It’s nearly two years ago during the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic that we last looked into the career of a teaching assistant (TA). We spoke to three people who were at different stages of their career working in different environments each with its own challenges. So, we thought we’d revisit two of those interviewees for more insight into this most fulfilling of careers.
Sarah Thomas became a TA after a volunteering in her own children’s school and catching the eye of the headteacher who told her that she had the main attribute needed to be a success in a paid role – heart.
Personality counts in this role and it’s definitely not a career for anyone who doesn’t put their heart into, because it’s vocational.
Sarah said: “To be a successful teacher or teaching assistant you have to want to do it, it can’t be a last choice in your list of potential job pursuits. Making sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and not just for long holidays is vital, because you have to give 100% of yourself all the time and that’s draining. So you have to love children and love what you are doing or it will be hard to succeed.”
Two years on Sarah, who is university educated, is still a Level 3 TA in Wirral primary school working with Year 5 and 6 pupils, but her role has also changed: “I deal more with children’s mental health since the pandemic and the repeated lockdowns. Lots of children have been really anxious and have struggled with school and even been reluctant to attend, so now most of my afternoons are spent delivering mental health interventions.
I’ve done courses in this area, but not through the school, because it’s something I have long been
interested in. I have an aptitude for it which was spotted and so the role followed. Having extra
strings to your bow can help you progress.”
Sarah became a TA by signing up for a formal training course, which involved two days each week learning on the job and one day studying at college. She said that gaining practical experience before you apply for such a course is really important: “A TA is more than teacher support, it’s a teaching job, we wear a lot of different hats and we are very busy.”
Now, two years on, Sarah is considering her next step: “I’m thinking about doing the Higher-Level Teaching Assistant training which means you can officially take classes and have more responsibility in terms of whole classes.
Making the transition into becoming a teacher when my own children are a little more independent is appealing too or I may go more heavily into the mental health side. Being a TA has given me a solid foundation for career progression.”
Joe Duffy, 24, has been a TA at the school he attended since he left full-time education. Joe, who will be the subject of a case study in a future post, has dyslexia and by his own admission struggled at school. Yet his positive attitude was noticed by his teachers who encouraged him to join their ranks.
That and his Special Needs ‘lived experience’ made him an ideal candidate to support pupils who find being teenage academics a little tough.
He spent his last term at school shadowing teachers, before returning to start an 18-month apprenticeship delivered by an external training provider, as well as studying for and passing his Level 1 Functional Skills in Maths and English and an ICT qualification.
Five years after leaving school and four since he qualified, Joe is flourishing and is now a Level 2/3 TA. He said: “I’ve gained more qualifications which has led to me be given more responsibilities and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to teach motor skills and PE part- time in addition to my core work.
I have been told by other members of staff, I am making an impact and I really enjoy this job. The support given to me from the start has helped over the five years I’ve been doing it and I can say that every day is different and brings its own challenges and that makes it worth getting up for. For me to help these pupils and give them some of my experience from when I was younger is massive.”
No specific qualification is needed to be a TA, but what’s evident from Sarah and Joe’s testimonies is that being compassionate is essential. It is, though, a sought-after occupation and pursuing training will help. For entry-level positions, basic literacy and numeracy skills are needed. Qualifications in related areas such as childcare, nursery, play or youth work can also be useful.
A TA’s salary will vary depending on the role, responsibilities and educational setting. Starting salaries for full-time, permanent TAs (level 1) are around £15,000 and with increased responsibility (levels 2 and 3), TAs can expect to earn between £15,000 and £21,000, rising to £25,000 for higher level TAs. Additional specialisms or SEN responsibilities can mean further increases.