Statistics from the Department for Education have reported a 9.9% increase in the number for Educational Healthcare Plans (EHCP’s) issued to children in 2022 compared to 2021. There are now 473,255 children with an EHCP, many of whom will need specialist support within school. The number of children requiring an EHCP has continually been on the rise since 2010 and we have to ensure that there are enough staff who are either trained in SEND specifically or who have an awareness of how to teach inclusively at all levels.
Increased Demand for Special Needs Teachers & TA’s
Having worked in education recruitment for the last 4 years, I have seen a steady increase in the demand for specialist teachers and TA’s in both special schools and mainstream schools. Many of the mainstream schools I worked with were having to apply for funding to create additional resource provisions (ARP’s) in order to provide adequate specialist education for children with ASC, SEMH and Speech/Language Needs. What schools really struggled with was finding trained teachers and teaching assistants who could support the additional needs of their pupils, supporting them in all areas of their development.
Teachers and TA’s who specialise in SEN will be expected to adapt their teaching and support styles to meet the educational, social and developmental skills of children with special needs. Those needs may include;
- Autism Spectrum Disorder/Condition
- Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities
- Social, Emotional and Mental Health
- Multi-sensory impairment
Having a good understanding of a variety of needs and how to teach children with those needs could open a lot of doors in your career. Many schools have inclusion as one of their core values and being able to demonstrate that you can effectively adapt your teaching to meet various needs could make you stand out.
What Makes a Great SEN Teacher or TA?
Beyond the additional training and CPD you can take regarding SEND, you will also need a few more general traits and personal qualities in order to thrive in the challenging yet rewarding career of SEND. We all know that the best teachers are compassionate, inspiring, creative and supportive, but some other qualities you will need in special education are;
- Being super proactive and willing to get stuck in
- Extra patience
- Be prepared to get messy, especially when working with children with sensory needs
- Being extra creative when it comes to making lessons or resources
- Using initiative and being able to think outside the box
- A great communicator and team player
- Having the ability to remain calm in challenging situations and confidently de-escalate situations
- Ability to not take things personally
- Committed in terms of time and best effort
Special Education is a tough job – no two days are the same, no matter how much you need them to be sometimes! You can encounter some extremely challenging situations and behaviour, and I can say from personal experience that you may get injured at times. However, it is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. You can have so much freedom to create the most spectacular sensory lessons that cater to the unique needs of every child and when you see the smiles on their faces, your heart will just sing. You can also be lucky enough to see their first milestones or support them in making a breakthrough and those are moments that will stay with you forever.
A London senior leader at an SEMH school said the following when describing what he looks for in a teacher or support staff member;
‘An open mind and a reasonably thick skin! I look for staff who are prepared to engage with students and to listen to advice. I look for someone who is not judgemental about behaviours and can forget yesterday and focus on the positives. They should have an open mind with a degree of empathy. Be a team member, have a sense of self-confidence. Be resilient and have a sense of humour!’
How to Become an SEN Teacher or TA
Some SEN roles will require you to have experience within SEN already, but how do you actually get started?
- Keep reading this blog! There’ll be plenty of educational articles around SEN, which will help you understand various needs and provide practical advice you can utilise in your classroom.
- Look into CPD courses online – some are even free!
- Get some basic textbooks. Some I’d recommend are;
- Key Issues in Special Educational Needs, Disability and Inclusion
- Understanding Autism: Walk a Mile in Their Shoes
- 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Supporting Pupils with SEMH
- Ask others in the profession to get a real understanding of what the role entails and what you need to know before going in
- Volunteer if you can!