Education Assistants, also known as teacher aides or teacher assistants, support students in a range of activities in the classroom or service under the direction of a teacher. This direction ranges from close supervision to occasional indirect oversight. Education Assistants are most commonly known for helping teachers and supporting students in either mainstream or special needs schools and in particular for working with students with special needs.
So how exactly do you become an education assistant? What qualifications do you need to become an education assistant? How much are education assistants paid? What do education assistants do on a day-to-day basis? Are there different types of education assistants? This article will answer all of these questions and more.
This article discusses the work of Education Assistants in general. For details about a specific nationally recognised course education assistant courses follow one of these links:
An education assistant is a person who works in a school to support student learning, development and behaviour. Education assistant is another term for teacher aide, teacher assistant, education support worker, integration aide, SSO, LSO etc. Most people working in these roles have completed at least one of the nationally recognised education assistant courses. Education assistants support students and teachers in a range of school-based activities ranging from learning activities (reading, writing, maths for example), developmental activities (gross and fine motor physical development, social skills etc), and operational or logistical tasks (cleaning, storing and preparing equipment). Education assistants are expected to perform a range of tasks depending on the needs of the school, the students, and the topics, subjects, or programs being delivered. These skills are learnt in the accredited education assistant courses such as those offered by ITAC.
We all have an idea of what an education assistant does. Many people imagine a person helping a teacher with tasks such as planning excursions, photocopying, helping students to learn to read and write and so forth. While this is generally a true and accurate picture of an education assistant in an Australian school, there is a whole lot more to working as an education assistant given the demands and challenges of today's modern education system.
Education assistants are also known as EAs, teacher's aides, integration aides, school support officers, learning support officers and teacher’s assistants depending on which state or territory you hail from. All of these terms mean the same thing for all intents and purposes (although there are some subtle differences). Education assistants are found throughout Australia and are in almost every type of school including:
Defining exactly what education assistants are expected to do in the classroom has been the topic of a number of studies of the last few decades. Some key findings of these studies are shown below:
One study from 2018, investigated the effectiveness of teacher's aides in 105 schools and found that trained teacher's aide are much more effective especially when working closely and in cooperation with the teacher.
Other studies such as this one in 2016, found that 'students with disabilities in full-day kindergarten have higher reading and mathematics outcomes at the end of kindergarten when the classroom has a teacher's aide.'
A Victorian study published that ‘one of the major roles of the teachers' aide' and the four main areas where teacher's aides are focused on are 'a) inclusion in the school community, (b) curriculum, (c) classroom management, and (d) student support.’
There are several different types of education assistants in Australia, some of which we have alluded to earlier. The education assistant that you might be imagining (if you've never worked in a school before or completed a qualification), is probably cutting up fruit and helping children in a kindergarten to learn to read and write (phonics). While some of these education assistants do exist, they are becoming less common and are typically speaking the lowest paid education assistants. Many people start their qualification with the intention to work in this type of role but end up looking for a position in a different area such as with special needs, in high school, or a literacy or numeracy program.
Note: regardless of the title, type, definition or school, the same education assistant courses apply to everyone.
Another type of education assistant is the special needs education assistant, the most common type of education assistants in Australia. This is because most of the funding for education assistants comes from the government in order to support students with disabilities. In fact, some estimate that about 70-90% of funding for education assistants flows to schools specifically due to funding allocations to individual students with diagnosed needs. Schools can then however, use that cash however they see fit (which is usually for an education assistant but not always).
An education assistant that works in a mainstream classroom with a student that has a diagnosed disability is quite often called a special needs education assistant even though they do not work in a special needs centre or school (often called education support schools). A student that has been 'mainstreamed' (as the term is used by teachers) is a student that has special needs such as Autism and attends a mainstream class with support from a full-time special needs education assistant.
Other education assistants work in special needs schools. A special needs centre or school is a school designed specifically to cater for the needs of students with complex special needs. Students in these schools require one on one support from a special needs education assistant. Teachers, principals and other staff are trained and qualified to work with students with special needs. These positions often require the highest level education assistant course to be completed: CHC40221 Certificate IV in School Based Education Support.
Some special needs centres operate on their own campus and they only enrol students with high-level special needs. Other special needs centres enrol a range of students with special needs but not necessarily high special needs. Some special needs schools are located on the same site as other schools and can even have a similar name (even though they are technically a completely different school, with their own principals and teachers).
Hint: Don't overlook special needs schools if you're looking for employment as an education assistant (especially if have completed or enrolled in an education assistant course). They employ the lion’s share of education assistants, but many forget to apply there.
The best education assistant course for you is the one that best meets your goals. If you are considering working as a special need's education assistant, then it would be logical to consider the CHC40221 Certificate IV in School Based Education Support as this is the course for special needs. Depending on your provider you may be able to go straight into the CHC40221 Certificate IV in School Based Education Support.
If you plan on working as an education assistant in lower grades and have absolutely no intention of working with students with special needs, then you may consider completing the lower level qualification such as the CHC30221 Certificate III in School Based Education Support. This may be slightly cheaper and potentially a little bit easier.
However, at ITAC at least, we generally recommend that students complete our most popular education assistant course, the teacher aide combo (or go straight into the CHC40221 Certificate IV in School Based Education Support). Some students also prefer to complete the CHC30221 Certificate III in School Based Education Support and then graduate into the CHC40221 Certificate IV in School Based Education Support immediately thereafter.
Generally, however, we don’t recommend completing the CHC30221 Certificate III in School Based Education Support on its own as it limits your job prospects.
Ultimately, the decision about which course to enrol in is up to you. However, it is an important decision to make and one that should not be taken lightly.
Hint: Cost is only one factor you should consider when comparing providers. Enrol with an RTO that you feel comfortable with, who has a good reputation and who offers you the support services and mode of study that suits your needs.
Broadly speaking education assistant courses are not that expensive considering the number of benefits such as the ability to begin a new career, to work anywhere in Australia, and the family friendly work hours (plus school holidays!).
Please refer to our website for the latest information regarding the current fees for this qualification.
This question also depends on your goals. If you're considering enrolling in an education assistant course in order to obtain full-time permanent work, it might be slightly more difficult than if you're aiming for casual or relief work.
Casual or relief work is generally easy to find, especially if you hold a nationally recognised qualification from a reputable provider. Casual or relief work simply means that you are working in a school to replace another education assistant who has been ill, is on a short course or for some other reason they are unable to attend work on that particular day.
Generally, if you're 'called in for relief' (as they say), you will work a full day and it can sometimes be for a week, several weeks, or even several months. We commonly hear of education assistants who work full-time simply by doing casual or relief work at one or more schools. Casual work gives you a degree of flexibility. This is great early in your career as you can try out several different schools to see what suits you and what you enjoy. It can also be beneficial for those with other commitments such as a business, children, or caring duties. People who work casual or relief are paid a loading of 25%.
You can read more about how how to become a teacher aide by rearing our detailed article on the topic here.
One way to find this type of work is to complete an education assistant course or qualification with a reputable provider (such as ITAC of course!) and then put your name down at 15 to 20 schools in your local area - or as far as you're willing to travel. The more schools the more likely you are to find work sooner. There are plenty of schools out there too - WA alone has over 1121 at last count.
Where you end up working is really up to you. With over 1200 schools in WA alone, there is ample opportunity for anyone who has completed a nationally recognised teacher aide course with a reputable provider. You could end up with a long, stable and fruitful career in:
Hint: Don't get too fussy with where you're going to work early in your career. Some schools have a bad reputation, however generally that reputation is unfounded. Once you're in a school, you will find that it really depends on the class, the teacher and the subject. Sometimes you can be in the best schools in the world but have a particularly difficult class.
Relief is the best way to begin your career if you are looking to eventually work as a full-time permanent employee. Schools typically prefer to test people out as casual or relief staff first and to then employ them on a more permanent basis – they like to get to know you first.
Also, if you have connections and know a few people in the industry, they can be a great way to get your foot in the door. Make sure that you let everyone know that you're interested in working as an education assistant and have enrolled in or are completing an education assistant course. A lot of education assistants find work simply because they just happen to be talking to a neighbour, a friend, barista etc. – you never know!
Hint: If you are dropping your kids off at school each day - get to know the teacher(s) and other staff including front admin staff (and let it be known that you are enrolled in an education assistant course). They might let you know if positions are becoming available in the near future.
Education assistants are generally paid around the $30 per hour mark. This equates to just under a thousand dollars per week. The reason this equates to just under a thousand dollars per week is because the majority of education assistants only work approximately 32 hours per week. 32 hours works out to be approximately 0.8 FTE. FTE stands for full time equivalent.
The benefit of this is that you don't have to work 38 hours per week, meaning you start a little bit later and finish not long after the kids finish. This is great for parents in particular who can then pick their kids up after or before school.
You can read more about how much EAs get paid by rearing our detailed article on the topic here.
Some websites such as Seek state that education assistants in Western Australia earn an average of $23 to $27 per hour. This is in fact, misleading. The majority of education assistants are on the higher end of the pay scales and not in the middle. This is because of how the pay scales work - many education assistants are employed to work with students with disabilities. If you're employed to work with a student with a disability or in a special needs school, you are paid a higher amount starting at just under $30 per hour. Therefore, as the majority of education assistants work in special needs, and special needs EAs are paid more, the average is closer to the top of the pay scale – about $30 ph.
We get this question quite a bit and the answer is generally very simple. There is no difference between an education assistant, teacher’s aide or a teacher’s assistant. They are all the exact same thing. However, in Western Australia people who work as a teacher’s aide or teacher’s assistant are quite often called education assistants, or EA's for short.
It should be noted however that the term teacher’s aide is considered by some in Western Australia to be somewhat derogatory. This means some people are slightly offended by being referred to as a teacher’s aide. EA or education assistant is the preferred term.
We use the term teacher's aide because it is the common term used by the general public. It is also the term used by academics and researchers around the world.
If you talk to any education assistant (or teacher) in Australia (or most of the developed world), they will most likely tell you that behaviour management is the hardest part of their job. Obviously, this depends on the school where you work – some are better than others. For example, private schools have fewer behavioural issues than public schools (trust me on this one – I have worked in both, and the difference is day and night especially in year 7, 8 and 9).
You can read more about what teacher aides do by reading our article on the subject here.
Behaviour management is ensuring that children are behaving, are on task and are doing what they are supposed to be doing. This is why we spend a large amount of time ensuring that our students learn a whole range of strategies and techniques in their education assistant course which can be used to support the teacher with behaviour management.
Below is an excerpt from our learner guide to give you an example of some of the types of things that you will expect to see in your course.
ROOT CAUSES OF BEHAVIOUR
Power and revenge
This is extremely rare and generally only occurs with students who have been diagnosed with a mental disorder such as severe Oppositional Defiance Disorder or the more serious Conduct Disorder. If you suspect a student’s behaviour is caused by a desire to seek revenge or power from staff, seek advice from your teacher.
Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a childhood behavioural problem characterised by constant disobedience and hostility. Source: BetterHealth 2014
Conduct disorder (CD) refers to a set of problem behaviours exhibited by children and adolescents, which may involve the violation of a person, their rights or their property. It is characterised by aggression and, sometimes, law-breaking activities. Source: BetterHealth 2014
When a student is regularly off task, distracts others and talks a lot during class, in many cases it is due to fear of failure. This is caused by lack of self-esteem or self-belief. This means the student believes that they have no chance of successfully completing the task and therefore conclude that there is no reason to try. Coupled with a social fear of being ousted as a failure in front of their peers, this student will do almost anything to avoid public failure.
Hint: Self-esteem should not be confused with self-confidence and an extroverted personality. Many of the most confident people that you will meet in public, courses, clubs, friends and family may actually be lacking in self-esteem. This means that they don’t think of themselves as being capable of completing a specific task (or tasks in general) to a sufficient standard compared to other people. Being loud and talking a lot does not mean the person is confident in themselves.
"All people in our society (with a few pathological exceptions) have a need or desire for a stable, firmly based, (usually) high evaluation of themselves, for self-respect, or self-esteem, and for the esteem of others. By firmly based self-esteem, we mean that which is soundly based upon real capacity, achievement and respect from others." Source: York University, 2000
A range of mental health issues can affect a person’s ability to learn. It is well recognised that humans learn better when having fun and learn less when stressed. When under stress, future planning is almost non-existent as the person is only concerned with surviving the immediate danger. This can have various effects such as the student not caring about future consequences.
Some of the mental health issues you may come across in your work as an education assistant may include:
Hint: Some people believe that working in high school is much more stressful and challenging. This is in part due to an intimidatory factor – the physical size of some high school students and the belief that their behaviour can be more challenging. However, this is more of a myth and a misunderstanding. Quite often people who work in high schools are working with very similar children to those in primary schools and take on the same types of tasks and responsibilities. It is no more or less difficult a job, and regardless there is always a teacher who as ultimate responsibility for managing any serious behaviour problems.
Many people working in high schools never set out to obtain work as an education assistant in a high school - at least when they first started their nationally recognised education assistant qualification. It can be a lot easier to find work because fewer people are willing to consider working in a high school. I recommend that you give high schools a shot – you may be surprised (and as a high school teacher myself – I can say with confidence that the poor reputation of almost all high schools is largely unfounded).
As mentioned earlier, don't forget to apply for work in special needs schools which also operate at the high school level. You can even apply when you are about halfway through your education assistant course.
All of our education assistant courses can be studied online. In fact, the majority of students enrol in an online mode of study due to the flexibility provided by this mode. These days, the availability of modern technology makes studying online very easy even for students who are not very tech savvy.
Some providers (including ITAC), also offer classes one day per week. Our students can also attend workshops, tutorials, and meet with their trainer either by phone, Skype, email or face-to-face.
Be wary of RTO's who do not allow you to call or meet with your trainer. Even the best students need support from time to time and having the availability of support can mean the difference between completing your course in 6 months or completing your course in 12 months - or not completing it at all. If it takes you an extra 3 to 6 months to complete your course, you may have lost $12,500 to $25,000 of income by not working during that time.
You can read more about studying online by reading our article on the topic here.
Yes, this course is available at most TAFEs around Australia. You may be wondering what the difference is between a TAFE and a provider such as ITAC, however.
We recommend TAFE for certain people. For example, if you have a disability or a disorder that requires a significant amount of additional support (in this case being in class daily for 6-12 months) TAFE can be beneficial. Another reason we would recommend going through TAFE is if you live in a regional or rural area and there's a local TAFE offering your course. In this case you may be better off enrolling with a provider (such as the TAFE) who can come and visit you in the workplace. This particularly applies for very remote areas.
Finally, if you are under the age of 18, we may recommend TAFE, especially if you need to be class every day to keep on track.
Private providers like ITAC typically enrol adult learners particularly for education assistant courses. In fact, the average age of our students is 37. Adult learners are a bit more self-directed, mature, and accountable for their own progress. Adult learners have other commitments and generally can’t be in class several days per week for 6-12 months. This is why we offer structured, flexible, case managed and self-paced programs.
This a hard question for us to answer because obviously it depends on the individual student. Some students may say that some questions are difficult, and other students will say that the assessments are not difficult at all.
Generally speaking, if you have experience with children or work in another caring industry such as age care, then we would typically advise that you should not struggle with this course.
Are the assessments difficult? Below are some examples from the CHC30221 Certificate III in School Based Education Support so you can make your own mind up.
Case study 1. Hygiene
You are working in a classroom with Ms. Brown who is the teacher of a class of 22 Yr. 4 children. It is the middle of the flu season and some children are quite clearly ill with runny noses and coughing. Today, there are two lessons remaining:
Based on this situation, explain the different strategies that you will use to ensure that the activities are undertaken in a hygienic manner. Ensure that you discuss the use of relevant PPE.
Case study 2. Prepare resources and equipment
You are working in a classroom with Mr. Black who is the teacher of a class of 20 Year 6 children. The class has a mixture of students in terms of abilities and personalities. Each term the class has a different focus to make learning more fun and interesting. This term the topic is 'farms and towns’. This topic is used by the teacher to plan all activities. For example, for English the students have learnt many new words relating to towns and farms. For history, students have learnt about life in ancient towns and farms. Students have even been on an excursion to a local farm.
Tomorrow the main topic is “Make your own town”.
The idea of this activity is for students to practice writing (specifically spelling), oral language skills and design skills (measuring, scale etc.). They will also learn some new words to add to their vocabulary. Students will draw a plan for their town on large paper, write in the names of everything (buildings, streets, businesses, public amenities etc. for the town). This is expected to take 1 hour. The plan is on A3 and will be to scale.
You have been asked by the teacher to prepare the resources and equipment. Explain the steps you will take in order to complete this task.
Yes, there is a work placement component in every nationally recognised education assistant course. This includes CHC30221 Certificate III in School Based Education Support and CHC40221 Certificate IV in School Based Education Support. More information about the work placement can be found on our website, in the student handbook, or by speaking to one of our friendly student advisers. Generally, the work placement is completed in a local school in your area. The minimum requirement for the work placement is currently 100 hours.
You can read more about the placement requirements on our FAQ here.
In this article we have covered many of the main questions that we get asked as far as work and study as an education assistant particularly in WA. We have covered:
If you have any questions about any of our education assistant courses, please see our main course pages for the relevant course (Certificate III or Certificate IV) or contact one of our friendly student advisers. If we don’t know the answer - chances are - no one does!
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
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