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How to Become a Special Educational Needs Teaching Assistant

Teaching assistant writing on paper with pencil sharpenings next to pencil

The demand for special educational needs teaching assistants is constantly increasing as more students are requiring support with their learning due to a physical disability or behavioural difficulty. There are a lot of skills required to fill the SEN jobs that are available, but there are certain steps you can take to successfully land a role working as an SEN teaching assistant.

Firstly, you must do your research into what’s expected of an SEN teaching assistant to ensure you are equipped with the right skills. Then, you should identify the qualifications you’ll need and which courses you’ll have to enrol on. Lastly, after building your experience within a special educational needs environment, you’ll need to know how to structure your CV and cover letter, and the ways in which you can prepare for an interview. We have put together some information on each of these topics, and a few useful tips that should help you gain an SEN teaching assistant job.

What is an SEN Teaching Assistant?

A special educational needs teaching assistant (often referred to as an SEN teaching assistant) works with SEN teachers to help support students who have issues with learning. An example of this would be a student with autism or dyslexia, for which they would require extra support and different strategies to help them achieve their learning goals.

1. Research into the SEN sector and the job role

If you are thinking about becoming an SEN teaching assistant, then understanding what is entailed in the role will be the first step you’ll need to take. We advise that you do your own research into the sector, but we have put together a brief summary of a typical SEN teaching assistant job description:

An SEN teaching assistant will have to plan and prepare their classes which are usually intended for both individuals and groups. Special skills will be required, for example, such as using sign language, and they’ll need to adapt their teaching methods to suit their students. Communication with other teachers, medical professionals, and psychologists, is vital to ensure that the learning needs are met for each student. 

2. Ensure you have the right skills for the role

What makes a good SEN teaching assistant? It isn’t just about gaining the right qualifications. This is a role where you’ll be teaching vulnerable people, so you’ll need certain personal qualities to help you achieve the standards required in the role, and, ultimately, help you to effectively support your students. Below are just a few of the traits you’ll have as an SEN teaching assistant:

  • Sensitivity – You should be able to approach students and their needs with a high level of sensitivity.
  • Patience – This is a demanding role, where every student’s needs will be different, so it requires a person who can remain calm in stressful situations.
  • Versatility – You’ll be required to adapt your teaching style to suit each student’s needs.
  • Excellent communication – Not only will you need to effectively communicate with your students, but you’ll need to be able to liaise with other teachers and professionals.
  • Understanding and empathy – When teaching different students with various needs, a good level of empathy will be required for you to assess the most appropriate approach for each individual student.

3. Increase your chance of getting a job by completing relevant courses

To turn your current CV into an SEN teaching assistant CV, which will show prospective employers your skills, knowledge, and experience, then you may want to consider embarking on a course to achieve the below qualifications:

Level 2 Teaching Assistant

Completing a Level 2 Teaching Assistant course is an ideal starting point for anyone wanting to embark on a career in teaching and who are needing to gain that first qualification. A GCSE English A*-C or equivalent is generally required to enrol on this course. You’ll be introduced to what’s involved as a teaching assistant and the sort of environments you’ll be working in. Once you have achieved Level 2, you can then go on to complete a Level 3 Teaching Assistant qualification.

Level 3 Teaching Assistant

If you’ve successfully completed the Level 2 course, then the Level 3 Teaching Assistant course might be the next step for you. This course will further your knowledge and skills as a teaching assistant, and upon gaining the qualification, it will put you a step ahead of the competition. You’ll gain more in-depth experience in how to successfully support teachers and students in the classroom, and it will give you the skills to be able to take full responsibility for a class if the cover is needed. Like the Level 2 course, a GCSE English A*-C or equivalent is generally required to enrol on the Level 3 course.

4. Ensure your CV is structured appropriately and is up to date

  • Contact details – This needs to include your name, full address, phone number, and email address, and as this is information a prospective employer will need to be able to get in touch with you, these should be in a clear, easily readable font and at the top of the page.
  • Personal profile – This is your opportunity to share your experience and knowledge, but the most important thing is that you tailor this information to the job you are applying for. Aim for your personal profile to be around 100 words in length. 
  • Skills – You should outline your relevant skills (again, try and cater to the specific job you are applying for). Make this section easy to read by using bullet points. Remember to include hard skills, such as the experience gained through your studies. You should also include your soft skills like personality traits and skills you have developed outside of the workplace.
  • Experience – Ideally, you will have relevant experience in a similar role to the one you are applying for. If this is the case, then give details on this job (where, when, and what you did) in an easy-to-read format. If you don’t have previous experience, then list your previous employment and the transferable skills gained.
  • Education/qualifications – Any qualifications need to be listed clearly. Ensure to include the subject you studied, which institution you attended, when you attended, and the grade you achieved.

5. Write a specific SEN Teaching Assistant cover letter

The cover letter is your opportunity to create an SEN teaching assistant personal statement. Below are a couple of pointers on how you should structure your letter and what it should include:

How should a cover letter be structured?

Your cover letter should be typed up in an easy-to-read font (for example, choose a font such as ariel, size 12pt). The header of your cover letter should include your contact information (to match the details on your CV). Beneath that, on the left side of the page, you should put the recipient’s contact details. Ensure the text is broken down into paragraphs to make it easier to read. Choose an appropriate closing salutation, such as ‘kind regards’.

What needs to be in a cover letter? 

Explain why you’re writing the letter and where you found out about the job. Be sure to include any relevant experience which can easily relate to the role you’re applying for. You should also mention the qualifications you’ve achieved. Near the end of the letter, explain why you’re interested in the job.

6. Make sure you are prepared for job interviews

It is important that you prepare for an interview and the SEN teaching assistant interview questions that you may be asked. You want to go in feeling confident in your abilities and with the answers as to what makes you a good SEN teaching assistant. Below are a few things to think about before your interview:

  • What is your personal approach – Think about what makes you stand out from the crowd! Pick a trait that you have and emphasise why this will make you the perfect candidate for a role in SEN.
  • What motivates you – Prospective employers like a driven individual; someone who is motivated, not only at work, but in their personal life. 
  • What makes you want to do the role – Think about why you want to become an SEN teaching assistant. Show your enthusiasm for the role by talking about your own experiences which will also highlight your dedication on your journey to becoming an SEN teaching assistant.
  • Qualifications – Highlight any qualifications that you have and detail your dedication to achieve them. 
  • Experience – Show your prospective employer that you have varied experience working with students who have different learning needs. Explain how you approached different situations and how you assessed the type of teaching method you needed to use.
  • Prepare questions for the interviewer – It can be a good idea to prepare questions for your interviewer (and it puts you ahead of the competition!). For example, ask whether there are any opportunities to progress in the role, or when you can expect to hear back from them regarding the application.

Do you want to get an idea of the opportunities available at an SEN teaching assistant agency? Would you like to apply for a job through Active SEN? Then search and apply for one of our SEN jobs today!

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