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Why the UK is Crying Out For Special Needs Teachers

About over 1 year ago By Scott Owen

how to become a special needs teacher uk

​Every year, more and more pupils are identified as having Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

DfE figures from May 2022 show that the number of pupils with Education, Heal and Care (EHC) plans increased by 9.9% in 2021 alone. With a 23% rise in initial requests for an EHC plan since 2020, the upward trend that first began in 2017 shows no sign of slowing down.

This remarkable upturn since 2020 may suggest the presence of potential developmental scars left by the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet it is also beyond doubt that many schools are simply getting better at identifying children with special needs and getting them the extra help they need.

Rising Demand for Special Needs Teachers and Assistants

The surge in applications for EHCPs will inevitably lead to rising demand for trained specialists with the skills to put these plans into practice. Educators can place themselves in prime position for a coming wave of employment opportunities.

Special needs teachers and learning support staff will all have their own specialisms, supporting pupils with conditions like:

  • Profound and multiple learning difficulties

  • Specific learning difficulties

  • Physical disabilities and impairments

  • Multi-sensory impairment

  • Visual impairment

  • Hearing impairment

  • Social, emotional and mental health conditions

  • Speech, language and communication needs

  • Attention, deficit hyperactivity disorder

  • Autistic spectrum condition

Building up a working knowledge of how to teach pupils with any of these conditions could open a lot of doors in your career.

Protocol Education offers a range of CPD-certified training courses in all things SEND. In just a few hours over the summer, you can build specialist competencies that will place you in contention for a rich variety of jobs when term resumes in September.     

Essential Skills for SEN Teachers and Support Staff

Beyond these formal training opportunities, choosing the hugely rewarding career path of working with Special Needs pupils requires some more general traits and personal qualities.  

Our in-house SEN specialist, Ruth Bell, has put together a list of the most important approaches for anyone working in special needs

  • Be proactive and willing

  • Be enthusiastic. It might feel like groundhog day at times, but you get back what you put in thousand-fold.

  • Communicate with colleagues 

  • Be patient

  • Be prepared to get messy, particularly if working with children with PMLD

  • Know how to differentiate: each child learns differently

  • Be prepared to be flexible

  • Be a happy team player

  • Always listen without judgement

  • Don’t take anything personally

  • Hone your de-escalation skills when you encounter challenging behaviours: know the triggers, establish rapport, have a sense of humour.

Working in an Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) School or Unit

According to the DFE figures, the most common type of need for those with an EHC plan is Autistic Spectrum Disorders.

Working with children on the Autistic Spectrum requires quite a precise MO that keeps a few core principles in mind:

  • Patient communication, with clear and concise guidance for pupils, is vital

  • Routine and structure can be very important to people with autism. Consistency is key. Changing your mind or the routine will not aid their learning

  • It may be difficult for a person with autism to take a new approach to something. Young people on the autism spectrum will cope better with change if they are prepared for it in advance

  • Behaviour management is a balancing act

  • Children and young people with autism may experience some form of sensory sensitivity. This can occur in one or more of the seven senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, balance and body awareness

Some Final Words of Wisdom

Kurt Knoche is a New Zealand-trained primary teacher who has worked in Special Needs schools in the UK for many years and is now the Head of Post-16 at a large specialist SEMH school in London. Here’s what Kurt looks for in a teacher or support worker:

'An open mind and a reasonably thick skin! I look for staff who are prepared to engage with students and to listen to advice. I look for someone who is not judgmental about behaviours and can forget yesterday and focus on the positives. They should have an open mind with a degree of empathy. Be a team member, have a sense of self-confidence. Be resilient and have a sense of humour!'

How to become a Special Needs teacher

If you want to make a move into the world of special needs education, Protocol Education can find you roles at both special schools and mainstream schools that will play to your particular talents.

All you have to do is register with us for free, and we’ll be in touch with the latest opportunities.

Register for Special Needs teaching jobs