Hannah McDaid explains what special schools are looking for in teaching staff
Every special school is unique and staffing demands can differ greatly from setting to setting, often involving some very specific requirements. It can be very challenging from a school’s point of view to bring someone new into their midst. A common worry when introducing a new face into the classroom is how the children will react to them. This can be a particular concern for those supporting pupils on the autistic spectrum who tend to favour familiarity and consistency.
It is very important that the new teacher going into the classroom is fully prepared. They should always have a “can do” attitude and show great willingness to support all children at all levels. They must also make themselves familiar with the school’s behaviour policies. In addition to this, teachers should be aware of issues and goals in children’s individual education plans or education, health and care plans. There are few things worse from the school’s perspective than a teacher or teaching assistant (TA) triggering a child’s behavioural issues because they were unaware of their specific needs. If this information is not given to them on day one, the new staff member or candidate should ask plenty of questions.
Many special schools prefer to have the reassurance and confidence they get from knowing that a new member of staff has previously worked within an SEN setting. New staff can prove to be more of a hindrance than a help to the school if they need a lot of guidance and support on issues that are fundamental to the nature of the setting.
Schools tend to give great feedback to the staff who engage and get really involved with the pupils and the role. Those who use their own initiative, lead the class, and communicate with children at all levels and abilities will always impress. Working in a special school can be very different to working in mainstream. Although lesson structures will be in place, there can be occasions when an incident might occur that will disrupt the whole lesson and the rest of the class. Having a member of staff who has a calm approach in these instances, and will adapt to the situation whilst remaining professional, is something that schools relish.
Obviously, the first contact a school or an agency might have with a TA or teacher is when they receive their CV. Schools will be looking for something that catches their eye, so it’s important for candidates to stress anything positive that makes them stand out from the crowd. A CV is effectively a selling tool, so sell yourself!
However, CVs should not be misleading. I once encountered a candidate who stated that they had experience of using hoists. Obviously this could be very attractive to a school that has pupils who require this kind of support. However, when put to the test, it turned out that this candidate did not have the skill they said they did.
The ideal candidate for a special school needs to demonstrate a real desire to want to work in this kind of setting, as it is not for everyone. Schools need to know that staff are comfortable working in what can be a challenging environment, and a candidate’s ability to interact well with pupils is one of the most important things they look for. Be honest about your experience and have confidence in your own ability. Most importantly, though, be yourself, as personality is key.
Hannah McDaid is Director of the Merseyside branch of Connex Education, which specialises in the recruitment of supply teachers, TAs, SEN and nursery staff: