How to Become an SEN Teaching Assistant

A special educational needs teaching assistant helps children and young people who have a variety of learning, behavioural and physical difficulties. This job is both good fun and a lot of hard work. Find out if you have what it takes to become an SEN teaching assistant by reading the following insightful guide.

What is an SEN teaching assistant?

As an SEN teaching assistant, you would support teachers in helping children who have special educational needs and disabilities. SEN teaching assistants are also known as special needs learning support assistants and special needs classroom assistants.

In this role, you would typically work in a regular school or a special needs school. SEN teaching assistants can work in pupil referral units or in private home tuition settings too.

What do SEN teaching assistants actually do?

In this role, you would work with children and young people who require extra teaching support to reach their full potential. You could work with individuals who have physical disabilities, learning difficulties like dyslexia, conditions like autism, sensory impairments like deafness or blindness, or individuals with mental health and emotional needs. Individuals could also have a combination of those types of difficulties.

Your main task as an SEN teaching assistant is to identify the needs of individuals and provide them with a supportive, safe and stimulating learning environment. The work can be both emotionally and physically demanding.

SEN Teaching Assistant Job Description

The job description of an SEN teaching assistant can vary depending on the individual needs and age of the individuals you work with. However, tasks typically include the following:

  • Supporting individual pupils or small groups under the supervision of a teacher.
  • Attending to the physical needs of pupils.
  • Preparing resources and lessons.
  • Encouraging pupils’ self-esteem, confidence and independence.
  • Helping pupils to understand instructions.
  • Using special equipment like audio-visual materials.
  • Using and teaching special skills like sign language and Braille.
  • Assessing and marking pupils’ work.
  • Providing feedback to teachers and completing pupil records.

Key Skills for an SEN Teaching Assistant

To do this job effectively, you must enjoy working with people, have the ability to remain calm and patient in stressful situations and be sensitive and understanding to the individuals you work with. You need to have excellent interpersonal and communication skills.

You also need to be able to build good relationships with the pupils you work with and their families. It helps to have a good sense of humour too. Other key skills required for an SEN teaching assistant include:

  • Behaviour management skills.
  • Verbal communication skills.
  • Teamworking skills.
  • Organisational skills.
  • Observation skills.
  • The ability to work well under pressure.
  • The ability to perform basic tasks on a computer or other electronic device.
  • An enthusiastic and positive outlook.
  • Flexibility.

Useful Work Experience

Before you dive into the SEN teaching assistant career head-first, it’s important to do some work experience. This allows you to find out whether you really are cut out to work in this demanding role. By having work experience under your belt, you’ll also strengthen your application for an SEN teaching assistant position.

There are often local volunteer opportunities to work with individuals who have special needs or disabilities. Many of these are run by charities. Find out about the options in your local area and get involved with voluntary work at one of these organisations.

Alternatively, you could get work experience in a school. Contact local schools to see if they are open to providing work experience. You could even contact your own old primary or secondary school.

Even if you’re not involved with first-hand work, by spending time in schools as a visitor, you will have the opportunity to observe lessons and speak with teachers. Any work experience that involves working with children or individuals with mental or physical disabilities will be a great first step on your path of becoming an SEN teaching assistant.

Average Salaries for an SEN Teaching Assistant

The amount you can earn as an SEN teaching assistant depends on the your specific employer, your level of responsibility and the qualifications you have. New teaching assistants typically begin on a salary of around £17,600 per year.

Currently, the highest rate you can earn per year as an SEN teaching assistant is £23,872. As with most jobs, by gaining more experience and expertise, you will be in a better position to climb the pay scale and get paid a higher amount.

Qualifications for an SEN Teaching Assistant

You can become an SEN teaching assistant through three methods. You can complete a college course to get a relevant recognised-qualification, apply to schools and educational facilities directly or be accepted to an apprenticeship programme. Individual schools and local education authorities decide what experience and qualifications you need to possess to become an SEN teaching assistant.

Job advertisements for SEN teaching assistant positions will state what experience and qualifications are required for each particular job. Although you don’t always need qualifications, relevant experience is most certainly important. If you haven’t professionally worked with children or individuals with mental and physical disabilities before, it’s crucial you get experience by completing a voluntary placement.

If you decide to get a qualification so you can more easily get a job as an SEN teaching assistant, you could study at college for a Level Two or Level Three Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools course or a Level Three Diploma in Childcare and Education Early Years Educator course.

As part of the course, you may do a voluntary placement, where you would be working with children and young people with special educational needs.

To be accepted onto one of the above courses, you’ll usually need to have two or more GCSEs at grades A* to D or nine to three, or an equivalent qualification, for a level two course, and four or five GCSEs at grades A* to C or nine to four, or an equivalent qualification, for a level three course.

An apprenticeship is a great way of earning a national-recognised qualification while getting paid to work in an SEN teaching assistant training environment. There are three types of apprenticeships available. These are:

  • Teaching assistant advanced apprenticeship.
  • Intermediate or advanced apprenticeship in supporting teaching and learning in schools.
  • Intermediate or advanced apprenticeship in childcare.

There are no set entry requirements to enrol with an SEN teaching assistant apprenticeship programme. However, your application for an intermediate apprenticeship will be strengthened if you have some GCSEs, or equivalent qualifications, especially in maths and English. For an advanced apprenticeship, it helps to have five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C or nine to four, including maths and English, or an equivalent qualification.

If you already have some other qualifications, it can help you to be accepted to specific SEN teaching assistant positions. For instance, having a nursery nursing qualification can be an advantage. Also, if you want to work with hearing-impaired children and young people, you’ll need a sign language certificate such as a stage one Certificate in British Sign Language.

If you don’t have any qualifications and you get accepted to an SEN teaching assistant position from applying to a school directly, you can still receive a qualification by working towards a level two or level three certificate, award or diploma in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools while you work in the role.

Furthermore, anyone starting a job as an SEN teaching assistant will usually complete a short induction training programme that’s nationally approved. Some specific local education authorities also offer in-house training programmes that can lead to nationally-recognised qualifications.

In addition, you’ll need to be cleared by the Criminal Records Bureau before you are allowed to begin work as an SEN teaching assistant. This check is required for working as a volunteer as well.

Career Progression

You can undergo a variety of training courses while you work as an SEN teaching assistant, so you can then move into different areas. For instance, you would be qualified to work with blind people after completing a Royal National Institute of Blind People course.

Alternatively, you could complete training to work with individuals who have specific learning difficulties, like autism or dyslexia.

With training and experience, you could progress in your career to become a higher-level teaching assistant. You could progress even further by studying to become a fully-qualified SEN teacher.

In Conclusion

If you enjoy working with people and you’re empathic, well-organised and a great communicator, you may be a perfect fit for the role of SEN teaching assistant. In this position, you would be supporting children and young people with a variety of learning difficulties and physical disabilities. You would help with lessons and attend to pupils’ physical needs.

To become an SEN teaching assistant, it’s helpful to first do some work experience. Entry level requirements for this career differ from school to school. You can apply directly or enrol with an apprenticeship.

Although higher-level qualifications are not always needed to work as an SEN teaching assistant, you’ll be more likely to get accepted for a position if you’ve successfully completed a relevant level two or level three college course.