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What Qualifications Do You Need For Special Educational Needs Jobs?

SEN Teacher working on whiteboard

The demand for people specialising in SEN (special educational needs) is growing higher, with more students needing support in their learning due to physical and emotional disabilities/difficulties. An example would be if a student has dyslexia or autism. 

There are a lot of skills required when working in the special educational needs sector. An SEN teaching assistant, for example, needs to be able to adapt to students’ different needs in order to assess what tools and methods can be used to help them meet their learning goals. If you’re wondering what makes a good SEN teaching assistant, then continue reading. 

What Skills are needed for a Special Educational Needs learning environment? 

Teacher using technology to teach SEN students
  • Sensitivity – You will be supporting people from different backgrounds and cultures who may have physical, behavioural, or emotional difficulties. To be able to view their circumstances individually, you’ll need a high level of sensitivity so that you can plan their learning route accordingly.  
  • Patience – Working in an SEN environment is extremely rewarding, but it is challenging; it requires a person who can remain calm in stressful situations, for example, when faced with a student who has behavioural difficulties where communication may be difficult.
  • Versatility – One day you might be teaching a student who is blind, and the next, you could be teaching a deaf student. The ability to be able to learn new skills, such as braille and sign language, and to be willing to be versatile in your approach, is necessary.
  • Excellent communication – Effective communication with your students is vital for you to be able to support each individual in their learning and for them to grasp and understand what you’re teaching them. Students, particularly those with SEN, need clear rules and structure, which can only be gained through good communication. You’ll also need to be able to liaise with other teachers and professionals to ensure you’re all working together in order to support each student in the best way possible in addition to keeping track of their progression.
  • Understanding and empathy – A good level of empathy will be required for you to assess the most appropriate approach for each individual student.  Your ability to emphasise will also be key to teaching students empathy, since students with disabilities or emotional/behavioural difficulties may not find it easy to empathise with others. 
  • Quick thinking – You’ll need to be a natural problem solver with the ability to think on your feet. The environment for students must be safe and stimulating. You should be able to recognise when the safety and educational aspects have been affected, identify how to rectify them, and act fast to get things back to where they should be for the benefit of your students.
  • Physical fitness – A lot of students with physical disabilities or behavioural difficulties don’t always know their own strength, which is where the physical fitness of a teacher is important. You’ll also need to maintain a positive, enthusiastic and energetic attitude, so having a good level of fitness will help to keep you motivated. 

Different jobs in SEN teaching and support?

If you’re thinking about applying for an SEN job, we advise that you do some research. However, we have put together brief summaries of what to expect in certain roles within the special educational needs sector.

SEN Teacher Job Description

SEN teacher with a group of children

An SEN teacher will be responsible for the preparation and delivery of classes to suit the learning needs of their students. They work more directly with their students than an SEN teaching assistant does. SEN teachers lead individuals and groups, and are able to adjust their teaching methods to benefit each students’ learning style. An SEN teacher will be highly proficient in various skills which are vital when educating and supporting students with disabilities and/or behavioural difficulties. They will be able to effectively communicate with other teachers, such as teaching assistants, and other professionals who work closely with their students.

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. Although SEN teaching assistants don’t work as directly with their students like an SEN teacher will, special skills are still required, for example, using sign language, and they’ll need to adapt their teaching methods to suit their students. Additionally, communication with other teachers, medical professionals, and psychologists, is vital to ensure that the learning needs are met for each student.

Support Worker Job Description

An SEN support worker helps students who require extra educational support due to a disability or learning difficulty. Typically, an SEN support worker will assist students on a one-to-one basis within a mainstream school. They will identify areas where their students need extra support and then develop different strategies to help them achieve their learning goals. An SEN support worker will track their students’ progress and report the results back to teachers and the students’ parents. 

Medical staff – First aid, on-site doctor etc.

Many students with special educational needs can miss out on classroom time due to illness, or doctor’s appointments which they have to attend more regularly than a student without special educational needs does. With the help of on-site doctors and other medical staff, SEN students can spend less time out of school and receive more exposure to the classroom, providing them with more opportunities to learn.

What qualifications are needed to become an SEN Teacher?

  • Bachelor’s degree (in a relevant field/subject) – There are SEN teacher training courses available, online and classroom based, which you can embark on to gain a diploma. After this point, if you’d like to teach in public schools, then you’d need to gain a Bachelor’s degree. A degree that would be relevant, for example, would be the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities BA. An SEN certificate is also mandatory for teaching SEN students in public schools.
  • SEN certificate – There are online courses available where you can gain an SEN teacher certificate. You can complete a level 2 and level 3 course to gain insight into the teaching methods required as well as understand the skills that are necessary when teaching SEN students.
  • PGCE certificate  – To put yourself ahead of competitors, you could gain a PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education), although this isn’t mandatory. Depending on what level you wish to teach at, you could target a specific age when choosing which course to embark on. For example, you could enrol on a course such as a PGCE Primary Education with Specialism in SEN with QTS course, or a Prep PGCE course, which would enable you to teach students aged 7 to 14.

What qualifications are needed to be an SEN Teaching Assistant?

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 completing 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 of a class if 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.

Teaching Assistant apprenticeship

There are many opportunities available if you’re interested in embarking on a teaching assistant apprenticeship. As mentioned previously, the number of students identified as needing extra support in their learning is growing, and the diverse skills required to be able to offer them support is highly sought after. Apprenticeships usually last around 15 months, and upon completion, you’ll have gained invaluable experience working in an SEN environment, in addition to a teaching qualification. There’s also the possibility of being offered a permanent position within the school you’re working in once your apprenticeship comes to an end.

What qualifications are needed to work as a Support Worker in an SEN school?

  • Level 2 in childcare or equivalent minimum – There is the option to embark on a Level 2 childcare course online, but this is not essential. SEN schools tend to desire the experience of working in an SEN environment over qualifications achieved. But if you would like to further your knowledge – and have evidence of it for your portfolio which will show your dedication to working in an SEN environment – then gaining a qualification in level 2 childcare could be a good starting point.
  • Experience previously working in an SEN environment – It can be difficult to gain experience in a sector you wish to work in. The most common way to help you get started in building your portfolio is generally through voluntary work. You could look for opportunities in a school or community centre. The experience gained in these establishments will expose you to the day-to-day tasks involved when working with special needs children. It will also help develop personal traits which you should already possess, such as the ability to empathise, to effectively communicate, to be good at problem-solving, and to remain patient during challenging situations. Voluntary work could lead to paid work, or even a chance to gain relevant qualifications.

Are you interested in applying for a job through Active SEN? Now that you know a little more about the sort of SEN jobs that are available, take the next step in your career and apply for a Special Educational Needs Teaching Assistant role today. 

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