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The role of the teaching assistant

A class of childrenWhat is a teaching assistant?

A teaching assistant or educational assistant (often abbreviated to TA or EA; sometimes classroom assistant) in schools in England and Wales supports a teacher in the classroom. Duties can differ dramatically from school to school, though the underlying tasks often remain the same. 

What is the role of a teaching assistant?

Teaching assistants are often used to take small groups of children who need extra support in an area, such as literacy or numeracy, out of a class. This can also include work with children with special educational needs (SEN), that the teacher cannot always accommodate in a normal class.

As a teaching assistant you may also help teachers prepare for lessons by preparing resources, or putting out equipment at the start of a lesson. Teaching assistants are not qualified teachers, and so are led and guided by teachers.

How can I develop the role?

Despite the many qualifications available for teaching assistants, many do not have any formal training, and instead build up experience over many years. Those that do study often choose the NVQ Level 2 and/or 3 qualification, as it is the most widely studied in the profession.

Those that want to become a teaching assistant often come from nursery backgrounds, and have qualifications in childcare. These are seen as good starting points for those new to the occupation.

You could work as a teaching assistant in nursery, infant or junior schools, special schools, secondary schools or independent schools. With experience you may be able to progress to senior assistant or be assessed for Higher Level Teaching Assistant status.

UNISON and the Open University organise one day CPD sessions on subjects such as challenging behaviour and autism across the country. Contact your regional education team for more information. 

Learn more about the role of teaching assistants

Examine the role of teaching assistants and what the future holds for it in the OpenLearn unit, Teaching assistants: Support in action.

You may find UNISON’s practical guide to managing difficult behaviour in schools useful

The OU’s Careers website provides free information and advice on careers and information on careers in Childhood and Youth Studies.

Further information on the role of teaching assistants

For more information on developing your skills Skills for Schools

The Department for Education has a useful website on the Higher level teaching assistants programme

For a detailed explanation of the teaching assistants role visit the National Careers Service job profile.