If you’re thinking of becoming a teaching assistant, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the technical terminology you’re encountering and the different levels of teaching assistant qualifications. How do you know which is right for you or where to begin?

We get it, and we thought it was about time someone stepped up to create a comprehensive guide to remove the confusion. In this blog post, we’ll be taking you through the different teaching assistant levels, which courses and experience you’ll need to complete for each, and what this will mean for your career moving forward.

Teaching Assistant with pupils sitting on a rainbow rug.

Getting Started as a Teaching Assistant

Before enrolling on a course, it may be good to get some work experience in a school. Why not try contacting the primary and secondary schools you studied at, to see if they offer work experience placements? Practical experience can be a really useful way of determining whether a particular career is the right route for you.

To train as a teaching assistant, there are also other qualifications you’ll need to have. Examples include English Language, English Literature and Maths GCSEs or Functional Skills. It would also be very beneficial for you to have some experience in childcare. There are many different ways to get this experience, such as assisting in a nursery, working at a youth club or volunteering in a school.

Becoming a Level 2 Teaching Assistant

If work experience alone isn’t enough to help you decide whether you’d like to become a teaching assistant, our Level 2 teaching assistant qualification is designed for those who’d like to learn the basics. It isn’t essential to complete the level 2 course before level 3, but it’s a great choice if you don’t have any experience in a school.

It also requires less work experience than the level 3 teaching assistant course. However, as a level 2 TA, if you don’t progress to Level 3, you can expect to get less responsibility and are therefore likely to be paid less.

As part of the level 2 teaching assistant course, you will learn about child development, child welfare and how best to communicate with young people and adults. Some of your responsibilities after qualifying will include:

  • Providing feedback to teachers on students’ progress and areas of concern.
  • Assisting with lesson planning.
  • Speaking with parents.
  • Offering admin support, including photocopying, filing and looking after funds.

If you become a Level 2 TA, you can expect to earn an average of £18-000 - £20,000 a year. It’s worth noting that many TAs work part-time or term-time only, so actual earnings are calculated pro-rata. This applies to average earnings for more qualified TAs too.

Teaching Assistant helps pupil with her work in the classroom.

Becoming a Level 3 Teaching Assistant

Level 3 TA is the most popular teaching assistant qualification and is more in-depth than level 2. If you complete a level 3 qualification, you’ll be fully qualified and ready to assist in classrooms. If you’re sure this is what you’d like to do, you can usually skip level 2 and go straight to level 3.

Level 3 expands upon the basics, increasing your skill set. Level 3 teaching assistant qualifications are likely to be needed for more specialised positions, such as roles that involve working with children with special educational needs (SEN). Level 3 TAs, especially those with SEN specialisms, are usually paid around £25,000 per annum.

If you were to qualify, it’s likely that you’d still be supervised by the classroom teacher. Some of your responsibilities as a newly qualified TA would probably include:

• getting the classroom ready before the lesson.
• helping teachers plan activities.
• listening to the children read or reading stories to them.

When you think of a teaching assistant, you probably picture someone working with a classroom full of students. This isn’t always the case, though. Teaching assistants are sometimes hired to work one-to-one with a pupil, while others will work with a small group of students.

An example of working one-to-one with a student on maths sums.

The Level 3 Award in Supporting Teaching & Learning was introduced in 2018 and is another option available to you. It involves up to 80 hours of studying, so is significantly shorter than the Level 3 Certificate. If you often find you’re short on time or you have a lot of other commitments, then this could be a good fit. Once you gain this qualification, you can then enrol on the Level 3 Certificate or enter the workforce. However, the certificate won’t cover the material in the same depth as the certificate and you won’t get as much practical experience. It therefore might not hold as much weight when you interview for a job.

Becoming a Higher-Level Teaching Assistant

The Higher Level Teaching Assistant qualification (HLTA) requires you to already be working as a full-time level 3 Teaching Assistant. By becoming a HLTA, you can increase your responsibilities, as well as your career prospects and salary.

As a HLTA, you’d still do all the same things a TA would. However, there are some additional tasks you may be entrusted with:
• You’d be given the authority to teach classes on your own and cover some classes for teachers who are on leave.
• As an HLTA, you can also plan and teach your own lessons, whereas TAs without this qualification can’t do so.

If you’d like to become a HLTA, it’s likely you’ll need additional skills, such as in-depth knowledge of certain aspects of the syllabus, or knowing sign language. HLTAs provide specialist support to other pupils and work closely with teachers to help improve the standards at their school. To become a HLTA, you normally need the approval of your school and the headteacher.

Take a look at Jackie Shackell’s success story and find out all about her journey to becoming a teacher assistant.

Teaching Assistant working on an art project with a pupil.

Costing and Time Commitments of Becoming a Teaching Assistant

The cost of the HLTA is usually covered by the local authority, self-funded or funded by the school itself.

If you choose to enrol on a teaching assistant course, such as the NCFE CACHE or HLTA qualifications, it’s important to know how much time these courses will take to complete. The time commitment depends on which course you complete. The level 2 teaching assistant qualification takes up to 200 hours to obtain, whereas the level 3 course takes 350 hours (210 of which are guided study hours). The level 4 TA course is around 150 hours long.

Do you find you’re often busy? If so, then perhaps you should consider enrolling on a course that allows for some flexibility. For example, all Oxbridge students can take a six-month study break, should they need to, and they’re also given the option to ask for an extension.

Other Specialisms

Along the way, you might decide you’d like to specialise in helping children with specific learning difficulties, or neurological differences such as autism. This is a particularly important role in the classroom, as such children often need special attention and support. You’ll find plenty of training options out there. You’ll need to make sure that the qualification you choose is nationally recognised and accredited by a respected provider such as NCFE CACHE.

Hopefully, this blog post has helped to clarify the different teaching assistant levels. As I’m sure you can see, there are plenty of different options for those looking to pursue a career as a teaching assistant.

If you’re thinking of becoming a teaching assistant, our experienced learning advisers will be happy to provide you with more information about our extensive range of courses. Give us a call on 0121 630 3000 or browse our range of education courses here.