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How to become a Special Education Needs Teacher

special education needs teacher careers

What does a Special Education Needs Teacher do?

Special educational needs teachers work with children and young people who have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn or access education than most children of the same age. This could include teaching children with mild to moderate learning difficulties; specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia; pupils with a physical disability, hearing or visual impairment; or children with emotional or behavioural problems. It is possible to work with such pupils in an ordinary class, in a special class in a mainstream school, or in a special school. They may teach pupils individually or in small groups.

Teachers help pupils to develop their self-confidence, independence, abilities and attitudes. They also teach the National Curriculum, which may have been adapted to their pupils’ needs.

In addition to actual teaching, teachers spend a lot of time preparing lessons and teaching materials, marking and assessing work and mounting displays in the classroom. They will often be assisted by teaching assistants or nursery nurses.

The work also involves liaising with other professionals (such as medical professionals, social workers, speech and language therapists and educational psychologists), speaking to parents and carers (both informally and at parents' evenings), attending meetings and in-service training, and organising outings, social activities and sporting events.

What's the working environment like working as a Special Education Needs Teacher?

Teachers in state schools in England and Wales work 39 weeks a year in school. Hours vary between schools but are usually 9am to 3.30pm or 4pm. Teachers also work outside school hours, for example to prepare lessons, and go to meetings.

In Scotland there is a standard 35-hour week and teachers work for 195 days a year.

What does it take to become a Special Education Needs Teacher?

To be a special educational needs teacher you should:

  • be committed to working with pupils with special educational needs
  • have an interest in the education and welfare of pupils
  • be able to build up good relationships with a range of people - pupils, parents and carers, other teachers, teaching assistants, educational psychologists and social workers
  • enjoy working in a team but be able to use your own initiative
  • be well organised
  • have the ability to manage classes and deal with challenging behaviour
  • be prepared to assist with personal care needs if necessary
  • be able to communicate well in the most appropriate way for your pupils
  • be patient and have a good sense of humour.

Special Education Needs Teacher Career Opportunities

Most special educational needs teachers work in mainstream schools. However, there are also state special schools across England, Scotland and Wales. Some special schools are for pupils with a specific disability, while others are organised according to the severity of learning difficulty. Local authorities run most special schools, while others are run by organisations such as Barnardo’s and the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

There is a shortage of special educational needs teachers. There are vacancies throughout the UK, particularly in London, eastern England and south-east England.

Progression is possible to become an advanced skills teacher. In a mainstream school there are chances to obtain promotion to special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) or head of the special needs department. Teachers in special schools may be promoted to deputy headteacher or headteacher.

There are also opportunities to work in a pupil referral unit (PRU), a community home, a hospital school or a youth custody centre. A number of areas of work related to teaching are also available, such as: teacher training; educational advisory work; education administration; schools inspection; and private tuition.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Special Education Needs Teacher that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

Training and Development Agency for Schools (Formerly Teacher Training Agency)
Portland House
Bressenden Place
Teaching Information Line: 0845 6000 991 (English-speakers)
0845 6000 992 (Welsh-speakers)


National Association for Special Educational Needs (NASEN)
4-5 Amber Business Village
Amber Close
B77 4RP

British Association of Teachers of the Deaf

Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People (CACDP)
Durham University Science Park
Block 4
Stockton Road
Tel: 0191 383 1155
Textphone: 0191 383 7915

Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB)
105 Judd Street
Tel: 020 7388 1266

Facts and Stats:

    60 per cent of people remember a good teacher, compared to 75 per cent who remember a bad teacher. Sting used to be a teacher (be still your beating hearts, girls). An actual answer from a GCSE question paper read: "The Greeks were a highly sculptured people, and without them we wouldn't have history. The Greeks also had myths, A myth is a female moth."

Courses to help you become a Special Education Needs Teacher