How to become a special needs teacher

Training as a teacher can lead to a rewarding career helping young people achieve their goals, but sometimes a pupil will require extra support to reach their full potential. A special educational needs teacher is the person who can help provide that support.

What is a special needs teacher?

A special educational needs (SEN) teacher works closely with children and young people who, because of a disability or learning difficulties, need extra support with their education. 

Students could have physical disabilities such as hearing, sight or speech impairment or they may have behavioural or learning difficulties such as autism, dyslexia or emotional worries. 

Equally, SEN teachers also work with exceptionally gifted and talented pupils who are challenged by a standard learning environment.

Working with individuals on a one-to-one basis is a key part of the role and it is your job to ensure their learning takes place in a safe and supported environment. 

It is also up to you to help stimulate their learning, encouraging them and respond to their individual needs so they get the best experience of school life that they can.

You will teach national curriculum subjects, mark and discuss work, prepare lessons and teaching materials, liaise with other professionals such as other teachers and medical staff, work alongside the parents and help develop students’ confidence and abilities.

Required qualifications and experience

SEN teachers are fully qualified teachers with experience of teaching in mainstream classrooms. You will need to achieve Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) before you can go on to train as a SEN teacher.

There are several ways you can gain QTS:

  • A Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) which you can study for after a degree.
  • By gaining a Bachelor of Education or BA/BSc with QTS.
  • Through School-Centred Initial Teacher Training, School Direct or Teach First. These are all different school-based qualifications which allow you to gain experience in a school whilst working towards QTS.

As well as having QTS you must have a SEN qualification that is not older than three years and you may need specific qualifications if you are working with children with particular disabilities such as visual or hearing impairments.

The right personality

As a teacher, it is important to have patience and understanding, traits that are more important for a SEN teacher. You also need to be a good communicator, a team player, creative and organised.

SEN teachers are also highly intuitive and able to work out issues quickly and how best to support a child’s learning and development. Some children might have difficulty communicating their emotions so it is up to a SEN teacher to sense any underlying problems and deal with them.

Skills

Aside from common teaching skills – communication, patience, teamwork, leadership, organisation – you will also need to have a calming nature. SEN pupils can become distressed and in order to teach them properly you need to be able to keep them calm.

Experience of working with vulnerable people or those who need extra help when it comes to their education is also highly beneficial.

Opportunities

Most of the opportunities for SEN teachers arise in mainstream state schools and depending on the size of the school, you might remain as one or become a coordinator who manages other SENs. 

You can expect to work around 35 hours a week and earn between £22,000 and £46,000 a year and could eventually apply for roles as the head teacher or deputy head teacher of a special needs school.

Roles are also available in private schools and in education referral units, hospitals and custody centres.

 

Browse our special needs teaching jobs

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