As a special educational needs (SEN) teacher you'll work with children and young people who need extra support, or require an advanced programme of learning, in order to reach their full educational potential
You may work with individuals who have physical disabilities, sensory impairments (i.e. hearing or visual), speech and language difficulties, learning difficulties such as dyslexia, conditions such as autism, social, emotional and mental health needs, or have a combination of these difficulties.
You may also work with gifted and talented individuals.
A key aspect of working in this field is identifying individual needs and being responsible for creating a safe, stimulating and supportive learning environment.
As an SEN teacher, you'll need to:
- teach either individuals or small groups of pupils within, or outside, the class
- prepare lessons and resources
- mark and assess work
- develop and adapt conventional teaching methods to meet the individual needs of pupils
- use special equipment and facilities, such as audiovisual materials and computers to stimulate interest in learning
- use specialist skills, such as teaching Braille to pupils with visual impairments or sign language and lip reading to students who have hearing impairments
- collaborate with the classroom teacher to define appropriate activities for the pupils in relation to the curriculum
- assess children who have long or short-term learning difficulties and work with colleagues to identify individual pupils' special needs
- work with the head teacher and governing body to ensure that the requirements of the Equality Act (2010) are met in terms of reasonable adjustments and access arrangements
- liaise with other professionals, such as social workers, speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and educational psychologists
- work closely with parents and guardians
- organise learning outside the classroom in activities such as community visits, school outings or sporting events
- assist in severely disabled pupils' personal care/medical needs
- carry out administrative tasks, including updating and maintaining records of pupils' progress
- attend statutory annual reviews or other related meetings, such as Looked After Child (LAC) reviews, regarding students with an SEN, which may involve reviewing education, health and care (EHC) plans
- attend in-service training
- manage behaviour.
- New entrants to teaching in England start on the main salary scale, which rises incrementally from £25,714 to £36,961. Enhanced pay scales apply for teachers working in or near London.
- An SEN teacher's starting point depends on the employer, your qualifications and level of responsibility. Consideration may be given to pre-entry experience. An additional allowance, ranging from £2,270 to £4,479, is awarded for having responsibility for SEN children.
- After gaining experience and expertise, teachers who reach the top of the main scale can apply to be assessed for progression to the upper pay scale. This ranges from £38,690 to £41,604. Salaries for lead practitioners can rise to £64,461.
- In Wales, the main pay scale for classroom teachers ranges from £27,018 to £37,320. The upper pay scale is the same as in England, as is the SEN allowance.
- In Scotland, the main pay scale ranges from £27,498 (probationer) to £41,412. After gaining experience and expertise, Scottish teachers who reach the top of the Scottish main scale can apply for chartered teacher status. Chartered teachers earn up to £50,772. This is open to SEN teachers as well as mainstream teachers. Salaries for principal teachers can rise to £58,269.
- New entrants' salaries in Northern Ireland start at £23,199, rising incrementally to £33,906. The SEN allowance ranges from £2,152 to £4,251.
Academies, free schools and independent schools set their own pay and working conditions.
Details about pay are available from the teaching unions and the Department for Education (DfE) Get Into Teaching website (for England).
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
SEN teachers generally work a school day - from around 8.30am to 3.30pm, Monday to Friday - during term time. This may vary depending on the school and which part of the country you live in. Teachers also often spend time at home planning and preparing lessons and assessing pupils' work.
In state schools in England and Wales, you'll work 39 weeks a year in school. You're entitled to a minimum of 10% of your timetabled teaching time per week for planning, preparation and assessment (PPA).
The standard working week in Scotland is 35 hours. There is a maximum of 22.5 hours' classroom contact time, with the rest accounted for by collaborative working and preparation and marking.
Opportunities for part-time or supply work are available. Career break opportunities may be available, depending on your post and the employer.
For more information on working hours, see the NASWUT, The Teachers' Union.
What to expect
- SEN teachers are employed in all areas of the UK.
- Self-employment or freelance work is sometimes possible. You may be able to supplement your income through private home tuition or consultancy work.
- Some SEN teachers are based in one school and have little occasion to travel, but you may attend meetings, training and conferences. Occasional residential trips may occur, but overnight absence from home is not generally required.
- If you're based in a team outside schools, you will need to travel to a variety of locations.
To qualify as a teacher in a maintained school (England and Wales), you must have a degree and achieve qualified teacher status (QTS) by completing a period of initial teacher training (ITT), (initial teacher education (ITE) in Wales).
Independent schools, academies and free schools are permitted to employ teachers without QTS but, in practice, this is uncommon.
In order to achieve QTS you can take an undergraduate Bachelor of Education (BEd) or a BA/BSc with QTS.
If you already have a degree, there are a number of different training options available, which are either university or school led. Many training courses will also lead to a postgraduate qualification, usually the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE).
For further details on entry requirements and routes to becoming a qualified teacher, see teacher training and education.
In Scotland, you'll need to follow a programme of initial teacher education (ITE) to achieve a teaching qualification (TQ) to teach in a state school. You can take either a four-year undergraduate degree in education or the one-year Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE). All courses are university-led. For full details, see Teach in Scotland - Become a teacher in Scotland.
There is a special educational needs element to all teacher training courses. However, some courses have an SEN specialism or enhanced SEN training. These courses cover the same training and skills as other teacher training courses, but also focus on developing your skills in working with SEN pupils. This may include modules specifically on SEN, as well as opportunities to work in special schools and units.
Teachers generally choose to get some experience in mainstream teaching before entering SEN teaching. However, some schools may recruit newly qualified teachers.
Qualified teachers can also undertake additional training to teach pupils with special educational needs.
To teach pupils with hearing, vision or multi-sensory impairments, you'll need a further specific qualification in addition to QTS. For a list of approved courses, see Mandatory qualifications: specialist teachers.
You'll also need an enhanced Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS) check to work with children or young adults in England and Wales. For criminal record checks in Scotland and Northern Ireland, see:
You'll need to show:
- commitment to working with pupils with special educational needs
- excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- the ability to build good relationships based on trust with pupils and their families
- behaviour management skills, with the ability to manage confrontation and challenging behaviour
- initiative and problem-solving skills
- teamworking skills to liaise with other teachers, teaching assistants, and other professionals such as educational psychologists, speech and language therapists and social workers
- organisational skills
- an observant and responsive approach
- flexibility - it's important to be able to respond to the needs of the children and adapt or change plans accordingly
- a positive, energetic and enthusiastic outlook
- patience, understanding and empathy with pupils and parents
- a sense of humour.
Having work experience in a classroom will strengthen your application for teacher training and will help you decide whether teaching is for you. Contact your university careers service or school of education to find out about any local opportunities to gain experience in schools. You could also contact your own primary or secondary school.
Visit a range of schools that support SEN pupils - both mainstream and specialist schools - to observe lessons and talk to teachers.
A post as a special needs teaching assistant will also give you valuable experience of supporting SEN pupils.
Look out for voluntary opportunities to work with children with special needs. General experience with children or young people with disabilities or learning difficulties is also useful.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
You're most likely to be employed by a local authority (LA). Many SEN teachers work in mainstream schools, either in the classrooms or within specialist units, depending on the inclusion policy of the school.
The specialist units provide support for pupils with autism or physical and sensory impairments.
As an SEN teacher, you can also find employment in special schools throughout the UK, helping students with learning needs arising from physical difficulties, learning difficulties or behavioural problems.
There are also opportunities to work in:
- further education colleges with special education units
- hospital schools
- independent schools
- learning support teams - these work from a base and travel to a cluster of schools
- pupil referral units (PRUs)
- young offender institutions, secure training centres and secure children's homes.
You can take on supply work or arrange direct supply work through the schools themselves.
Some SEN teachers find work as private tutors. There are opportunities to work abroad as well. SEN teachers often undertake voluntary work abroad, and there are opportunities to go on exchange programmes.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Local Government Jobs
- Teaching Vacancies - job-listing service from the DfE.
- Tes Jobs
- Local authority websites.
- National and local press.
You'll typically start your career as a mainstream teacher and gain general teaching experience before moving into SEN. Training is usually available through part-time, in-service courses that are funded either by your school or LA.
You can also undertake further postgraduate professional development in areas of SEN. Options include certificates as well as a diploma or Masters in special educational needs. There are also opportunities to focus on particular areas such as dyslexia or dyscalculia.
Course content and titles vary according to the type of special educational need or disability covered. Courses are available either full or part time. Search postgraduate courses in special educational needs.
There are additional mandatory requirements for SEN teachers if you specialise in teaching pupils with visual, hearing or multi-sensory impairment. See Mandatory qualifications: specialist teachers.
The ability to use sign language is essential if you'd like to work with hearing-impaired pupils, as is Braille for teachers of pupils with visual impairments.
Membership of the National Association for Special Educational Needs is useful for networking, advice and support, news and training.
Many teachers start out in mainstream teaching before moving into SEN. With experience in the role of SEN teacher, there are opportunities to take further training to become a special educational needs coordinator (SENCO).
SENCOs usually head the special educational needs department in a school and are responsible for implementing SEN policy and for the day-to-day provision for pupils with special educational needs.
You may also progress to other leadership roles, such as head of department or head of year/key-stage coordinator in a secondary school. You may eventually progress to a senior management role such as deputy head or head teacher.
Some SEN teachers choose to move into special needs officer or special needs assessment officer roles. These posts are based in LAs and involve assessing the provision required to meet children's special educational needs. Special needs officers manage the process and ensure that recommendations are made on possible support.
You could also move into training, providing courses and support to SEN teachers, or into lecturing posts in further or higher education.