Special Educational Needs Teacher

The Job and What's Involved

Special educational needs (SEN) teachers work with pupils who have learning difficulties and disabilities, and sometimes with exceptionally gifted pupils. In Scotland, they are known as additional special needs (ASN) teachers. Pupils may be physically disabled, have visual or hearing impairments, be emotionally vulnerable or suffer from specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia.

SEN teachers follow the National Curriculum as far as possible. ASN teachers teach the 5-14 Curriculum and qualifications up to Standard and Higher Grade. SEN/ASN teachers spend much of their time teaching small groups or individuals, and must adapt what they teach to meet the needs of individual pupils. For example, teachers of pupils with hearing impairments help to develop their speech and communication skills.

SEN/ASN teachers could teach pupils who have difficulties with:

  • Reading, writing, spelling or number work.
  • Expressing themselves or understanding information.
  • Behaviour.
  • Organising themselves and their work.
  • Sensory or physical needs that may affect them in school.

The work also involves:

  • Assessing learning needs.
  • Preparing materials, equipment and lessons.
  • Setting, assessing and reporting on individual pupils' work.
  • Advising pupils and holding reviews of their progress.
  • Assisting with the personal care needs of pupils.
  • Talking to parents, carers, guardians and other professionals such as education welfare officers, social workers and healthcare professionals.
  • Liaising with class teachers and learning support assistants.
  • Organising activities, field trips or work experience.
  • Contributing to policy development and in-service training.

Teachers work 39 weeks a year in school. They can work part time, or on a supply basis covering absent teachers. Many SEN/ASN teachers work long hours.

Salaries outside the London area range from at least £21,999 (£23,841 in Scotland) for a new SEN/ASN teacher.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are over 15,000 SEN/ASN teachers in the UK, mostly working in mainstream schools. Others work in special schools, pupil referral units, community homes, hospital schools and youth custody centres. Currently, there is a shortage of suitable applicants.

Education and Training

To teach in a state-maintained school and in many other institutions, candidates must have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland or a Teaching Qualification (TQ) in Scotland. These are obtained by completing either Initial Teacher Training (ITT) in England and Wales or Initial Teacher Education (ITE) in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Candidates must meet nationally recognised standards for physical and mental fitness and undergo a criminal records check.

They must also have some experience of working with children, for example through volunteering at a local school or working at a youth club, holiday activity camp or club. The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) can arrange for a potential applicant to talk to a practicing teacher, visit a school or attend a taster course in England.

To become an SEN/ASN teacher, it is usually necessary, but not always essential, to have two years' experience as a qualified teacher.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Candidates for any form of teacher training must have GCSE's (A-C) in English and maths (or equivalent qualifications). To teach in a primary school or at Key Stage 2-3, candidates also require a GCSE (A-C) in a science subject. In England, candidates must pass tests in literacy, numeracy and ITC.

To obtain QTS, candidates may select from a number of routes:

Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree - offered by many universities and colleges throughout the UK. Courses generally take three or four years full time or four to six years part time. Entry requirements vary, but a minimum of two A levels or equivalent is normally required. Degrees with QTS status are also available in a variety of subjects.

Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) - offered by universities, colleges and schools throughout the UK and via distance learning. Courses last for one or two years full time or two years part time. The normal entry requirement is an undergraduate degree relevant to the subject the candidate intends to teach. Pre-training courses are available in some subjects for graduates who need to develop their subject knowledge.

Eligible trainees on postgraduate courses may receive state-funded, tax-free bursaries.

School Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) - offered by groups of neighbouring schools and colleges throughout England (but currently not in Wales), and designed to allow trainees to spend more of their training time in the classroom. Courses last for one year full time. Trainees are based at one school, but complete teaching placements at other schools in the group. Some courses also lead to a PGCE. The normal entry requirement is a degree in the subject the candidate intends to teach. If the candidate has a degree in another subject, it may be possible to take a pre-training course. Eligible trainees may receive state-funded bursaries.

Teach First - a two-year programme which allows graduates to spend two years working in challenging secondary schools in London and Manchester, qualifying as a teacher and completing leadership training and work experience with a range of employers. It leads to QTS, but trainees also develop the skills needed to enter a commercially orientated career. Entry requirements are a minimum of a 2.1 degree in any subject, providing at least 40 per cent of it relates to a National Curriculum subject; 300 UCAS points (equivalent to BBB at A level); and a Grade C or above in GCSE English and maths, or equivalent qualifications. Candidates must also demonstrate a high level of skill in leadership, teamwork, resilience, critical thinking, communication, initiative, creativity, respect, humility and empathy. Trainees receive a training salary.

The Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) - involves on-the-job training, allowing graduates to qualify as a teacher while they work. Candidates must either respond to an advert for the GTP programme, apply direct to a GTP provider or find a job as an unqualified teacher in a school that will support them throughout the programme. Training takes from three months to one school year or longer and is tailored to the individual's needs.

The Registered Teacher Programme (RTP) - aimed at non-graduates with at least two years' experience of higher education (for example, an HND, DipHE or the first two years of a degree course). Candidates must be working in a school as an unqualified teacher, and training (which takes at least one, but normally two years) is tailored to the individual's needs. The school works with a local higher education institution to ensure that trainees receive suitable training to extend their subject knowledge to degree level.

Newly qualified teachers with a PGCE in maths and science may also be eligible for a 'golden hello' payment worth £5,000 (taxed) after successfully completing their induction period. Those with a PGCE in English, modern languages, drama, design and technology, ICT, music or religious education may receive £2,500 (taxed).

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

SEN/ASN teachers should be:

  • Able to resolve communication difficulties with pupils.
  • Exceptionally patient, persevering and positive.
  • Able to deal with challenging behaviour.
  • Observant and responsive.
  • Good at solving problems and coping with distractions.

Your Long Term Prospects

There are opportunities to move into specialist areas such as pastoral care, and eventually to senior management roles such as deputy or assistant head and headteacher.

In England and Wales, there are opportunities for teachers who have reached standards of excellence in teaching to become advanced skills teachers (ASTs). They spend 80 per cent of their time as classroom teachers and the remainder focusing on raising standards of teaching and learning in their own and other schools. A new Excellent Teacher Scheme (ETS) also enables experienced teachers to be rewarded for staying in the classroom and sharing their expertise with colleagues.

Experienced teachers may also move into a number of related careers including teacher training, educational advisory work, educational research and writing, and schools inspection.

There may even be opportunities to work overseas.

Get Further Information

Department of Education,
Northern Ireland, Rathgael House,
Bangor, Co. Down BT19 7PR
Tel: 028 9127 9279
Website: www.deni.gov.uk

General Teaching Council Scotland (GTCS),
Clerwood House, 96 Clermiston Road,
Edinburgh EH12 6UT
Tel: 0131 314 6000
Website: www.gtcs.org.uk

General Teaching Council for Wales,
4th Floor, Southgate House,
Wood Street, Cardiff CF10 1EW
Tel: 029 2055 0350
Website: www.gtcw.org.uk

Graduate Teacher Training Registry (GTTR),
Rosehill, New Barn Lane,
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL52 3LZ
Tel: 0870 112 2205
Website: www.gttr.ac.uk

Independent Schools Council,
St Vincent House, 30 Orange Street,
London WC2H 7HH
Tel: 020 7766 7070
Website: www.isc.co.uk

The Open University, 40 University Road,
Belfast BT7 1SU Tel: 028 9032 3722
Website: www.open.ac.uk

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