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How to become an SEN teacher

Interested in special educational needs (SEN) teaching? We explore this hugely rewarding career, and take a look at the necessary qualifications and relevant courses. 

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Are you passionate about special educational needs teaching? While you may be sure that you want to teach at a special educational needs school or department, you might not be as sure on how to get there. 

This article will explore what’s necessary to get into SEN teaching, and will help you discover the skills and qualifications you’ll need to start a successful career as an SEN teacher. 

What is an SEN teacher?

SEN teachers may work with young children, teenagers or adults who need extra help, who have disabilities or may struggle in mainstream education. 

In many ways, teaching pupils with special needs and disabilities (SEND) is the same as any other form of education. Teachers help students to progress and achieve their full potential. Just like mainstream teachers, SEN teachers prepare classes, take registers, write reports and discuss progress with parents and carers. 

One difference is that classes are often smaller, which allows for more targeted lessons and closer relationships. SEN teachers will also be involved in deciding what kind of support each child needs.

What qualifications do you need to become an SEN teacher?

You’ll need Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) to become an SEN teacher in most UK schools. If you already have a degree, you could take a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) or a Master’s Degree. 

A Master’s Degree will take two to three years and could give you a head start in your new career.

A PGCE could take as little as one year full-time, or two years part-time and will include school placements, allowing you to see teachers in action and gain valuable experience. 

If you don’t already have a degree, you could consider a specialist teacher training degree. This will usually take three or four years of full-time study, or up to six years if you study part-time. Most courses will have options for teaching children with special educational needs. 

Or, of course, you could start studying for a degree now, perhaps in a subject that’s of special interest to you or one, such as psychology, that could give you a better understanding of how to engage and motivate SEN students.

There is a third route that doesn’t require a degree at all. Qualified Teacher Learning and Skill status (QTLS) can be awarded on completion of a Level 5 in Education and Training (DET/DTLLS). Level 5 is equivalent to the second year of a Bachelor’s Degree or an HND Diploma.

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What else do employers look for in an SEN teacher?

Because special educational needs can encompass anything from ADHD to high-functioning autism, expectations for what SEN teachers can achieve vary enormously. 

In some care centres teaching basic life skills may be the ultimate goal, while in some schools with SEN departments, you may be expected to help pupils achieve good grades at O and A levels.

SEN schools and departments are always on the lookout for people who have the required empathy and understanding. If you’re looking for a job as an SEN teacher, but don’t yet have the qualifications, becoming a special needs classroom assistant or learning assistant would prove to employers and yourself that you have what it takes.

You could even consider taking a short course to improve your knowledge in a specialist area. There are courses in subjects such as understanding autism, addressing mental health issues and learning through play that could help your CV stand out.

SEN teachers may need to learn different ways of communicating, such as Makaton (a programme combining signs, symbols and speech) and British Sign Language (for pupils with hearing difficulties).

SEN educators will also become adept at understanding pupils’ reactions, facial expressions and body language. Art and music can be useful communication tools and people with interests and skills in these areas often make excellent SEN teachers. 

How much do SEN teachers earn?

According to the National Careers Service, a newly qualified SEN teacher can expect to earn around £30,000 a year. This rises to £46,000 for an experienced teacher.

The hours would be around 37 to 45 during the three school terms. Although there will be some out-of-hours work on preparation and reports.

Good special needs teachers are in high demand which means that those with the right qualifications should have no problems finding a role that feels right for them. 

The government recorded that in 2023 there were over 1.5 million pupils with special educational needs – an increase of 87,000 from 2022. It’s clear that the UK will need more SEN teachers, so salaries should hold firm if we’re to support these pupils. 

However, if you ask an SEN teacher what’s the best thing about their work, they’re unlikely to say it’s the pay. They’re more likely to refer to the sense of satisfaction they get from seeing progress and making a real difference to pupils and their families.

How long will it take to become an SEN teacher?

Obviously, this depends on your current qualifications and experience, but if you already have an undergraduate degree, you could be qualified in as little as a year. 

1 year. Full-time study for a PGCE.

2 years. Part-time study for a PGCE. 

2-3 years. Study for a Master’s Degree.

Boost your teaching skills with FutureLearn

Whatever your goals are, FutureLearn is here to help. Whether that’s getting into SEN teaching, or finding an affordable degree-level course, we’ll help you achieve that goal your way, at your own pace. 

We offer online teaching degrees, short online teaching courses, specialist accredited courses from leading universities (our microcredentials) and curated course collections (our ExpertTracks) that will give your career a boost and help set you apart from other candidates.

Our courses are run in partnership with leading academic institutions and specialist organisations such as The Open University, UCL and the University of Southampton (and others around the world).

Now you know how to become an SEN teacher, which route will you choose? 

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