The role and numbers of teaching assistants (TAs) in English schools has grown dramatically in recent years. This is associated with professional development which could give access to Qualified Teacher Status. This part-time, school-based route is consistent with the growth of alternative routes into teaching that are based on an ‘apprenticeship model of teacher training’. This model is consistent with the dominant model of ‘reflective practice’ in teacher training. This study of a cohort of students in their first year of a part-time degree programme for TAs examines the role of experience from constructivist and sociocultural perspectives. It concludes that the TAs’ social context in school has a significant impact on the potential to learn from experience and this needs to be addressed in the design of such programmes.