Special Needs Teaching Assistant

The Job and What's Involved

Special needs teaching assistants work in schools, helping children with a wide range of severe learning, physical or behavioural difficulties.

Your work as a special needs teaching assistant would depend on the age of the children and their individual needs, but would typically involve:

  • Supporting schoolwork under the supervision of the teacher.
  • Preparing learning resources.
  • Encouraging children's confidence, self esteem and independence.
  • Helping children understand instructions, through repetition, re-phrasing or demonstrating.
  • Putting into practice individual education, social, behavioural and personal care programmes.
  • Encouraging children to communicate with one another and with staff.
  • Providing feedback and assistance to teachers.
  • Supporting children in social activities and on outings.
  • Assisting children during therapy sessions.
  • Recognising signs of distress in children and offering reassurance.
  • Attending to pupils' physical needs.
  • Completing records.

You could work in a special school (supporting children with severe or complex special educational needs), or with an individual pupil or small group of pupils in a mainstream class.

You could have a different job title, such as special needs classroom assistant, learning support assistant, support worker or special needs assistant.

You would usually work school hours, Monday to Friday, during term-time. However, many teaching assistants work part-time. You may sometimes have to attend training and meetings outside school hours.

Some special schools are residential. If you work as a teaching assistant in this type of school, you may have to work a mixture of shifts covering seven days a week.

Salaries for full-time teaching assistants can be from £12,000 to over £17,000 a year. Salaries for full-time Higher Level Teaching Assistants can be between £16,000 and around £21,000 a year, although this varies depending on the LEA and the responsibilities of individual jobs.

There is no national pay scale, and wage rates are set by each LEA or school. Teaching assistants who are part-time and/or paid term-time only would earn a portion of full-time rates (known as 'pro rata' payment).

Getting Started with this Career Choice

You could find opportunities in special schools or in mainstream or independent schools. Local authorities, disability organisations and charities run special schools, usually for pupils with severe or complex special educational needs.

Because of the move towards integrating pupils with disabilities and special needs into mainstream education, there are likely to be more opportunities in mainstream schools.

Education and Training

Individual local education authorities (LEAs) and schools decide what qualifications and experience they expect, so it is worth checking local job advertisements.

It is unlikely that you would find paid employment without relevant experience, and most qualifications for teaching assistants are aimed at people working or volunteering in a school.

A useful way to start gaining experience is to volunteer to help in a local school, perhaps for a few hours a week at first. General experience with children or young people with disabilities or learning difficulties would also be useful.

For some jobs you could have an advantage with nursery nursing qualifications.

You will need Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) clearance before you can begin working or volunteering.

To work with pupils with hearing-impairment you are likely to need a sign language qualification such as the Certificate in British Sign Language to at least stage 1.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

As a newly-appointed special needs teaching assistant, you would usually complete a short, nationally-approved induction training programme. Some local authorities also have a range of in-house training, which may lead to qualifications.

You can also work towards the Level 2 and 3 Award/Certificate/Diploma in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools.

To be accepted on a course, you would usually need to be working or volunteering in a school for a set number of hours a week, and may need qualifications such as GCSE's or the equivalent. You should check with colleges for their entry requirements.

Depending on your job, it could be useful to attend training in relevant communication skills, such as:

  • Signature (formerly CACDP) qualifications, including Deaf Awareness, British Sign Language, Deafblind Awareness and Deafblind Support Work.
  • Makaton (or similar) sign-supported English.
  • Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) courses, including Partners in Learning, a modular BTEC course for teaching assistants working with pupils with sight problems.

See the Signature, Makaton Vocabulary Development Project (MVDP) and RNIB websites for details.

Fluency in community languages could be useful for some jobs.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A special needs teaching assistant needs:

  • An interest in education and in working with children.
  • Good communication and 'people' skills.
  • The ability to work well as part of a team.
  • Good literacy and numeracy skills.
  • Tact and sensitivity.
  • A responsible attitude.
  • Patience.
  • The ability to be firm when necessary.
  • Willingness to help with pupils' personal care needs.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience you may be able to progress to a senior assistant job. You may be able to take on more responsibility by applying for training and assessment for Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) status.

When you are fully experienced as a special needs teaching assistant, you may be able to study for a foundation degree. These are offered by a number of colleges and universities.

After completing a foundation degree you might be able to progress to a related honours degree which could provide a route for qualifying as a primary school teacher.

Get Further Information

Signature, Mersey House, Mandale Business Park,
Belmont, Durham DH1 1TH
Tel: 0191 383 1155
Textphone: 0191 383 7915
Website: www.signature.org.uk

Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB)
105 Judd Street, London WC1H 9NE
Tel: 020 7388 1266
Website: www.rnib.org.uk

Makaton Vocabulary Development Project
Website: www.makaton.org

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