Special Educational Needs Teacher
Special educational needs (SEN) teachers work with children who have physical, hearing or visual impairments, or emotional, behavioural or learning difficulties. They might use special equipment and teaching methods, such as sign language or Braille.
In Scotland, the equivalent career is Learning Support Teacher.
Also known as
- SEN Teacher
- Teacher, Special Educational Needs
- Learning Support Teacher
Video: - Janet: Special Educational Needs Teacher
As a Special Educational Needs (SEN) Teacher, you will work with pupils who need extra support in their learning. For example, you might work with students with sensory impairments, limited physical mobility, or behavioural, emotional or learning difficulties. You might also work with gifted children.
Encouraging students to develop self-confidence and independence, in order to reach their full potential is an important part of your role - and something you should feel passionate about. To achieve this you'll develop and put into place individual education plans for each students and write reports on their progress.
There are many types of special educational need, and conditions can be mild, moderate or severe. This means that as a SEN Teacher, you will have to be adaptable and try different approaches, depending on the individual student.
Generally, approaches might include:
- A different way of teaching certain things, such as making more use of flash cards, memory games, multi-sensory equipment, photos and online games.
- Adapting the learning environment - for example, too much noise and strong lighting can affect students with certain special educational needs.
- Giving more one-to-one support.
- Using special equipment such as a computer or special desk.
As an SEN Teacher, you may teach Braille to students with visual impairments or sign language skills to students who have hearing impairments.
Most SEN students have their needs met in mainstream schools, learning alongside other students. You might work with SEN students in a learning support department, a special unit attached to the school or in mainstream lessons, perhaps with the help of a SEN Teaching Assistant.
There are special schools for students with severe or complex needs. Some SEN Teachers visit students in a number of schools and/or at home. Other SEN Teachers work in hospitals or private residential schools.
Whichever area you specialise in, you will need to work closely with parents and guardians, offering advice and guidance. You'll also go to meetings with other Teachers and healthcare specialists.
Personal Qualities and Skills
As a Special Educational Needs Teacher, you'll need:
- To be friendly, caring, optimistic and adaptable.
- The ability to encourage and motivate students.
- Tact, patience and tolerance.
- Good communication skills.
- To maintain discipline and deal with challenging behaviour.
- Good organisational and planning skills.
- Good teamwork skills to work with other teachers and health and social care professionals.
- Creative and practical skills to develop stimulating, appropriate activities and resources.
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates (per year) below are approximate:
- Unqualified teachers are typically paid in the range of £17,000 to £27,000 a year
- Newly qualified teachers are typically paid in the range of £23,000 to £29,500 a year
- With experience this can rise to £36,500 to £48,000 a year
Teachers with management responsibility can receive a higher salary than this.
Hours of work
Teachers normally work from 8:30 am or 9 am to 3:30 pm or 4 pm, Monday to Friday. However, most teachers work extra hours - marking work, preparing lessons and going to meetings. They often have to work in the evenings and at weekends to prepare lessons and mark work.
Where could I work?
Employers are state and private schools.
There are also opportunities to teach in other countries.
Some teachers supplement their income by teaching privately, marking national exams or writing textbooks.
In Wales there is demand for Welsh-medium education, so if you plan to teach in Wales, and are a first or second language Welsh speaker, you could improve your prospects of obtaining a teaching post by training to teach through the medium of Welsh.
You could also get financial support through a Welsh-medium incentive scheme. Check with your course provider.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised by local authorities and in the local and national press, including The Guardian and The Times Educational Supplement (TES). There are also job boards, such as eTeach.
Entry Routes and Training
To teach students with special educational needs (SEN), you need to achieve Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) through initial teacher training (ITT). Teacher training courses include SEN; qualified teachers can also take further, specialist training (see below).
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
Firstly, training providers and employers will want to see evidence you have the required skills and motivation to succeed as a Teacher. To achieve this you may need to have some sort of experience of working with children/students of a relevant age. A minimum of two weeks experience is sometimes required.
But how do you get work experience in a school or college? Here are some possible answers:
- Speak to any school based contacts you might have e.g. family or friends.
- Speak to schools directly and ask them if you can observe a class or shadow a teacher
- Join a School Experience Programme (SEP). This is aimed at final year students and graduates. School placements of one to ten days can be arranged
- You may be able to gain vital experience by working in a support role in a school, e.g. Laboratory Technician, Teaching Assistant, Learning Mentor.
- Work as a Voluntary Mentor. There are opportunities for people to work on a one-to-one basis with students, helping them in their school life. This would be great experience for any would-be teacher.
It's possible to achieve QTS through a BEd or BA/BSc degree with QTS. Particularly at secondary level, these are a limited number of subjects and courses. Primary education degrees with QTS sometimes allow you to specialise in a particular subject.
Most postgraduates take a PGCE in a secondary education subject or primary education. Some primary education PGCEs allow you to specialise in a particular subject. Courses are usually one-year full-time. Some two-year, part-time courses are available (although not in every subject). You'd apply through UCAS Teacher Training.
There is also the employment-based School Direct scheme: you'll train while working in a school. The expectation is that you'd go on to work in the school or group of schools where you trained, although there's no guarantee of employment at the end of your training.
Once employed, newly qualified teachers (NQTs) must complete a three-term induction period, usually within a single school year
Specialist training can be in-service, provided by a local authority, or at a university that offers postgraduate SEN courses.
Specialist training is essential for those teaching students with hearing, visual or multi-sensory impairments. For example, you must have basic sign language skills if you want to teach hearing impaired pupils. To become a qualified teacher of visually impaired pupils, you must be able to show that you are skilled in Braille.
To achieve QTS, student teachers need to pass tests in English and maths.
Welsh medium applicants will also complete a literacy test in Welsh.
Special educational needs teachers can become special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCOs), heads of department or specialists in particular types of SEN.
Rehabilitation of Offenders Act
This career is an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This means that you must supply information to an employer about any spent or unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings, if they ask you to. This is different from other careers, where you only have to reveal information on unspent convictions if you are asked to.
All candidates for secondary school teacher training need GCSEs (or recognised equivalent qualifications) at grade C/4 or above in English Language and Mathematics. In Wales, all candidates for teacher training need to have Grade B/6 in English Language and Maths.
Primary teachers also need GCSE in science at grade C/4 or above.
Students training to teach through the medium of Welsh may also need a GCSE grade C/4 or above in Welsh (first language).
In England, if you want to teach at Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14), you must also have a GCSE (or recognised equivalent qualification) at grade C/4 or above in a science subject.
If you don't have the GCSEs that are usually needed, you might be able to sit a pre-entry equivalency test; you should contact individual course providers to discuss your situation before making your application.
To enter a degree, such as a BEd, or BA/BSc with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), you'll need to meet other qualification requirements, depending on the course and subject. You'll usually need a further 2/3 GCSEs at grade C/4 and above and at least 2 A levels.
Alternatives to A levels include:
- BTEC Level 3 qualification
- The International Baccalaureate Diploma.
However, course requirements vary, so please check college/university websites very carefully.
To enter a secondary education PGCE course, your degree should usually be related to the subject you want to teach. Universities usually accept degrees with at least 50% relevant content.
For a primary education PGCE, you need any degree that is relevant to the primary National Curriculum.
It can be possible to enter a secondary education PGCE without a directly relevant degree. For example, universities might suggest that you increase your knowledge through a subject knowledge enhancement (SKE) course. Most SKE courses are in maths, physics and chemistry; there are smaller numbers in design and technology, ICT and modern languages.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A-level.
To enter teacher training courses, you'll usually need to have at least observed some classes. For some courses, you'll need paid or voluntary work experience in a classroom, or other relevant experience with children and young people.
Experience of working with people who have special educational needs is very useful.
If you don't have the qualifications you need to enter a degree course, you might be able to start one after completing a college or university Access course. You don't usually need any qualifications to start an Access course, although you should check this with the course provider.
Some PGCE courses are available part-time, over two years.
If you're not very confident about your (secondary) subject knowledge or don't have the qualifications to begin postgraduate training straight away, you might be able take a Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) course first. Your course provider will assess whether you need to increase or refresh your knowledge. SKE courses are available in a limited number of subjects.
PGCE courses are also available on a flexible learning basis. For example, you may be able to train in the evenings or at weekends, or by distance learning.
SEN teaching courses are available from Dyslexia Action by distance learning, for qualified teachers who want to specialise.
Distance learning is available through the Montessori Centre International for special educational needs, nursery age independent teacher training.
Instead of going to university to do a PGCE, graduates can follow an employment-based route. This is where you train in a school. Employment-based routes include School Direct, school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT) and the scheme offered by Teach First. For more information, please see 'Entry Routes and Training'.
For funding information, take a look at the GOV.UK website, or Student Finance Wales if living in Wales.
UCAS Teacher Training
General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTC Scotland)
UK government services and information
Teach in Scotland
British Society of Audiology (BSA)
Address: 80 Brighton Road, Reading, Berkshire RG6 1PS
Tel: 0118 9660622
Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol
Information on Higher Education courses and scholarships through the medium of Welsh
Welsh Government Education and Skills Department
Student Finance Wales
Tel: 0845 6028845