Special Needs Teaching Assistants are extremely valued members of the teaching team and are very much sought after in today's job market. No two days are the same, and by using their individual strengths and passions, SEN teaching assistants can make a huge difference to the lives of children and young people with disabilities or learning difficulties. But what exactly do they do and how do you become one?
What does a SEN Teaching Assistant do?
SEN teaching assistants can work in mainstream schools, independent schools and special needs schools. They support the SEN teacher and provide help to push on the learning of one, or all the students within the class. Some day to day duties include:
- Creating a stimulating environment
- Adapting support according to the needs of the students
- Preparing learning materials under the supervision of the teacher
- Supporting children's physical, social and emotional welfare
- Working both inside and outside the classroom with individuals or groups
- Keeping records and attending review meetings
Special needs teaching assistants need to keep in mind that these responsibilities vary depending on the school setting and the characters of the children within the class they are supporting. Also, these variations mean that some TAs will have to take on more work, possibly within their own time, and may be asked to carry out other pastoral duties or take control of personal, social and emotional clubs to help target children with specific needs.
What qualifications do you need for a SEN TA role?
There are many varied routes into starting out as a SEN TA, which means that whatever academic or professional background you have come from, there will always be a way in which you can train up and get supporting in the classroom. The four main routes are:
- 1.College courses
The types of college courses you need to look for include the Level 2 and 3 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools.Also, it is possible to study for a Level 3 Diploma in Childcare and Education Early Years Educator or a T level in Education and childcare. On some courses you may be able to get a placement working with children who have special educational needs to help boost your knowledge and abilities.
The entry requirements to begin these courses include 2 or more GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D), or equivalent, for a level 2 course. For a level 3 course you will need 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent. Then, to complete a T level you should have 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including English and Maths.
- 2.An apprenticeship
Apprenticeships are another excellent way in to becoming a teaching assistant as they provide lots of hands on experience and even more time to work with SEN teachers, helping you to ask questions and get a greater feel as to what working in a school entails. On top of starting a SEN TA apprenticeship, other relevant apprenticeships for a SEN teaching assistant role include:
- intermediate early years practitioner
- advanced early years educator
- advanced teaching assistant
Generally there are no set entry requirements but you may have a greater chance of being accepted if you have some GCSEs, usually including English and Maths for an intermediate apprenticeship. If you are more interested in an advanced apprenticeship then you will need 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including English and Maths.
Volunteering can help those who are interested in working as a SEN TA get a taste for what the role entails in a less pressurised way, and then can use the experience to supplement their understanding whilst training, or provide them with paid work and the opportunity to gain relevant qualifications. You could get great experience by volunteering in a local school or with a community organisation.
- 4.Applying directly to a school or education provider
Sometimes you can apply for special needs teaching assistant jobs if you already have experience of working with children who have disabilities or learning difficulties. Each school will set its own requirements, so it is very important to understand what these are and to open up good lines of communication between yourself and the school.
You can help your chances of being accepted if you have some relevant communication skills like British Sign Language or Makaton, or other qualifications such as First Aid Training. For more information on what else you can do to impress schools upon direct application then visit the National Association for Special Educational Needswebsite.
Is being a teaching assistant difficult?
Depending on your skills and core strengths, being a teaching assistant can be challenging, but always very rewarding. In order to help ease any difficulties you might face, it is important to develop your ability to be sensitive, understanding, patient in stressful situations and listening skills. Equally, TAs must enjoy working with others and being flexible and adaptable whenever a situation or child needs them to be. In order to do this well SEN teaching assistants need to have fantastic verbal communication skills, the ability to understand people's reactions, a good knowledge of teaching methods and the skill to carry out basic tasks on computers.
For some, being a TA can be more difficult depending on the environment they work in, which can include pupil referral units as well as schools, because the setting can sometimes be physically and emotionally demanding day after day. Also, working hours normally follow school hours from Monday to Friday, but can equally include earlier starts and later finishes depending on the needs of the teacher, and can mean that staff are asked to attend training courses during holidays and weekends. Therefore, once again, SEN TAs have to flexible and adaptable people and very dedicated to their job, and it is only when someone finds this difficult or at odds to their expectations that they may find working as a teaching assistant tough.
How do SEN Teaching Assistants compare against SEN Teachers?
The major differences between TAs and teachers is the fact that teachers must plan lessons and prepare teaching materials, set up the classroom, organise displays and resources, teach whole class lessons, direct the work of learning support and teaching assistants, mark and assess children's work, update records, talk to parents and carers about their children's progress and work with other professionals like education psychologists and social workers. These differences mostly depend on a greater level of responsibility over both children and staff, and increased control over the organization of termly learning. Although TAs are asked to shoulder some of these burdens, it is ultimately the teacher who will be made responsible for the learning progress of all the children of a class, and will be scrutinized for how teaching assistants are used in the classroom.
Open SEN teaching assistant vacancies
If you would like to learn more about special educational needs teaching assistant roles then be sure to check out some of these open training courses and experiences. Also, you must explore job vacancies with schools, local authorities and academy trusts to find out what schools want.
When you are ready, Senploy's job board will help connect you with exciting opportunities on the first steps to your new career. Good luck!