What To Expect From A SEN Teaching Role

What To Expect From A SEN Teaching Role

If you’ve ever thought about a career in SEN teaching or as a teaching assistant but are unsure of what to expect, keep reading to gain insight and determine if this path suits you.

Teaching children with special needs can be rewarding and challenging, making it a daunting yet exciting field for teachers and teaching assistants. Whether you’re a supply teacher, NQT/ECT or a TA, working in a SEN school might be completely novel to you.

As specialists in SEN recruitment, Initial Education have outlined the top things to expect when working in a SEN school.

“When I first came into the special sector, people told me a lot about what pupils couldn’t do and I felt they knew what they couldn’t do. I always wondered what they might do.”

Mr Britten, Headteacher on BBC’s Life in a Special School

Have patience

The saying ‘the patience of a saint’ has never been more relevant when working with special needs children. You’ll fast begin to notice that each student has their own way of learning and interpreting information. Being patient with this is crucial.

Dyslexia and Autism, amongst other learning disabilities, make learning more challenging for young children. This can mean that more often than not they require extra time, patience and reassurance in the classroom. You will find that some students have shorter attention spans than others as they sit down to complete a task and quickly deviate from it. Others may require your attention elsewhere, so remaining calm and patient in order to put out one fire at a time is one of the best things you can do.

Every day is different

As part of a SEN school, each day will consist of working with and assisting young children with learning difficulties. Whether they be physical, emotional, behavioural, visual or hearing. As a supply teacher, you don’t need to provide a lesson plan, but you should adjust your teaching style to match the varying abilities of your students by following their individual learning plans. SEN schools typically maintain smaller class sizes (6-12 students) and a higher staff-to-student ratio, ensuring that you won’t find yourself alone, unlike mainstream schools.

Working in a SEN school is so rewarding

Whilst the prospect of stepping away from a mainstream school to a special school may seem daunting, it can be one of the most rewarding things you do during your teaching career.

By supporting children that need it most, you’ll get the chance to have a real impact on a child’s learning. You can open the doors for them to explore future opportunities that they didn’t believe possible. Watching a child come out of their shell, master a skill they have been struggling with or simply connecting with and building relationships with those around them can some of the most rewarding events you witness.

Prepare to be inspired by the sheer determination your students display every day, despite the challenges they encounter. We can guarantee that those around you will fill your day with laughter and smiles.


Language and communication play a vital role in achieving success in an SEN school. It’s often considered best practice to use straightforward and approachable language while steering clear of sounding patronising.

Try breaking down tasks into shorter, more digestible sentences. Adapt your approach if you discover some students are still struggling. If you’re working as a 1:1 teaching assistant, ask the teacher what communication techniques are best to use. Some children will comprehend everyday communication, whilst others might communicate more effectively though eye movements or technology.

Makaton is a technique used by students that are non-verbal or struggle with communicating verbally. It’s a wonderful and invaluable communication technique in SEN Primary schools. Many SEND schools will also have students that communicate through British Sign Language (BSL).

BSL is designed to assist those with hearing impairments, Makaton plays an essential part in supporting spoken language, featuring elements of BSL interspersed through sentences. You won’t be asked to use this method if you don’t know it, but be prepared for students to use it.

Pupil Profiles

When going into a SEN school to work as a 1:1 TA or as a teacher, pupil profiles are essential. A pupil profile details a student’s educational and medical needs, alongside an analysis of their specific motivators in order to keep children engaged and focussed on the task in hand.

Plan to arrive early to review profiles, and discuss with staff about any other behaviour before the start of school.

The number of pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN) make up 15.5% of the population and is increasing year on year. With an abundance of SEN teaching and teaching assistant roles available, there’s no time like the present. As a SEND teacher, you gain a host of valuable and transferable skills. These can contribute to making you so much more employable in your future career, wherever it may take you.

If you’re a teacher or teaching assistant looking for a new challenge, get in touch with SEN specialists Initial Education. Find out what opportunities we have available in SEN schools.