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Special educational needs teachers work with children who need extra support to fulfil their potential.

If you wish to teach in the state-maintained sector as a special needs teacher you will need qualified teacher status (QTS).

What does a special needs teacher do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Special educational needs teachers work with children who need additional support. This includes children with physical disabilities, learning, emotional, behavioural or communication difficulties, conditions such as autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia and ADHD, sensory impairments (for example, visual impairment), sensory processing disorder, and mental health issues. Special educational needs (SEN) teachers may also work with gifted children.

Typical job responsibilities include:

  • developing programmes of learning activities
  • planning, preparing and researching lessons
  • preparing and adapting teaching materials
  • making use of special facilities and/or equipment
  • contact and teaching time with students on an individual, class or small group basis
  • checking and assessing students' work and giving feedback
  • encouraging personal development via tutorial and pastoral work
  • attending meetings and reviews
  • liaising with parents, external agencies and a range of other professionals, such as speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and educational psychologists
  • writing reports
  • coordinating the work of support staff

Typical employers of special educational needs teachers

Special educational needs teachers work in state-maintained, voluntary-controlled and independent schools. Many work in mainstream schools, either in mainstream classes or in specialist units attached to the schools. Some work in special schools, which are exclusively for children with special needs. It is also possible to take on a role as a special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) in a mainstream school.

There are opportunities to work in other settings, including pupil referral units (PRUs), further education colleges with special education units, youth custody centres and learning support teams, which provide expert advice to a number of schools.

Teaching vacancies are advertised online, in local education authority (LEA) vacancy lists, local and national newspapers, the Times Educational Supplement and by specialist recruitment agencies.

Qualifications and training required

Anyone wishing to teach in the state-maintained sector must gain qualified teacher status (QTS). Most independent schools also prefer candidates with QTS, though it is not always required.

A small number of undergraduate degrees incorporate QTS. Alternatively, there are several different postgraduate teacher training routes open to graduates in England, including the PGCE (Postgraduate or Professional Graduate Certificate in Education), School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT), employment-based School Direct training programmes and Teach First. Teacher training routes can vary in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. All initial teacher training (ITT) courses cover special educational needs (SEN), and qualified teachers can undertake further training in this area.

Overview of teacher training routes in England

Training to teach in Scotland

Training to teach in Wales

Training to teach in Northern Ireland

Candidates for teacher training need GSCEs or equivalent at grade C/4 or above in English and maths. Those wishing to teach in primary schools also need a GCSE or equivalent at grade C/4 or above in science.

There are various qualifications you can take to support your professional development as a special needs teacher, including certificates, diplomas and masters courses in special needs education. There are mandatory training courses for SEN teachers who specialise in teaching children with visual, hearing or multi-sensory impairment.

It is normally essential to have at least two years' post-qualification mainstream teaching experience before taking up a special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) post. The exception to this is for newly qualified teachers (NQTs) who can demonstrate substantial previous work experience with children with special needs.

To become a SENCO, you will need a good understanding of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) code of practice, which sets out the legal requirements for supporting children and young people with SEN and disabilities. SENCOs in England are  are required to undertake a specialist qualification, the national award for special educational needs coordination.

A SENCO in a mainstream school usually works closely with a team of teaching assistants (TAs) or learning support assistants (LSAs) who support individual children in school.

Our advice on training and qualifications for alternative careers in education gives an overview of routes into different careers that involve supporting learning or children's development, including specialising in special educational needs.

Key skills for special educational needs teachers

  • Enthusiasm
  • Imagination
  • Commitment
  • Energy

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