SEN teacher supporting pupils in class
Tes Institute

How to become an SEN teacher

If you want to become a special needs teacher at an SEN or SEND school, you’re probably already aware of how rewarding an experience it can be. There are challenges, of course, but the teaching experiences can be some of the most memorable and gratifying.
03 May 23

Here’s our guide on how to become an SEN teacher and how you can prepare for QTS assessment in your SEN school with our Straight to Teaching course.

How to become an SEN teacher: getting the qualifications

Unlike becoming a teacher in a mainstream setting, there are currently limited options for postgraduate teacher training that will directly prepare you for working in an SEN school. Many SEN teachers move into this area once they’ve been teaching for a few years and have gained experience of managing SEND pupils in their mainstream primary or secondary school.

To be a teacher in any state-funded SEN school you'll need to have qualified teacher status (QTS) and therefore a degree, however private SEN schools may not have the same qualification requirements.

If you don’t have a degree, many universities offer a Special Educational Needs and Disability BA and while these type of degrees don’t always lead to QTS or a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), they’ll stand you in good stead for specialising in SEN teaching after your initial teacher training (ITT).

How to become a SEN teacher: from TA to teacher

If you’re already working as a teaching assistant or unqualified special needs teacher in an SEN school, you might already be in the best position to become fully qualified by building on your existing experience while you continue to work in your school. You already know the school’s systems and processes and you've built relationships with pupils that are vital at this stage of their development.

Our blended, in-school and online QTS preparation course, Straight to Teaching, is aimed at support staff like TAs who are looking to take their next step and become qualified teachers in their school. We support staff working in all main school types in England and 49% of Straight to Teaching learners are working towards QTS in special schools or PRUs.

To start Straight to Teaching you have to be working in a school. Full requirements can be found on our course page – some you’ll need to meet to start the course and others can be obtained before you’re assessed for QTS.

The course is unique in that it takes into account your existing experience, meaning the more relevant teaching time and responsibilities you’ve already had, the shorter your course may be.

Once you’ve joined the course, you can continue to teach in your SEN setting, unlike traditional teacher training which must be undertaken in a mainstream school.

If you don’t already have experience teaching in a mainstream school, you will need to complete a second school experience in a mainstream school lasting at least 30 days, and teaching the same curriculum as your special school to full classes. So if you teach primary SEN pupils, you’ll need to teach all the standard primary subjects in the mainstream school. The same goes for secondary, where you’ll need to teach up to GCSE level in your secondary subject.

For example, If you teach SEN teenagers at key stage 2 ability, taking into consideration the cognitive age and ability of the students you’re teaching, during your second school experience you’d need to teach the curriculum to nationally expected key stage 2 ability children (aged 7-11). 

During your second school experience you must teach a series of lessons, developing relationships with pupils and demonstrating that they’ve made progress. Your experience can be completed in one consecutive block or spread over the length of your Straight to Teaching course. The focus is showing you meet the Teachers’ Standards during this experience.

We understand that SEN classes vary in size and ability so as a general rule, to start Straight to Teaching the size of your class should be proportionate to the size other teachers are teaching in your school.

How to become an SEN teacher: the next steps

If you’re interested in our Straight to Teaching course, you can find out more and see if you’re eligible by visiting our course page. If you’re an existing qualified teacher looking to move into an SEN position you can view jobs available. To speak to one of our advisors please contact us at


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