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Special needs teaching assistant career guide

If you’ve got an affinity for helping the personal development of children then this may be the job for you.

Safeera Sarjoo
07th April 2016
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What is a special needs teaching assistant?

If you’ve always wanted to promote the learning and personal development of children, then this career path will enable you to make a profound difference in a child’s life. Working with children who have Special Educational Needs (SEN) requires a lot of patience, especially if you are working with children who have a wide variety of learning, physical or behavioural difficulties.

It is worth noting that SEN teaching assistants can find opportunities in special needs schools that support children with severe or complex needs. They can also find opportunities within mainstream schools where they may work closely with an individual or a small group of students. An important aspect of this job is to identify individual needs and working to provide a safe, supportive environment for them.


What are their responsibilities?

Though this is dependent on age of children they’re working with, a SEN teaching assistant would be expected to:

  • Help students with school work under the supervision of the teacher
  • Prepare learning materials
  • Promote the acceptance of students with SEN and encouraging pupils to interact with each other
  • Help students understand instructions
  • Provide information to help teachers
  • Keep records
  • Understand when kids are upset and comforting them
  • Give support to student during social activities and outings


What are some of the characteristics/skills that suit this role?

As you will be working with children the following characteristics are ideal for this role.

  • Patience
  • Compassion and good communication skills
  • Tact and sensitivity
  • Responsible nature and a willingness to help children with personal care needs

In addition to this good literacy and numeracy skills are needed as you will be helping students with their work. An ability to manage difficult behaviour effectively will stand you in good stead in this position as well as having a strong interest in education and a passion for working with children.

Working as part of a team to further a child’s learning is imperative, as is an understanding of various needs a child may have and how best to accommodate this.


Entry requirements and training

Generally Local Educational Authorities and individual schools are specific with the type of qualifications and experience they want their SEN teaching assistants to have. Experience of working with children or young people with disabilities or learning difficulties is hugely beneficial to succeeding in this role.

The best way to break into this line of work is to start with some voluntary work at a local school. Employers will carry out both a CRB and DBS check before they allow you to both work or volunteer for them. If you choose to volunteer, you will still need some formal qualifications either in nursery nursing, childcare or play work. A good GCSE in both English and Maths will be required for paid work as well.

While volunteering, there are a number of courses that can prepare you for a career as a SEN teaching assistant in local colleges.

Level 2 qualifications in SEN would equip you with the skills and knowledge needed to break into a paid role within a school.

You can also gain entry through an apprenticeship scheme, although this is dependent on the local job market and the type of skills employers require.

Upon qualifying as a SEN teaching assistant, you would complete an induction programme. While working you could also undertake further courses in order to gain higher qualifications. Depending on the LEA, charity or organisation you are working for, you may be required to take specific training to cater to the needs of the children you would be looking after. This can include British Sign Language and Deafblind communication.

Some examples of qualifications you could study for are:

  • Level  3 Learning Support Practitioners Certificate
  • Level 3 Award in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools

There is scope for progression within this role. With enough experience you can study and gain a foundation degree in teaching and learning support. This could then lead to you taking a degree if you wanted to pursue a career as a teacher.  

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