How to become a SEN teacher

How to become a Special educational needs teacher

If you want to become a special needs teacher at a SEN or SEND school, you’re probably already aware of how rewarding an experience it can be. There are of course challenges but the teaching experiences on offer will no doubt be some of the most memorable and gratifying.

So here’s our guide on how to become a SEN teacher:

How to become a SEN teacher- getting the qualifications

Unlike becoming a teacher in a mainstream setting, there is currently no postgraduate special needs teacher training route, to directly prepare you for working in a SEN school. Many SEN teachers move into this area once they have been teaching for a few years and have gained experience of managing SEND pupils in their primary or secondary school.

To be a teacher in any state funded SEN school you will need to have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) and therefore a degree, however SEN private schools may not have the same qualification requirements.

If you do not currently have a degree, many universities offer a Special Educational Needs and Disability BA and whilst these type of degrees do not always lead to QTS or a PGCE, it would no doubt stand you in good stead for specialising in SEN teaching further down the line after Initial Teacher Training.

How to become a SEN teacher- TA to Teacher

If you are working as a teaching assistant or as an unqualified special needs teacher in an SEN school, you might already be in the best position to become fully qualified by using the existing experience that you have. You are not only well acquainted with the school’s systems and processes but you will also have relationships and bonds with pupils that are so vital at this stage of their development.

To help you qualify as a teacher without leaving your school, Tes Institute provide a blended, in-school and online QTS development programme called Straight to Teaching. It is aimed at support staff like TAs who are looking to take the next step and become a qualified teacher in their school, whether SEN, primary or secondary focused. We support TAs working in all main school types in England and whilst the majority of these are primary or secondary, 11% 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 here- some of which are required to start the programme and others can be obtained before you are assessed for QTS.

The programme is unique in that it takes into account your existing experience, meaning the more relevant teaching time and responsibilities that you’ve had, the shorter the programme might be. Once you’ve joined the programme, you can continue* to teach in an SEN setting, unlike traditional teacher training which must be undertaken at a mainstream school.

Although the majority of your teaching time can be in an SEN setting, you will need to complete a second school placement in a mainstream school lasting at least 30 days. You’ll need to teach the same curriculum as your special school to full classes. So if you teach primary SEN pupils, you’ll have to teach all the standard primary subjects in the mainstream school. The same goes for secondary, where you will have to teach up to GCSE level in your secondary subject.

The exceptions to this are: 

  • If you teach SEN teenagers at KS2 ability- in this case, during your placement, you would need to teach the curriculum to nationally expected Key Stage 2 ability children (i.e. 7-11) 
  • And if you teach in a middle school you're required to complete an extended placement, consisting of 20 days in a mainstream secondary school teaching Key Stage 3 and 20 days in a mainstream primary school teaching Key Stage 2. 

During your placement you must teach a series of lessons, developing relationships with pupils and demonstrating that they have made progress- it can be completed in one consecutive block or spread over the course of your Straight to Teaching programme.

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.


Find out more about Straight to Teaching


How to become a SEN teacher- personal qualities

As an SEN teacher, you’ll need a multitude of skills but some of the most important are:

  • Planning and organisational skills
  • Adaptability to changing situations
  • Able to communicate effectively
  • Behaviour management skills and the ability to deal with challenging behaviour.

How do I become a SENCO?

A SENCO is responsible for the daily implementation of the SEN policy across mainstream schools. All mainstream schools are required to have a SENCO and to hold this position you need to:

  • Be a qualified teacher
  • Achieve a National award in Special Educational Needs Coordination within three years of appointment.

Many universities offer SENCO courses, which vary in length from 1-3 years. Click here for more information about the SENCO qualification.

How to become a SEN teacher – the next steps

If you’re interested in our Straight to Teaching programme, see if you’re eligible here. If you’re an existing qualified teacher looking to move into a SEN position view jobs available here OR you’d like to speak to an advisor please contact us

*You will need to leave your school for the 30 day second placement- if you haven’t already completed it.