What does a special needs teaching assistant do?
A special needs teaching assistant will help teachers in schools by providing support to children with learning, physical or behavioural difficulties. A demanding, yet ultimately rewarding job, you may be required to work in a Special Educational Needs (SEN) school, or in a mainstream classroom. Depending on the needs and severity of the child’s condition, you may be expected to work one to one with an individual pupil, or with a small group of children in a larger classroom situation.
Day to day, your job will involve helping the student in the classroom, under the supervision of the teacher in charge. You will be expected to encourage children to communicate with others, understand instructions and be confident in their learning. Sometimes the child’s needs will be manifested in areas related to speech, language and communication difficulties, so your job will involve using your skills and training to help with these issues. You may also be expected to help the student during break times and with social activities, as well as attending therapy sessions with them.
Is this the job for me?
In order to succeed as a special needs teaching assistant, you will need a great deal of patience. Working with special needs children can be challenging, so a caring attitude and a strong understanding of children is vital. You will also need to be good at working as a team, as you will be expected to work alongside teachers, parents and carers to ensure the child or children in your care are offered the correct support.
What are the working hours like?
As a full time teaching assistant, you will be expected to work normal school hours, Monday to Friday. You may be asked to get to class earlier and stay after the school day has ended, in order to assist the teacher with lesson planning and marking. Most teaching assistants only work during term-time, but may be required to go on training courses during holidays.
Where will I be based?
By no means your normal office job, as a special needs teaching assistant you will spend your time in the classroom.
How do I get there?
The entry requirements for this role vary, as it usually down to the individual school to decide what qualifications and experience they want their teaching assistants to have. Therefore, as well as finding the right training course, you will also need to get some experience working with children or young people with disabilities or learning difficulties. The qualifications available for trainee teaching assistants include a Level 2 Award in Support Work in Schools, a Level 2 Certificate for the Children and Young People’s Workforce, and a Level 3 Award in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools.
Once you have gained your first position, it’s often a good idea to continue your education in order to gain further qualifications alongside your practical experience. If you do choose to do this, it’s a good idea to look into the Level 3 Certificate Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools, the Level 3 Diploma for the Children and Young People’s Workforce, or the Level 3 Diploma in Specialist Support for Teaching and Learning in Schools.
Furthermore, you may be required to go on specialist courses to help communicate with the children in your care, such as a British Sign Language qualification or training from the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB).
Need more information?
We’ve covered the basics here, but if you need some more information about taking your first steps into the world of special needs care, here are some handy places to look –
Higher Level Teaching Assistants
National Association for Special Educational Needs (NASEN)