Teaching assistants are playing an increasingly important role in the classroom as class sizes in the United Kingdom continue to grow. The number of teaching assistant vacancies is rising steadily, offering attractive job opportunities for those looking for a career change or planning a return to the workforce. Before applying for a teaching assistant post, however, you will need to understand a little about the job and what you need to secure it.
Teaching assistants play a vital support role in the classroom. The role varies from school to school, but generally teaching assistants work with children in the classroom itself, performing tasks that allow the teacher to get on with the primary task of teaching. This might mean preparing the classroom for particular activities, tidying up or preparing displays. It could also include taking care of an individual child who has become ill or has had a mishap, while the teacher carries on with the rest of the class.
There may be times when teaching assistants have to take a child or group of children to another room to give more individually based help if they are struggling with a specific subject or concept. And, on school outings or other special occasions like sports events, they help the teacher take care and keep control of the class. In secondary schools, the role often involves working with disabled pupils or those with learning disabilities.
Qualifications and experience
Currently, there is no nationwide education requirement for becoming a teaching assistant, although candidates with higher level qualifications are generally preferred; Local Education Authorities, and sometimes individual schools, generally set their own guidelines. Good literacy and numeracy skills, however, are essential and if you have another skill, like proficiency in another language, you will have an advantage over other candidates. Some schools may have specific requirements that you will have to satisfy.
Ideally, too, previous experience of working with children will be beneficial. This does not necessarily need to have been a formal role; voluntary work with children (maybe in a school, play group or youth club) or even just having children of your own will count in your favour.
Most important, however, is your ability to empathise with and relate to children. You must be able to communicate effectively with children and be able to recognise and meet their individual needs. You will need to be able to interact with children, showing patience and understanding.
Good organisation skills are also a vital asset if you hope to become a teaching assistant. You will need to be able to coordinate various activities and to control the class.
You will need to understand that there are very strict regulations applying to all jobs that involve children. As a precautionary measure and as a matter of routine, you will have to undergo background checks as well as checks with Disclosure and Barring Service (formerly known as the Criminal Records Bureau) to ensure that there is nothing in your history that will bar you from becoming a teaching assistant.