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How To Become A Teaching Assistant (TA & HLTA)

Teaching Assistants (TA) and Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTA) hold a vital role within the classroom, from primary school through to high school.

They are tasked with supporting a class teaching with class preparations, whilst also supporting pupils, some of which may have learning difficulties.

Due to the dwindling number of qualified teachers within the UK, the number of teaching assistants is on the rise, with the vocation now considered as a professional job role.

Those who wish to be a Ta need to be patient and have a passion for working with children of all ages, with different levels of education, understanding and intellect. The aim of a TA is to help aid a teacher in making sure all students realise their full potential and succeed in class and in future.

TAs may be required to work with different learning needs or provide support with generic classroom tasks.

Those who wish to be a Ta need to be patient and have a passion for working with children of all ages, with different levels of education, understanding and intellect. The aim of a TA is to help aid a teacher in making sure all students realise their full potential and succeed in class and in future.

Higher Level Teaching Assistants will hold additional responsibilities, such as teaching a small fraction of the classroom in small groups, or taking an entire class whilst a school teacher is absent or completing their ‘Newly Qualified Teacher Preparation Hours’.

A TA may be employed privately and contract to different schools (agency work), or may be directly employed by their local authority. Both options have different benefits and disadvantages. Agency workers will generally be paid more per hour, however their hours are often not guaranteed. Employed TA’s will generally have set hours, with slightly lower pay.

Teaching Assistant Responsibilities

Responsibilities of a TA and HLTA will differ from school to school, due to different needs of schools. The main responsibilities are:

  • Leading small groups of pupils, or the entire class
  • Understanding the requirements of a classroom teacher
  • Attending staff meetings to discuss class development
  • Assist with duties, such as lesson creation and delivery
  • Reporting on student progress
  • Ensuring that pupils remain engaged and do not distract other pupils or the teacher
  • Helping to manage challenging behaviour
  • Providing support for exam invigilation and covering absences of TA’s and teacher
  • Covering duties, such as lunch and break time watch.

What Would The Working Hours Be?

Teaching Assistants and Higher Level Teaching Assistants will generally be expected to work during term times, with their leave coinciding with the same school holidays teachers received. Those working for agencies or private education establishments may find that terms times and leave requirements differ.

Most TA’s working hours will be 9am until 3pm, however some roles require earlier working hours and later finishes.

Some schools will offer additional wages to cover extracurricular activities after school and during the school holidays.

TA’s should not expect to take time off during term times, unless in extenuating circumstances, such as a wedding or bereavement.

Below are the general term times followed by most schools (inclusive of holidays).

Term Holiday
September – December The first academic school term starts in September and ends close generally two weeks before Christmas.
There is a half term holiday, which spans one week towards the end of October during this winter term.
January – March/April The spring term starts early January and spans until Easter.
Due to easter falling on different weekends each year, the two week easter break can span from late March to early April.
The term includes a half term break during the month of February.
April – July One of the busiest terms is the summer term! Although quite short, spanning from Easter until mid July, students will be sitting their GCSEs and A Levels.
One half term is included with an extended six week holiday in May.

What Would The Salary Be?

The pay of a TA depends on may factors such as:

  • Location (City pay is generally higher)
  • Type of employment (agency or local authority)
  • Experience in the role
  • Level (HLTA will be paid more than a TA)

A TA would work about 80-85% of the year, but should expect to be paid for a full 12 months, meaning a TA would have between 8 and 10 weeks leave from the profession per annum. The average leave for other UK professions is 4-6 weeks, it is helpful for parents who have children as they will generally be off during the extended term times which other parents struggle to balance due to childcare costs.

For guidance purposes only, based on current advertised roles, the average salaries are:

Position Salary
Level 2 Teaching Assistant £12,000-£16,000 per annum
Level 3 Teaching Assistant £14,000-£18,000 per annum
Higher Level Teaching Assistant(Level4) £21,000-£28,000 per annum

Due to there being no standardised national pay scale for teaching assistants, it is at the discretion of local authorities as to how much they are paid. This can work to the advantage of experienced teaching assistants as they are sort after, with schools willing to pay reasonably high salaries. Work via an agency can increase salaries up to 25%, however hours are generally not guaranteed.

Check the salary terms and conditions to ensure that you are being paid the expected rate, also ensuring that the pay is pro-rata throughout the year to avoid any shortfalls.

Realities of Being a TA or HLTA

The rewards outweigh the difficulties of being a TA, you will get to know students and be instrumental in their future. You may have a long term relationship with students, or be moved regularly depending on the schools requirements.

strong>Some of the common challenges are:

Overburden of work – if a teacher becomes ill, as a HLTA you may be expected to take on their role and lesson planning for a period of time

Additional activities – your school may expect you to participate and help with additional extra curricular activities, which may take place after school time

Dress code – you will be expected to dress as per the school’s clothing policy. You may need additional dress wear for activities, which you may need to self-fund

Dismissive students – some students will have behavioural difficulties and may not want the additional attention of a TA as they may feel singled out by others.

Route to Becoming a Teaching Assistant

Distance/Home Learning (recommended route)

Online access to TA and HLTA courses now allow busy parents, or those who are unable to access education via a traditional colleague route to self fund their studies from the comfort of their own home. Pressure is reduced as students are able to work at a pace that suits them, instead of having to keep up with a classroom


Your employer may allow for you to study on day release, if you are currently employed in a TA position (many will not allow this, as you will often be needed all week in school). Those who are not employed can take on a variety of college courses, which run day and night taking a minimum of 12 months to complete on average.

On-The-Job Learning

Some local authorities train their TAs after employing them, this is uncommon in most instances, as it does cause issues with proof of competency as the TA may not have relevant accreditation.

If you are employed or looking to become employed as a TA, it is recommended to speak with your local authority of agency to ascertain their entry requirements

Available Courses

There are many Teaching Assistant courses available, some more extensive that others and many depending on current employment, volunteering and experience.
Below is an explanation of the current available courses via Association of Learning and their requirements:

Teaching Assistant Level 2 Online Course
There are no entry requirements or need to be in employment to undertake the TA Level 2 diploma, this is a stepping stone for those who wish to gain entry to a TA position

Teaching Assistant Level 3 Online Course
There are no entry requirements to undertake the TA Level 2 diploma, however many will be in employment or volunteering whilst undertaking this course – although it is not essential.

Higher Level Teaching Assistant (Level 4) Online Course
There are no entry requirements to undertake the HLTA Level 4 diploma, however it would be beneficial to be employed or in voluntary work to further understand the requirements of a HLTA.

Supporting Teaching and Learning In Schools Level 3 Online Course
This is a full qualification, which aims to help gain a senior role within a school. This course hold more weight that a HLTA course, however it can only be completed if you are in a school setting, with a teacher willing to witness and sign activities outlined within the course.

Becoming Employed as a TA

It is important that your expectations match your level of understanding and education. As an example, do not expect to gain a level 3 position if it is your first TA related role, you may need to work your way up the employment ladder.

There are many ways to find employment, using websites such as EduStaff, Day Nurseries, local agencies and your local authority. There are many TA roles, due to the decrease in qualified teacher.

Volunteering Your Time

If you are unable to gain employment due to your lack of past work experience, volunteering is the best solution to the problem.

If you wish to volunteer in a school setting, college or any other educational setting, it is best to contact the organisation directly.

Many welcome volunteers, but may expect for them to pay for their own DBS check to ensure they are safe to work with children.

Finding a voluntary placement should not be difficult for a competent TA or those who are working towards an accredited certification/qualification.

Finishing Up

There are many key aspects that you need to consider before becoming a TA, or advancing your career and being a HLTA.

We do hope that this guide has been helpful, please contact our team directly if you wish to suggest any amendments or additions.