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Tips For Landing Your First Teaching Assistant Position

Introduction

Teaching assistants are important in education and are often called ‘unsung heroes’, especially after the pandemic. They assist teachers in classrooms and support pupils’ learning, positively impacting pupil engagement and attainment (GOV.UK). It is a rewarding role for those wanting to work with children and help them with their academic, social and emotional development.

There are 281,100 full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching assistants in England, an increase of 59,600 since 2011 (GOV.UK). While this may seem high, there is still a short supply of teaching assistants across the UK. Therefore, anyone looking to enter this profession will likely have good job prospects and security if they have the right skills and qualities.

For those considering a role as a teaching assistant, knowing what qualifications, experience, qualities and skills are required and what employers look for in applications can mean the difference between being shortlisted for an interview or getting a rejection email or letter.

There is no doubt that searching and applying for any role and attending interviews can be daunting, whether it is a first job, a career change, or just looking for a new opportunity. This blog post will provide valuable insights and practical tips on securing a first teaching assistant position. It will also offer guidance on the application process, interview preparation, and the skills and qualities that make a successful teaching assistant.

Tips For Landing Your First Teaching Assistant Position

Understanding the Role of a Teaching Assistant

Teaching assistants (TAs for short) may also be known as classroom assistants, learning support assistants, educational assistants, teacher’s aides or pupil support assistants. They can work in various educational settings, such as:

  • Nurseries.
  • Primary schools.
  • Secondary schools.
  • Academies.
  • Independent schools.
  • Colleges and sixth forms.
  • Special schools.

The exact role and responsibilities a teaching assistant has will depend on the setting in which they work, the school/institution’s needs and their training/experience. They may also work in many classrooms under the direction of different teachers. Here are some examples of their typical duties:

Compliance with policies, procedures and instructions

  • Each education provider will have their own policies and procedures, e.g., safeguarding and child protection, which teaching assistants must follow. They will also need to follow the instructions of the teacher they are supporting and helping.

Classroom preparation

  • Teaching assistants may be responsible for preparing classrooms to ensure everything is set up and ready for lessons and that rooms are clean, tidy, healthy, safe, and optimal for learning.
  • Before lessons, teaching assistants may prepare materials, equipment and teaching aids and make resources for teachers to use. They may also create displays of work previously completed by pupils.

Classroom support

  • Teaching assistants may support teachers with the delivery of lessons and may have tasks such as the following:
  • Reading to pupils or listening to them read.
  • Providing help to pupils who need additional support, e.g. special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), social, emotional and mental health needs (SEMH) and English as a second language.
  • Motivating, engaging and encouraging pupils.
  • Helping teachers manage challenging behaviour within the classroom and promote good behaviour.
  • Promoting children’s independence and helping them to take control of their own learning by supporting them to remain focussed and engaged during lessons.
  • Caring for injured, upset and unwell pupils, including administering first aid where applicable.
  • Leading classes under the teacher’s supervision.
  • Monitoring pupils’ progress and development and reporting any issues to teachers.
  • Teaching assistants can work one-on-one with pupils or in small groups.
  • After lessons, teaching assistants may clean and tidy the classroom and put equipment and materials away.

Out-of-classroom support

  • Teaching assistants can also provide support outside the classroom. They may help with other school activities, such as outings, sports events, breakfast and after-school clubs, revision sessions and playtime.

Administrative work

  • Teaching assistants will usually assist teachers with daily administrative duties. They may need to attend meetings, keep accurate records of pupils’ progress and help assess and mark their work.

Importance of a teaching assistant’s role

Teachers have a busy job and can be responsible for many pupils in and out of classrooms. According to the recent GOV.UK education statistics, the pupil-to-teacher ratio was 20.7 pupils per teacher in nurseries/primary schools, 16.8 in secondary schools, and 6.4 in special/PRU schools. Therefore, teachers may find it hard to manage all of these pupils alone, which is why teaching assistants have an invaluable role.

Another reason why teaching assistants are important is that they provide much-needed support to teachers by helping them with their day-to-day classroom duties. They free up time and remove some of the burden so teachers can get on with delivering lessons and educating pupils. They can also help by managing pupils’ disruptive, inattentive and challenging behaviour discreetly and without disrupting the whole class.

Pupils also benefit from having teaching assistants in and out of classrooms. Teaching assistants help pupils, individually or in groups, with reading, writing and learning activities. They can answer questions, give encouragement where needed and help with assigned tasks. They can also be crucial for children who need extra support to get the most out of lessons. Overall, they play a vital role in supporting pupils’ learning and development.

Tips For Landing Your First Teaching Assistant Position

Qualifications and Requirements

Qualifications

There are no set academic requirements to become a teaching assistant, although most employers will ask for basic literacy and numeracy for entry-level positions. Getting some GCSEs, including English and Maths, or equivalent and a paediatric first aid qualification can help.

Further qualifications can be useful to build knowledge and increase the chances of a successful application, as it will demonstrate a passion and commitment to working with and supporting children. Those serious about the role may want to consider:

  • Doing a level 1 course, e.g. level 1 teaching assistant or preparing to work in schools. A level 1 course will give an introduction to the sector and an understanding of the knowledge and skills needed to work with children in schools. It is a good starting point for those new to the education sector and those without formal qualifications.
  • Doing a level 2 or 3 course, e.g. level 2/3 support work in schools or supporting teaching and learning in schools. A level 2 or 3 course is a natural progression from a level 1 course to develop knowledge and skills. It typically involves practical placements in schools.
  • Doing an apprenticeship, e.g. teaching assistant level 3 advanced apprenticeship. It usually requires five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent, including English and maths. Further information on apprenticeships is on UK.

Universities, colleges and other further education providers run qualification courses, and their entry requirements will differ. It does not usually require prospective students to be already working in a school, but it is always best to check before applying.

Degrees are not necessary for teaching assistant roles. However, if individuals have a relevant degree, e.g. in childhood studies or early years, it can be advantageous.

The qualifications needed will depend on the type of role and school/institution. As competition for roles is fierce, those with qualifications will typically have an advantage over those who do not.

Additional certifications

Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help teaching assistants enter the profession, enhance their employability, learn new subjects and keep their knowledge and skills current.

Aspiring teaching assistants could undertake short online courses in relevant topics, such as safeguarding children, managing behaviour that challenges, bullying, autism, ADHD and disability awareness, and others.

See CPD courses for teaching assistants for further guidance on suitable training courses.

Background checks

Teaching assistants must undergo background checks, as they will work closely with children. It is an essential safeguarding process all schools/institutions must undergo.

During the application stage, employers will typically ask whether an applicant has a criminal record. It is essential, to be honest and always disclose any convictions, however minor, when completing the application.

Employers can request background checks at any time, which will include:

  • An enhanced check – shows spent and unspent convictions and cautions, plus any information held by local police considered relevant to the role.
  • A children’s barred list check – shows whether the applicant is on the list of people who are barred from working with children.

It is the most in-depth criminal record check, and the process differs depending on where a person is in the UK, for example:

Having a criminal record does not necessarily mean instant disqualification. While it may deter some employers, they will usually look at the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance to the role.

It is important to note that some courses will require a background check, especially if students attend schools for practical placements.

Tips For Landing Your First Teaching Assistant Position

Preparing Your Application

On deciding that a teaching assistant role is an ideal fit, it is job application time. An essential part of this process is crafting a high-quality CV and cover letter tailored to the teaching assistant position. Candidates will want to stand out and show employers and recruiters they are the best fit for the job.

To increase the chances of getting an interview, a CV should be:

  • Clear and concise.
  • Well-formatted, neat and well-laid out.
  • Specific to the position and the school/institution.
  • Free from errors; use a grammar/spell checker to be sure.
  • Ideally, no more than two pages in length.
  • Legible; it is best to use headings and fonts that are readable and not fancy.

The cover letter allows applicants to introduce themselves and tells employers/recruiters why they should consider their application. It must be compelling, easy to read, concise and between three to five paragraphs. It should be quality over quantity.

There is so much advice and guidance on CV and cover letter preparation online, and it can be daunting to know where to start. Here are some tips to stand out from other applicants:

  • Do plenty of research into the school/institution and use this information when tailoring a CV and cover letter to demonstrate eagerness for the role.
  • A functional (skills-based) CV may be better if candidates lack experience in the education sector, as it focuses on transferable skills rather than work history.
  • Peruse the job description carefully, as this will help to hone in on the skills and experience they are looking for.
  • Use the personal statement at the top of the CV to really shine and catch employers’ and recruiters’ eyes. It should be clear, concise, and impactful and provide information on what a candidate can bring to the teaching assistant role.
  • Address the cover letter to the specific school/institution instead of using a generic one, as it makes it more personal.
  • Make it clear to employers and recruiters why you want to work at this specific school/institution.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of child development and learning, including SEND issues, in the CV and cover letter.

It is crucial to highlight any relevant skills and experience in the CV and cover letter. Candidates should focus on what they can bring to the role and their strengths rather than what they do not have, for example:

  • If a candidate has experience working with children in an education setting, e.g. nursery, childcare, etc. – concentrate on the experience and skills developed in these roles and how they relate to the specific teaching assistant position.
  • If a candidate has experience working with children but not in an education setting – include volunteering or other paid positions that have involved caring for or interacting with children. It may also include individuals looking after their own children or caring for younger family members, i.e. siblings, nieces and nephews.
  • If a candidate has no experience working with children or in an education setting – focus on transferable skills and highlight how previous experience and skills relate to the teaching assistant position. For example, any experience working with vulnerable people, e.g. SEND, or evidence of supporting peoples’ learning may help. It is essential to show a willingness to learn if experience is lacking.

It is important to note that some employers and recruiters will not accept CVs and will want applicants to complete an application form. In these instances, the same tips will apply.

There are many examples of teaching assistant CVs and cover letters online, and it may be worth looking at these when preparing an application. There is also general guidance on CV and cover letter writing from the National Careers Service.

Tips For Landing Your First Teaching Assistant Position

Researching Potential Employers

Before applying for teaching assistant positions, it is crucial for candidates to research the schools and institutions for the following reasons:

  • It allows them to see if it is a place they really want to work.
  • It allows them to see if their values, visions and ethos align with those of the school/institution.
  • It saves a lot of time for them and employers/recruiters if it is not a suitable fit, e.g. time for applications, reviews, interviews, etc.
  • It demonstrates to employers and recruiters that candidates have done their homework and are serious about the position.
  • It makes it easier to tailor a CV and cover letter to the position with the information found during research.
  • It helps candidates prepare meaningful questions to ask at the end of an interview.

Research may include:

  • Making visits – visiting the school/institution enables candidates to see if they would like to work there. Some settings may also have virtual tours on their websites.
  • Reviewing websites – most, if not all, schools and institutions have websites that provide a wealth of information, such as policies, values, ethos, visions, performance, etc. Some may also have their prospectus online.
  • Reading prospectuses – these form an introduction to the school/institution and provide information on what it is about and its activities. Many of these are online nowadays, but some may provide hard copies on request.
  • Looking at employee reviews – some websites, such as Glassdoor and Indeed, have reviews from past and current employees. These should be used with caution but can indicate what the culture of a school/institution is like.
  • Checking Ofsted ratings and reports – provides information about the school/institution, its rating, what it is doing well and what needs improving.
  • Looking for information on social media and the news – this will help find out about any recent developments and how the school/institution interacts with others.

All schools and institutions have their own policies, values, ethos, missions and visions, which are guiding principles. Candidates need to understand these and demonstrate they can align with them, as it will strengthen their applications.

Schools/institutions want to see candidates who care about what they stand for and are trying to achieve. If candidates do not embrace a company’s vision, they are less likely to have good performance. job satisfaction and stay in the role, which will mean employers/recruiters have to recruit again. Recruitment is an expensive business.

Researching and understanding the school’s/institution’s values and mission shows that candidates are on the same page and can help them achieve the required objectives.

Tips For Landing Your First Teaching Assistant Position

Interview Preparation

The application for a teaching assistant position has been successful, and an interview invitation is now in hand. The interview stage can make the best candidates nervous, but one way to overcome this is by being prepared.

When preparing for interviews, it is a good idea to:

  • Refer to the job description again and identify the skills and experience employers/recruiters want.
  • Do some further research on the school/institution.
  • Identify some of the common interview questions and identify some practice answers and examples of past experiences. Even doing a mock interview with a family member or friend can help.

During an interview for a teaching assistant job, interviewers are likely to ask questions based on the following (this list is not exhaustive):

  • The role
  • Why do you want to be a teaching assistant?
  • What makes a good teaching assistant?
  • What do you think the role of a teaching assistant entails?
  • Why do you think you would be a good teaching assistant?
  • What challenges do you think you would face as a teaching assistant?
  • The school/institution
  • Why do you want to work at this school/institution?
  • What do you know about this school/institution?
  • The candidate’s suitability for the role, e.g. their skills, experience and personality
  • Can you tell us about your experience of working with children?
  • Do you enjoy working with children?
  • Why do you think it is important for children to find school enjoyable?
  • Can you communicate easily with children and parents?
  • Give us an example of a situation where things went wrong when working with children and what you did to resolve it.
  • Tell us how you have previously dealt with conflict.
  • The classroom and teacher support
  • What does a successful lesson look like?
  • Describe how you would support a pupil’s reading.
  • How would you manage a disruptive pupil during lessons?
  • How would you deal with a situation where you disagreed with a teacher in the classroom?
  • Safeguarding and child protection
  • Tell us how you would contribute to making the school a safe environment for children.

To remain focused and answer interview questions effectively, candidates should use the STAR method, for example:

  • Situation – a brief explanation of a specific situation (who, what, where and when) they had to deal with.
  • Task – what task they had to do, their role and responsibilities and any challenges they faced.
  • Action – what actions were taken to solve a problem or achieve a goal, and why? During this step, it is essential to highlight any relevant skills, e.g. teamwork and communication.
  • Result – what happened, the results of the actions taken and what was learned. Where possible, try to quantify answers, i.e. provide costs or figures.

When answering interview questions, it is essential to demonstrate a passion for education, children’s learning and development, and working as a team to achieve goals.

During the interview, it is also best to pause after the question and think about the answer rather than answering immediately. It can help candidates give clear and concise answers with the information interviewers want rather than going off on a tangent and not answering the question.

Tips For Landing Your First Teaching Assistant Position

Showcasing Your Skills

It is not easy working with children, especially in schools and other educational settings. Therefore, it is important to have the correct skills and qualities to be a successful teaching assistant. Employers and recruiters will want to see candidates demonstrate their skills in interviews.

Some of the key skills and qualities that make a successful teaching assistant include:

  • A passion for working with children – it goes without saying that teaching assistants must have a genuine passion for children and supporting their learning and development. In the interview, candidates can demonstrate this by giving examples of their experience of working with children and how they have gone above and beyond to help and support them.
  • Knowledge and understanding of child learning and development – as teaching assistants play a vital role in supporting pupils’ learning and helping teachers with lessons, they must demonstrate an understanding of this in the interview. They could give examples of what they have learnt during their studies and how they would use the knowledge gained in the specific setting.
  • Commucication and interpersonal skills – teaching assistants must be able to effectively communicate and build relationships and trust with a range of people, such as colleagues, pupils, parents and caregivers. During an interview, interviewers will observe how candidates come across and answer questions. Candidates can also give examples of situations where having good communication and interpersonal skills were critical, i.e. in a situation involving conflict.
  • Patience – being patient and calm with children can often be tricky, especially in stressful situations, but it is a trait that teaching assistants must have. In the interview, candidates should give examples of how they have dealt with challenging behaviours calmly and patiently. Interviewers may also give candidates a scenario to demonstrate this trait.
  • The ability to work in a team – teaching assistants will work with teachers and other staff in the setting and must have a good relationship with these colleagues to ensure pupils get the best education. In the interview, they should provide examples of how they worked as a team previously and any challenges overcome or goals met.
  • Adaptability and flexibility – things do not always go according to plan in schools and other educational settings, and pupils will have various needs. Teachers may ask teaching assistants to carry out many tasks, some of which at short notice. In the interview, candidates should demonstrate this by focusing on situations where they have had to juggle different demands and how they achieved this.
  • Empathy – teaching assistants must have empathy to help and support children if they are nervous, unsure and having difficulties. They must understand pupils’ feelings, see things from their position and listen to them actively and with compassion. Giving examples of the ability to understand and relate to others, especially children, will help candidates demonstrate this in the interview.

The exact skills and qualities required will depend on the specific role and school/institution requirements. However, it is important for those wanting to be a teaching assistant to ensure they are the right person for the job before applying.

It is important to note that people can learn skills and qualities. Therefore, even if candidates doubt their suitability, they should persevere with this career path if they have the dedication and commitment needed.

Tips For Landing Your First Teaching Assistant Position

Experience Matters

To increase their chances of success, those wanting to become a teaching assistant should undertake relevant work experience, either paid or voluntary, before applying for the position. Ideally, the experience should involve working with children and/or in education. Here are some tips on how to gain work experience:

  • Work in relevant areas, such as childcare, nurseries, youth work and tutoring. For example, those wanting to be a teaching assistant for early years children could apply for a nursery assistant position. Getting experience with children that are the same age as the pupils that they will work with can also be useful.
  • Get some experience working with children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) if you want to work as a teaching assistant in this specialist area. Learning British Sign Language or Makaton can also help. The National Careers Service has further information on this role here.
  • Volunteer at local nurseries, schools, after-school clubs, sports clubs, youth clubs, holiday schemes, summer camps or children’s charities. For further information on volunteering and local opportunities, look at Do-it, NCVO and Volunteering Matters.
  • Shadow an experienced teaching assistant to discover more about the role and see if it is the right career path.

There is an increased chance of success in getting an interview and the actual job by having relevant qualifications and work experience. Having practical experience can boost qualifications, as it can help put the theory into practice. It can also lay the foundation for further qualifications and professional development.

Tips For Landing Your First Teaching Assistant Position

Networking and References

Remember the saying, “it’s not what you know, but who you know”? Well, this can somewhat relate to applying for jobs and career progression. While having the correct knowledge, understanding, and experience is essential for teaching assistants, it is also important to have a strong network.

Networking is “the process of trying to meet new people who might be useful to you in your job, often through social activities” (Collins English Dictionary). In the education sector, people in a network may include headteachers, teachers, other teaching assistants, support staff and other professionals.

Networking is important and has many benefits for those looking at a role as a teaching assistant. Being part of a network can help by providing:

  • Information about jobs, some of which may not be advertised.
  • Details of apprenticeships and training schemes.
  • Tips on finding relevant work experience opportunities.
  • Information on a school/institution and a career as a teaching assistant.
  • Advice and support.
  • Recommendations for jobs and enhancing reputations.

An essential part of networking is building relationships with teachers, administrators, or educational professionals who can provide references and build professional networks. Here are some networking tips:

  • Attend education-related events to meet educators, e.g. teaching conferences, community/school events and webinars. If a candidate has the right qualifications and experience and already knows the teacher, they are more likely to be successful than those without these connections.
  • Join a Union and/or a professional body (e.g. the National Education Union and National Association of Professional Teaching Assistants (NAPTA)), demonstrating to educators an interest in education and issues within the sector. There are events, specific teaching assistant networks, meetings and campaigns where prospective teaching assistants can meet and talk with educators.
  • Reach out to teachers and teaching assistants on social media or forums to gain insights into the profession, get advice on where to look for new opportunities and support when applying for roles. They may also have information on events where candidates can meet educators face-to-face.

An established and solid network can help build confidence, improve knowledge and skills and lead to career advancement. If a candidate has more connections, they have a greater chance of being selected for the teaching assistant role, as educators will be aware of their commitment to the sector and entering this profession.

Tips For Landing Your First Teaching Assistant Position

Conclusion

Being a teaching assistant is challenging and comes with many responsibilities. However, it is a rewarding role for those who are a good fit and are committed to progressing in this career.

Aspiring teaching assistants should be proactive in their job search and application process by thoroughly researching and preparing. It will increase their chances of a successful application and an interview invitation. Poor preparation will usually mean ending up on the ‘no’ pile.

Landing a teaching assistant position requires a combination of relevant qualifications, experience, skills and qualities. Candidates must demonstrate in the application and interview that they are passionate about working with children and supporting their learning and development in an educational setting. They must also show they have the necessary skills to meet the role requirements.

Applying the tips covered in this blog post can help candidates navigate the job application and interview process and help them make the right choices on their journey to become a teaching assistant. If they are serious about this path, they should never give up and persevere in pursuing this rewarding career in education.

Please feel free to use the comments section to share individual experiences or additional tips relating to the teaching assistant role.

Tips For Landing Your First Teaching Assistant Position
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