the learning journey cements dependency and ensures this notion of self is reinforced, not challenged.

There is no better way to show how messy the learning process is than by using your own experiences. Do not be afraid to show when you do not know the answer to a question or understand a concept or process. Use these moments as opportunities to show what good learners do by modelling the processes of finding out and experimenting with answers (e.g. what to do when you don’t what to do).

A colleague of mine talks about ‘extracting the learning juice’ from challenging situations. When pupils you support succeed at something tricky, be sure to spend a moment discussing what they have learned about learning. Get them to acknowledge when their persistence has paid off or how a piece of work grows as a result of drafting and redrafting.

To sum up, if effective interactions are at the heart of good learning, as the research tells us it is, then improving how TAs interact with pupils could add serious value to the classroom. Also, it is something schools, teachers and TAs themselves can begin to improve tomorrow at relatively low cost. Given the potential we could unleash, perhaps it is time to join the revolution?

TA cuts: A Reform too far? Five things for policy-makers to consider

By Rob Webster – Researcher Associate, Institute of Education, London

Earlier this year, media reports suggested that the Treasury and the Department for Education were considering phasing out the 232,000 teaching assistants working in schools to save around £4billion a year in public expenditure – a move that would get rid of a massive 25% of the school workforce.

The source of the story was a report from the Reform thinktank. Six months on, we have yet to see a diminution in the number of TA jobs; nor, for now, does it look likely. In response to the Reform report, the DfE said it is not their place to interfere in staffing decisions; this is a matter for individual schools – not Whitehall.

We might debate how helpful it is that policy-makers are staying out of this particular education debate. But as long as this remains the case, I think it is a matter of time before the issue of TAs, impact and value for money once again makes headlines. When it does, politicians are sure to be asked what is to be done.

Forewarned is forearmed, so here are five things ministers – both serving and shadow – should consider if they are thinking seriously about reducing TA numbers.

1. IF (big if) the TA role was phased out, it is not, as the media reports suggest, 232,000 TAs jobs that would go; it is closer to 327,000. The former figure masks the fact that the official stats in these reports are based on the full-time equivalent number of TAs working in mainstream and special schools in England. Yet many TA roles are part-time. Government data show that there are actually 359,200 individual TAs employed in these schools. Leaving aside the 32,600 TAs working in special schools, where the role is more established, doing away with TAs could result in adding over 300,000 people to those out of work; enough to increase the current number of people who are unemployed by 15%.

2. With only 7% of the TA workforce being men, mass TA redundancy would have a disproportionate impact on women. In the run up to the 2015 election, such a move would not only go down badly with female voters, but it is unlikely to play well with other people in low-paid, part-time public sector jobs.

3. TAs tend not to be paid over the lunch hour, so many of them, especially those in primary schools, also hold a position as a midday supervisor. Schools can find midday roles hard to fill, but TAs doing lunchtime duties is more than an arrangement of convenience. The consistency of familiar faces supporting pupils in the less structured environments of the dinner hall and the playground can go unnoticed, but is hugely valued by schools. Reform’s proposal to get rid of TAs in such large numbers would almost certainly create the additional and unintended problem of decimating the school lunchtime workforce.

4. Teachers, who have been in dispute with the government for a while over pensions, pay and workload, are unlikely to want to take on lunchtime duties in the absence of TAs. Teachers know that TAs are invaluable in reducing their workload and feelings of stress. Fewer or no TAs would mean busy teachers’ workload would increase. We have been here before, of course. The increase in TA numbers we have seen over the last 10 years was in direct response to a recruitment and retention crisis in teaching.

5. As my colleague, Peter Blatchford, and I concluded in a recent study, TAs are central to the good work schools do in teaching and including pupils with the highest level of special educational needs in mainstream settings. The repeated failure to address SEN as part of initial teacher training means that many teachers are inadequately prepared to meet the needs of the pupils who struggle most with learning and engagement. There is a real risk that under current conditions policies of inclusion could fail without the paraprofessional tier.

Good reasons though these might be for retaining TAs, they are somewhat external to TAs themselves. Surely there are good reasons for holding on to TAs that have more to do with what they contribute to the teaching and learning environment, than the fact that they act as some kind of ‘educational sticking plaster’ to save other policies from failing or making politicians look bad.

As a recent TA Focus blog highlighted, my colleagues at the Institute of Education, London and I have been working with local authorities and schools to help them release the huge potential of TAs. Our research makes it clear that it is the decisions that are made about TAs, not by TAs, that best explain why TA support does not have the impact on pupils we assumed it would. This is why our message about the need for change is directed at school leaders. 

But what of TAs themselves? In this post, I consider five things that TAs can do to improve their contribution to the classroom.

2013: Take Time Out and Reflect

This post is slightly off topic, but it’s about a subject that everyone should have at the forefront of their minds at the end of each year. Pressing the ‘stop’ button and looking back at the previous year, taking time out to assess what we achieved, lost or what worked for us can help us shape our objectives for the coming year.

Reflect on 2013You may jump from one day to the next without taking time out to examine your happiness (or unhappiness) and you may not be able to ascertain why you’re feeling the way you do. As a Teaching Assistant (or soon to be), there are multiple issues to deal with on a daily basis. Sometimes you don’t have the time to assess where you could have improved the handling of a bad situation or how to enable more spare time for yourself. You may be completing a course that isn’t going so well or undertaking voluntary work which isn’t appealing to you anymore and are wondering whether you’ve made poor choices in 2013. Maybe you succeeded in an area without realising?

When you look back at 2013, what did you achieve or not achieve? Some achievements we make public to others, some are deeply personal and we keep to ourselves, but if want to learn how to make plans for 2014, take a step back, put your feet up and start noting down some answers:

Challenges last year

  • Note down some challenges you faced which made you feel uneasy, hopeless or sad and detail why you felt this way.
  • If faced with a challenge, how can you react and deal with the situation better?
  • How can you inject positivity in the way you handle challenges?
  • What can you do each day in 2014 to improve your self worth and enable you to handle bad situations differently?

Joyful moments last year:

  • Can you think of two instances that made you laugh wildly?
  • What do these instances have in common? Were they with similar people and/or places?
  • How can you increase the number of these situations in 2014?
  • Were there sorrowful times last year? If these times occurred frequently with specific people or places, how can you reduce them in 2014?

Letting go last year:

  • Has your life improved by letting go of things? If so, detail why your life improved.
  • What are you still holding on to and what impact is it having on your life now?

Objectives last year:

  • What objectives did you have last year (promotion, courses, improved social life etc)?
  • Which objectives were successful and why?
  • What objectives can you set for 2014 and how will you reach your goals?
  • What worked well for you in 2013 that can help you get what you want in 2014?

Time for yourself last year:

  • Note down four activities you wanted to make time for in 2013, but couldn’t?
  • Why couldn’t you make time for these activities and how could this be improved?
  • How will you ensure you make adequate time for yourself in 2014?

 Achievements last year:

  • What did I achieve last year that I would consider a success?
  • What steps did I take to obtain this achievement?
  • How can I ensure I achieve in 2014?

To Our Facebook Fans…

Attention all Teaching Assistant Focus Facebook fans – please can I have a few minutes of your time.

At Teaching Assistant Focus, we aim to provide all TAs (or those interested in knowing more about TA work) with free resources and helpful information. We encourage you to ‘like us’ on Facebook as you’ll find informative updates about TA stories/news/resources/freebies/competitions.

Due to Facebook changes, ‘liking’ us won’t necessarily mean you will see our posts in your Facebook news feeds (unless you visit us every day, proving to the Facebook servers you are interested in our posts). Of course, we don’t expect you to visit us every day, so to receive notifications of any updates, you may want to do the following (which will only take less than a minute):

  • Visit the Teaching Assistant Focus Facebook fan page.
  • Click on the ‘Like’ button, if you already haven’t.
  • The button will change to ‘Liked’, in which case hover over it and select ‘Get Notifications’.
  • You will now see a tick next to the selection.

Facebook notifications

That’s it!

Now you will be notified whenever we add information to the Facebook page.

Many thanks for your time.




Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants

Last month, we wrote about reports in the media that suggested the Department for Education might consider reducing TA numbers and the uproar it created within teaching circles.

The video presentation below by Rob Webster on Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants succinctly describes the Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project, the results of which were interpreted in Reform’s Must do better: Spending on schools (May 2013).

Rob Webster was a researcher on the DISS project, so well placed to talk about what the research really said and the media reporting of it. His presentation details the proposed model to make better use of teaching assistants along with various case studies demonstrating how the project team’s ideas can be put into practice.

The presentation lasts around 40 minutes, but has been summarised below if you don’t have time to view.

The suggestion that the Government might take seriously Reform’s recommendation to reduce the number of TAs have provoked concern among TAs and schools more widely. Rob Webster will be addressing this issue in an article for TA Focus in the coming weeks.



Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants (Nasen) summary notes

The main objectives of the presentation:

  • Why schools need to re-evaluate how TAs are deployed in schools.
  • What can schools do to release the potential of TAs?

Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) (2003 – 2009)

Key results:

  • TAs were employed to help struggling students and teacher workloads (the latter was achieved successfully).
  • Pupils who received a high level of TA support made less progress over the school year compared with pupils who received little or no TA support. This finding could not be explained by pupil characteristics such as SEN or prior attainment.

Scale of project:

  • Over 17,800 national surveys.
  • 8,200 pupils in 153 schools were assessed in terms of impact of TA support.
  • Over 680 students and over 100 TAs in schools were observed.
  • Case studies in 65 schools.
  • Interviews with over 280 school heads, SENCos, teachers and TAs.
  • Adult-to-student talk in 16 lessons analysed.

Two project phases:

Wave 1 – targeting approximately 2,500 students in years 1, 3, 7 and 10.

Wave 2 – targeting 5,500 students in years 2, 6 and 9.

What was the impact of TA involvement? For English, Maths and Science, it was found that the more help/support the students received from a TA, the less well they did.

This was a consistent find across all year groups and core subjects.

Was this down to student characteristics i.e. SEN, pupils who are making less progress etc?  Multi-level regression was used to account for these factors, so the independent effect of TA support could be analysed.

One of the main messages from the research (often lost in the media reporting) is that TAs are not at fault The explanation for the pupil progress results lie in the way TAs are organised and deployed.

The model used to describe the three main areas within the project:

1. Deployment (how schools use TAs)

The observations of students with teachers and TAs showed non-SEN students had more interaction with teachers compared to SEN students. Those needing the most input from teachers were spending less time with them.

2. Practice

It was found that TA explanations were sometimes inaccurate or misleading, and TAs supplied answers to students too readily. The TAs were more concerned with getting tasks done, rather than exploring more and focusing on how to ensure learning and understanding.

3. Preparedness

75% of the teachers questioned had no training to work with or manage TAs, or any time to meet with TAs. The TAs were therefore underprepared and only received crucial information during lessons, rather than beforehand.

Currently, TA support is alternative to teacher support as opposed to the intended additional support. Once again, TAs are not to blame, but schools need to re-think the way they approach the three areas above.

How can TAs add value without replacing teachers? In recent years, there has been heavy investment in TAs compared to teachers, although research has shown that SEN is not a priority when raising standards within schools.

It was noted that the Ofsted report in Feb 2013 showed schools were spending Pupil Premiums to fund new/existing TAs with little impact.

Effective Deployment of TAs (EDTA) project 2010/2011

40 teachers and TAs in 10 schools addressed the three key areas from the DISS project. The project lasted a year – one area worked on per term.

Started off with an audit:

  • What requires change?
  • Build on good practice

Decisions school leaders need to make about deployment:

  • What do we want the role of TAs to be?
  • Teaching/non-teaching roles?

Problem lies when TA roles ‘drift’ from non-teaching to teaching, so should there be a limit to what schools can expect from TAs?

What can be done within the classroom to help SEN students instead of using the current model? It was noted that many teachers are unsure whether written TA deployment policies existed within their schools.

Ofsted states teachers are responsible for the progress and development of all students. There is an emphasis on preparing students to become independent.

A number of case studies are presented. Research shows that when TAs lead interventions, there are positive outcomes. Interventions are not currently drawn into the classroom, so there is a distinct problem with students bridging the gap between work inside and outside lessons. TAs and teachers need to communicate and set aside time to bridge the gap.

Unhelpful patterns of TA behaviour:

  • impulse to complete tasks
  • need to allow time for students to think/respond
  • students need social interaction with peers
  • giving answers to students without encouraging student to find answers themselves


Typically, TAs are ‘going into lessons blind’ and need planning before lessons.

After suggested changes were made (e.g. improving the quality and clarity of lesson plans), TAs felt more confident and appreciated.

Guidance on making better use of TAs, described briefly here, can be found in Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants, by Russell, Webster and Blatchford.


Useful links:



Classroom Support Staff Handbook

teaching personnel handbookTeaching Personnel, the UK’s leading recruitment specialist for education, has compiled a free teaching assistant handbook designed to give an overall view of teaching assistant roles, responsibilities and their position within the education system.

The handbook is a fantastic read for those just starting out or for those who want to know more about the diversity of the TA role.

The handbook includes the following topics:

  • TA roles and responsibilities (how TAs support pupils, teachers, the school and school curriculum)
  • Working in schools (the structure of the school system and academic year)
  • Working on supply (how Teaching Personnel can help TAs find work)
  • Working in the classroom (learning, behaviour management and social/health education)
  • Professional Practice (including teamwork, dress code, first aid etc)
  • Special Educational Needs (SEN definition, code of practice and types of SEN)
  • Career progression
  • Educational Abbreviations
  • Useful websites

Download Teaching Personnel’s Classroom Support Staff Handbook (PDF)

A Day in the Life of a Teaching Assistant

The following ‘day in the life of…’ was written by a level 2 TA course student, who shadowed an employed teaching assistant, Diane, for a day. The article describes a typical day for a teaching assistant in secondary education in the UK.  More about teaching assistant courses.

Diane gets to work by 8 o’clock, a teaching assistant at her local high school, she uses the three quarters of an hour before lessons start to get resources ready and any photocopying that the teachers in her department may need doing. This is also the time when she finds out which teachers are off sick, if they’ve left any work and who will be covering their lessons. Part of her role is to make sure the cover teachers have everything they need.

At registration Diane makes a note of the students that are missing, and checks on the computer to see if there is a reason, or if their parents have phoned in to say why they are off. Armed with a list of missing students from the department she heads off to phone parents and guardians, this is often one of the more difficult parts of the job, most of the parents are happy to hear from the school, recognising that if their child hasn’t made it to school something may have happened to them, but some seem to think that this is an intrusion into their family lives.

Often it is a simple mistake, with one parent assuming the other had phone the school to say the student in question is sick in bed.

Teaching assistant

First period on this day is paperwork, compiling the student records and updating test and exam scores, but today Diane’s other role as a first aider is more important, one of the boys has slipped and hit his head. Her training means that Diane knows to send another student to get the school secretary to call an ambulance, she also makes sure the student comes straight back in case she is needed again. Often in these cases Diane would have to accompany the child to the hospital, but his parents live within five minutes of the school, and his Mum is there almost as fast as the ambulance. The student is sitting up and talking to the paramedics, but they decide he needs to go to hospital and take him and his Mum off.

Second period is Diane’s first of the day to interact with the pupils, in this lesson her role is to help some of the weaker students when they struggle, here she explains she has to be quite careful.

“My daughter is also a teacher, and a few years ago she had a lot of problems with a teaching assistant in her classroom, this lady would interrupt her whilst she was talking to the class, shout out answers and occasionally corrected her in front of the students.” Diane explains, “it was so upsetting for her, she began to have problems in the class with the students copying this teaching assistant.”

Instead Diane sees her role as that of an expert learner. She works across a number of subjects, some of which she has little or no background in, but here rather than try to teach the weaker students, her role is to make sure the students are listening and that they understand the methods used.

Break is a wet and windy affair, but Diane’s role is to patrol around the spots where students might be smoking, and to try and stop them leaving school premises. What advice would she offer to anyone starting this job?

“Good wellies and a warm jacket.” She laughs as we go round the back of one of the buildings. “Girls,” she breaks away to talk to a group of girls. “You know that’s against the rules, now can I have your lighters.” The girls stub out their cigarettes guiltily and surprisingly hand over their lighters to her.

After break is the block in her time table that Diane had circled and drawn a smiley face next to. Six students are waiting for her outside an empty classroom, she shoos them in as she takes off her jacket, “Coats on the pegs bags under your desks,” she calls as she makes her way to the front of the room, “Right you lot according to Miss. Jones need to practise your descriptive writing,” she checks her notes and turns back to the four boys and two girls, “So what might be a good topic to pick.”

Within minutes they’ve decided to write stories about climbing Everest, and here Diane seems to comes alive, encouraging and steering the pupils along the paths, praising, and giving constructive feedback as their stories unroll. It’s clear that these 50 minutes will make a huge difference to their learning.

Lunches are staggered to allow all the students space to eat. Diane heads towards the staff room to grab her lunch, but a desperate shout from one of the teachers calls her back, the computer in his classroom isn’t working, and he can’t leave the class alone to call IT support. Diane ducks back into her office to call up the IT guy from down the hall.

After lunch Diane is in two more classes, this time supporting an individual learner with special needs. Throughout the lessons she helps the student write down the written work, and puts in all her effort to keeping him on track. It’s a hard task, but she never stops smiling.

Between the two lesson as Diane steps into the corridor a student running past knocks her folders out of her arms. Suddenly she’s not the kindly calm Diane that she has been, the boy gets a dressing down worthy of a drill sergeant, “I may not be a teacher,” she explains, “but I am a member of staff here, and we all have a duty to ensure good and safe, behaviour.”

Finally the last bell goes and students stream out of the buildings, suddenly after all the noise and shouting the buildings are quiet. The staff start to come out their rooms, a little battle weary, but smiling now that the day is over. But today isn’t over yet for Diane.

“So many people think that being a TA starts when the pupils arrive and finish when they leave,” she says with a smile, “but I have detention to sort out.” She hurries off to the room where the students on detention are lounging, “Where’s Steven,” she demands, “and Cherie, Cherie Blake.” Less than a minute later she’s back, “there’s three that have decided not to turn up.” She says firmly. “Their parents will be pleased to know.”

She rings the offending student’s parents as she starts to send out the letters and texts to parents of students on detention over the next few days.

“Mrs Blake.” She says pleasantly as the phone is answered. “Cherie has decided not to turn up to her detention tonight, oh you didn’t know, well I’m sure you received the text I sent, and Cherie said that she knew about it when I asked her yesterday.” She pauses, “no Mrs Blake it wasn’t a bit of fun, we take bullying very seriously, well Mrs Blake if that’s what you think then I will book you an appointment with the headmaster.” She hangs up and counts to ten under her breath before smiling and carrying on to the next phone call, this one is much better, and she hangs up with a promise from the boys Dad that he will ground his son for the rest of the year.

“We have some, only a few, that think we’re picking on their son or daughter, but every member of staff knows they have the support of management.” She explains.

It’s nearly 5 o’clock when she finally leaves her office and heads home, “See you tomorrow.” She calls to the caretaker as they pass in the car park, and from her smile and cheerful tone it’s clear that despite the hard work and long day she’s had, she’s already looking forward to tomorrow.

“They know me,” she says referring to the students, “I’m in class helping, I’m with them at lunch making sure they’re safe, I go on field trips with them and I take them to visit colleges in year 11, if they fall over often I’m the one who patches them up, and yes, I’m the one who rings home to tell their parents they’ve got detention. I love my job, and I think my job loves me.”