Working with pupils with SEN is as much about personal qualities as about skills, writes Beth Murphy
Recruitment for SEN settings is a specialised field which school leaders in both special and mainstream schools can find particularly difficult, especially when they are recruiting for one-to-one support. The big question is: what does it take to work in this challenging but rewarding field?
It is important to ensure people working in this sector are really thinking about what the children with SEN in their care need in order to flourish. In my experience, it takes someone with a real passion to work with children and young people with SEN, as well as the knowledge of what difficulties these children and young people face on a daily basis. Sourcing the right individual is key, as both staff and pupils can react negatively if they don’t have the right people working with them.
Many children with SEN have communication difficulties, so they need teaching staff who understand the issues they face and who can communicate in ways that are practical and meaningful for the child, rather than just expecting them to fit in with the teacher or other pupils. Every school has a responsibility to meet the needs of the children in its care. Staff who really know SEN will appreciate that there are different ways of approaching a child and they will recognise that cementing a relationship is key to engaging the child in any form of learning. A child-centred approach lies at the heart of all good teaching, and this is particularly important for pupils with SEN.
It is important to understand that this is a niche job and having the right staff in place is essential in ensuring the needs of children are met and that they are able to meet their full potential. Short-term or day-to-day supply appointments do not generally work well for children with SEN, as many struggle to cope with change and this can lead to distress and subsequent issues with behaviour. Consistency in learning and care is key to meeting children’s needs.
I believe that a educator’s character can be just as important as their experience or qualifications, especially in an SEN setting. You can teach someone about SEN but you can’t teach them about passion and empathy. You can help them to understand things like autism or manual handling, for example, but you can’t necessarily show them the aptitudes they need to be able to approach a child with care and compassion and build relationships with them. You can’t teach them to want to make a difference. Children with SEN need teachers and support staff who can see “the able not the label” and who are ready, prepared and able to share in their successes, no matter how small they may be.
Beth Murphy is Managing Director of SEN Recruitment, which provides specialist SEN recruitment services to mainstream and special schools: