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Opportunity knocks: There are huge rewards to be gained in the special educational needs sector


The planned reforms to the special educational needs (SEN) sector in England have been described by commentators as the biggest shake up to happen for 30 years.


Where there is change, there is opportunity. The reforms, along with a shortage of SEN teachers, means that now could the time to consider a teaching career in the sector.

Approximately 20 per cent of school children in England are identified as having SEN, but numbers of specialist teachers have dropped, partly because there are no longer dedicated SEN training courses. With many head teachers due to reach retirement age in the next ten years, a succession gap has opened up.

Draft legislation in a government green paper outlines a number of measures, including giving parents control over their children’s SEN budgets. This means that local authorities will no longer be the sole providers of support to children with SEN, as the measures will legally force the education, health and social care sectors to work together, to give parents the choice of expert support.

The legislation will be put into place via the Children and Families Bill, currently before parliament. The bill is expected to be made law next year.

The proposals will have a big impact on those working in the sector, with extra training becoming an important issue for all school staff dealing with children with SEN.

The cross-over between health, education and social care is a big, dynamic change. If people have experience of working across all three sectors they will be in greater demand. Those working in the sector will need more flexibility and experience, for example, we are seeing an emphasis on counseling and mentoring skills.

There are massive opportunities within the sector. It’s an area that’s often thought of as difficult and challenging, but equally, it’s hugely rewarding.

A successful recruitment strategy will be a long-term one, with a focus on entry level roles for mainstream teachers and teaching assistants. There needs to be support at entry level which will in turn help drive retention and encourage teachers to progress in the SEN profession.

The demand for SEN teachers is set to continue. The commitment to support pupils with SEN is a vital part of the government’s education strategy, and we aim to support the teaching profession and help them to provide the best quality and most engaged SEN teachers.

What does a successful recruitment strategy look like?

At Severndale Specialist School in Shrewsbury a series of taster days have given trainee teachers the chance to get a real hands-on experience of life in a specialist school. We have been working with the school to tackle its recruitment issues, and began last year by targeting teaching students with a series of taster days.

The school has around 300 pupils, aged between two and 19 years old, and 50 teaching staff, and needs to take on five new teachers a year. However, head teacher Chris Davies says recruitment became problematic, with low numbers of applications, along with poor quality candidates:

“We put on some training that they wouldn’t get as part of their initial teacher training. We decided it must be an attractive thing for them to come and spend a day with us. If we don’t play our part in training, the supply of teachers for special schools is going to dry up. Since we have been working with Hays the numbers [of applicants for posts] are significantly better. When we advertise now, we are looking at about 50 applications for a job, and a really good quality of people.”

Taster days explained

On the taster days, students took part in two different sessions, one based around meeting the needs of children with complex behaviours, including the strategies to deal with them, and a second looking at language and communication strategies. Participants are also given a chance to chat to teachers at the school, and then work, as part of a team, with pupils in the classroom.

Tiffany Smith, 21, trained at Birmingham City University, and took part in one of the sessions:

“During placements we had the opportunity to experience special needs in a mainstream setting, but we have never had the opportunity to see the differences between special needs in a mainstream setting and a special needs school before,” she says, adding that following on from the day, teaching children with SEN is something she is considering.

The school plans to continue running taster days, and is tackling recruitment in several other ways. For example, newly qualified teachers at the school are given the opportunity to access externally accredited training and development that can lead to a Masters degree.

About Hays Education

We work with over 4,000 schools, colleges and nurseries across the UK, giving you access to the latest SEN jobs.

To find out more about the taster days contact your local office.
Useful links:

The green paper, Support and Aspiration: a new approach to special educational needs and disability can be found here.