A special educational needs (SEN) teacher is specifically employed to 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.

SEN teachers 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.

A SEN teacher 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.

Responsibilities

The work of a SEN teacher is often challenging and varied and may involve:

  • teaching either individuals or small groups of pupils within, or outside the class;
  • preparing lessons and resources;
  • marking and assessing work;
  • developing and adapting conventional teaching methods to meet the individual needs of pupils;
  • using special equipment and facilities, such as audiovisual materials and computers to stimulate interest in learning;
  • using specialist skills, such as teaching Braille to pupils with visual impairments or sign language and lip reading to students who have hearing impairments;
  • collaborating with the classroom teacher to define appropriate activities for the pupils in relation to the curriculum;
  • assessing children who have long or short-term learning difficulties and working with colleagues to identify individual pupils' special needs;
  • working 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;
  • liaising with other professionals, such as social workers, speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and educational psychologists;
  • working closely with parents and guardians;
  • organising learning outside the classroom in activities such as community visits, school outings or sporting events;
  • assisting in severely disabled pupils' personal care/medical needs;
  • administration, including updating and maintaining records of pupils' progress;
  • attending statutory annual reviews or other related meetings, such as Looked After Child (LAC) reviews, regarding students with a SEN, which may involve reviewing Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans;
  • receiving in-service training;
  • behaviour management.

Salary

  • New entrants to teaching in England, Wales and Northern Ireland begin on the main salary scale, which starts from £22,023, rising incrementally to £32,187. Teachers working within inner and outer London areas, as well as the South East of England receive additional allowances.
  • A special educational needs (SEN) teacher's starting point depends on the employer, qualifications and level of responsibility. Consideration may be given to pre-entry experience.
  • An additional allowance, ranging from £2,043 to £4,034, is awarded for those who have responsibility for SEN.
  • After gaining experience and expertise, teachers who reach the top of the main scale can apply to be assessed to progress to the upper pay scale. This ranges from £34,869 to £37,496.

In Scotland, the main pay scale ranges from £21,867 to £34,887. After gaining experience and expertise, Scottish teachers who reach the top of the Scottish main scale can apply to receive chartered teacher status. Chartered teachers earn up to £42,768. This is open to SEN teachers as well as mainstream teachers. For full details of the Scottish teachers' pay scale, see the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT).

Income data from the Department for Education and SNCT. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

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 part of the country. In state schools in England and Wales, you would work 39 weeks a year in school. Approximately half a day per week is given to teachers for planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time.

Many teachers often need to work outside school hours to cover responsibilities such as preparing lessons, reviewing progress and writing reports, marking, attending meetings and preparing for parents evenings. Some teachers may also be involved in out-of-school activities, such as trips and sporting activities.

In Scotland, working hours for SEN teachers are the same as for mainstream teachers. The standard working week is 35 hours. There is a maximum of 22.5 hours' classroom contact time for all teachers in Scotland, with the rest accounted for by collaborative working and continuing professional development (CPD).

Part-time or supply work is usually available for teachers registered with the local authority (LA) or a supply agency.

Career break opportunities may be available, depending on the teacher's post and the employer.

What to expect

  • Self-employment or freelance work is sometimes possible. Teachers who are well qualified may be able to supplement income through private home tuition or consultancy work.
  • SEN teachers are employed in all areas of the UK.
  • Some SEN teachers are based in one school and have little occasion to travel, but they may attend meetings, training and conferences. Occasional residential trips may occur, but overnight absence from home is not generally required.
  • Those based in teams outside schools travel weekly to a variety of schools.

Qualifications

To become a special educational needs (SEN) teacher in a mainstream school, qualified teacher status (QTS) is required in England and Wales or the teaching qualification (TQ) in Scotland.

While most independent schools also require QTS status, this is not always essential.

QTS status is generally achieved by completing one of the following qualifications:

  • Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE);
  • School-centred initial teacher training (SCITT);
  • Bachelor of Education (BEd);
  • BA or BSc with QTS;
  • Teach First (England only) - a two-year programme including a PGCE, where top graduates are placed in challenging schools;
  • School Direct (England and Wales only) - a school-based training route with the expectation that participants will go on to work in the school or partnership of schools in which they trained. In most, but not all cases, a PGCE accredited by a higher education institution (HEI) will be awarded.

In Scotland, the TQ is usually achieved by completing the Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE).

There is a special educational needs element to all initial teacher training (ITT) courses. Qualified teachers can also undertake additional training to teach pupils with special educational needs.

Entry is not possible with a HND only. In England and Wales, candidates who have successfully completed two years of higher education - someone with a HND would qualify - may opt to take a shortened two-year degree with QTS. You can apply for this route via Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

Specific qualifications are required to teach pupils with hearing, visual or multi-sensory impairments. To find out which universities offer qualifications in these specialised areas, as well as further details on entry requirements and routes to becoming a qualified teacher, see teacher training.

An enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check is required for anyone working with children or young adults in the UK. Without a DBS check, an individual is not allowed to work with children unsupervised.

An application for a DBS check needs to be completed before beginning a course that leads to QTS. In the first instance, this will be through the training body. This check will be repeated by any subsequent employer once training is complete. For more information, see the Disclosure and Barring Service.

For criminal record checks in Scotland and Northern Ireland see:

Mature entry into SEN teaching is common, as teachers generally have several years' experience before entering the profession. However, some schools do recruit newly qualified teachers.

Search for PGCE courses.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • commitment to working with pupils with special educational needs;
  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills;
  • initiative and problem-solving skills;
  • the ability to manage confrontation and challenging behaviour;
  • team working skills;
  • organisational skills;
  • an observant and responsive approach;
  • flexibility - it is 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.

Employers

Employers are mainly local authority (LA) departments. Many special educational needs (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.

SEN teachers can 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:

  • learning support teams - these work from a base and travel to a cluster of schools;
  • further education colleges with special education units;
  • independent schools;
  • pupil referral units (PRUs);
  • community homes;
  • hospital schools;
  • youth custody centres.

SEN teachers can take on supply work or arrange direct supply work through the schools themselves.

Some SEN teachers may 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.

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Professional development

There is a one-year statutory induction for all newly qualified teachers (NQTs), including those who start teaching in special educational needs (SEN) as their first position after qualifying.

Further postgraduate professional development is possible. Options include certificates as well as a diploma or Masters in special educational needs.

Course content and titles vary according to the type of special educational need or disability being covered. Full and part-time courses are offered. In-service training is also available. Many local authorities provide SEN courses for teachers working in the field.

There are additional mandatory requirements for SEN teachers who specialise in teaching pupils with visual, hearing or multi-sensory impairment.

These qualifications are available only from specific institutions approved by the Department for Education and can be completed full time or part time. Full details of the requirements and course providers can be obtained from the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL).

The ability to use sign language is essential if you wish to work with hearing impaired pupils, as is Braille for teachers of pupils with visual impairments.

Courses are available for qualified teachers to teach pupils with other special educational needs. Some of these focus generally on special educational needs, while other courses are more specific, focusing on a particular learning difficulty, such as dyslexia or autism. These courses are generally part time, lasting several months.

All teachers in Scotland have a contractual commitment to undertake 35 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) per year. More information can be obtained from the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS).

It may be possible to find work as a special needs teaching assistant first, and then progress to the position of special educational needs teacher.

Career prospects

A special educational needs (SEN) teacher working in a mainstream school can become a special educational needs coordinator (SENCO).

It is required that applicants have at least two years of qualified teaching experience and a good understanding of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) code of practice, which outlines the statutory requirements for identifying and supporting young people with SEN or disabilities.

In order to achieve national consistency, new SENCOs must complete the National Award for Special Educational Needs Coordination. The course is one year in duration, with a further two years to complete all requirements, and is equivalent to 60 points at Masters level.

The SENCO is usually the head of the special educational needs department and is responsible for implementing SEN policy and for the day-to-day provision for pupils with special educational needs.

This involves coordinating work with a range of agencies and parents, gathering appropriate information on children with special educational needs and ensuring specific provision to support pupils, including those with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans, is in place.

A SENCO will appoint learning support assistants (LSA) or teaching assistants (TA) to help individual students in the classroom and may hold the budget for these resources.

SEN teachers may progress to leadership roles such as becoming a head of department or head of year/key-stage coordinator in a secondary school. They may eventually progress to taking on a senior management role such as deputy head or head teacher.

Alternatively, progression may be possible to inspector status with the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted). Others may progress to lecturing posts in further or higher education.

Some SEN teachers may choose a sideways career move and apply to become special needs officers/special needs assessment officers. These posts are based in offices within local authority (LA) departments.

Officers assess the provision required to meet children's special educational needs. They manage the process and ensure that recommendations are made on possible support.