From education to employment

Research shows almost three quarters of teaching assistants have thought about leaving the profession

teacher helping students

A new report published this week has warned that change is needed quickly if a crisis of support for some of the most vulnerable children in schools is to be avoided. 

Research conducted with more than 150 active teaching assistants by the educational charity and leader in technical and vocational learning NCFE showed that 73% had either thought about moving careers, or were actively looking to do so, in the last 12 months. 

In the report – Exploring the vital, specialist role of the Teaching Assistant for children and young people’s holistic education and wellbeing – more than half (53%) of respondents also said they had little, none, or didn’t know when it came to job security, and 49% felt the role was not respected. 

Angie Rogers, Subject Specialist in Teaching and Learning at NCFE, said:

“There’s a real risk of skilled teaching assistants being forced out of education and into other sectors.  

“The research shows a clear commitment from teaching assistants to continue in their role, as well as a desire and determination to develop themselves professionally, so they are best placed to provide support for those who need it most. But relying on passion alone is not sustainable.  

“We must professionalise the role and ensure that there is more of a collaborative approach towards meeting the needs of children and young people in education. There also needs to be improved access to training and development opportunities so teaching assistants are able to develop their career pathways within in a role they feel so passionate about. 

“This allows teaching assistants to feel valued and respected as professionals which will encourage more to stay within the role as well as attract new individuals into the sector.” 

When it comes to supporting learners with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), more than a third of teaching assistants felt very confident – yet only 13% indicated that they had all the resources, training and time that is required.  

Time and training were often linked in the responses, with a willingness from teaching assistants for continuing professional development (CPD) but a lack of space in the day to do it. One respondent also indicated that they were often forced to pay for resources out of their own pocket. 

Lindy Orchard’s son is on the autistic spectrum, and she has experienced first-hand the ways teaching assistants have supported him through the education system.  

She said: “We knew he had problems from about the age of two, so we’ve had quite a lot of interactions over the years with a wide range of teaching assistants. It was an assistant in a nursery who was one of the first professionals to spot that things weren’t quite right, and that it wasn’t just me as a mummy being overbearing or overprotective.   

“Towards the end of primary school there was a higher-level teaching assistant who came in and was put one-to-one with my son for a while. She introduced things like a visual timetable for him at school, using time-out cards for him, and was able to change the onus from he’s giving us a hard time, to he’s having a hard time.” 

The report is the culmination of NCFE’s All I Do campaign, showcasing the impactful and essential work of teaching assistants and challenging misconceptions about the role. As a result of this latest research, the charity is making three recommendations: 

  • We cannot rely on passion alone; the role of teaching assistant must be further professionalised, including around access to training and development opportunities.
  • There must be improved integration into educational settings, including greater collaboration between teacher, teaching assistant, and parent/carer.
  • There is a need to raise the profile of teaching assistants in the media and through government, as well as to create a national network to share best practice and offer peer-to-peer support. 

To find out more about the research and read the full report, visit 

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