SEN Teaching Assistants. Is Experience More Valuable than Qualifications in 2023?

Updated: Feb 2024

Teaching assistants are often hailed as the unsung heroes of the classroom – and rightly so. They provide vital extra support for teachers in rolling out the curriculum, as well as giving students extra opportunities to thrive – socially and emotionally, as well as academically.

Teaching assistant numbers have increased by 25% in the last decade and within special schools in England, the numbers have risen even more sharply than in mainstream with a 140% rise over 10 years.

The increase is demonstrative of how in demand and highly regarded those in the profession are and in SEN settings, teaching assistants are arguably even more valuable, as students require an extra level of help and guidance on their journey to gaining an education.

According to Department of Education data from June 2022, the proportion of pupils with a SEN/Education or Health and Care (EHC) plan increased to 4.0% in 2022, continuing a trend of increases since 2017. With this in mind, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the demand for teaching assistants in the field has followed a similar trajectory – a rise that is borne out in our own data.

Between April and October 2022, we saw a 104% increase in adverts for SEN teaching assistants when compared with the previous six months. With demand so high, many schools are turning to experienced albeit unqualified teaching assistants to boost resource, sparking a key question:

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Is experience more valuable than qualifications?


Whilst teaching qualifications are extremely well respected and sought after in teaching assistant candidates, there are other core skills that can neither be underestimated nor taught within higher education.

Emotional intelligence, patience, creativity and confidence, for example, are all vital qualities in the SEN classroom and arguably skills that are honed in time with life experience. Many teaching assistants that are considered unqualified on paper have many years of direct, lived experience of children with special needs or disabilities in either a personal or professional setting.

The truth is that neither experience or qualifications are more important than the other and ultimately, it comes down to finding the right candidate to suit the specific needs of each particular school. This requires a strategic and comprehensive recruitment process that identifies exactly what a candidate can bring to a role and where they can add more value than other applicants. There are many successful teaching assistants with and without teaching qualifications – what determines success is attitude.

Analysis of applications to teaching assistant positions advertised on Senploy between April and October 2022 proves that there’s no lack of determination among unqualified candidates. Although there were less overall adverts listing ‘unqualified SEN teaching assistant’, there were an average of 13 applications per role, demonstrating that there’s a significant pool of talent for schools to tap into.

Over the next 12 months, as more and more children require SEN support and schools seek increased levels of resource, there’s no doubt that the industry will experience an overall increase in demand for high quality teaching assistants – with or without qualifications.

At Senploy, we’d encourage individuals with an interest in working alongside children with special educational needs to explore the opportunities available to them. For more information on our current SEN Teaching Assistant opportunities, check out our jobs board

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