Hiring challenges in the SEN sector and how to overcome them


A career in SEN? Amy Allen explains.

During the past year we have seen an increase in the numbers of people wanting to join the SEND employment sector.

Looking to make a difference

The pandemic has made people re-evaluate their career paths and think more clearly about what they want to achieve through their job. Many people are now looking for a role within the SEN sector that makes a difference in their communities.

Unfortunately, despite this boost to the sector, there are still some problems that need to be discussed, and solutions found, to make this positive change last.

It is really encouraging to see that lots of people are moving into SEN from a wide variety of sectors, bringing important transferable skills. However, we still need to make sure that the appropriate training is given to all who enter the field.

Anyone who shows the dedication, passion and focus to do a SEN role must be welcomed with open arms, and given the right support.

Employers should consider a more ‘attitudinal recruitment’ approach when hiring in the future. We all have to learn new skills to succeed in SEN jobs and so, really, an applicant’s personality is the most important factor in telling us if they are suitable for a particular role.

Career expectations in the SEND sector

In special needs settings, employers should provide new staff with:

• An induction period

• Full training, updated as regularly as possible

• Access to mentors

• Opportunities for further training

• An awareness of a wider network of SEN staff to provide further advice and support

• The chance for career progression.

Hiring challenges in the SEN sector and how to overcome them

If these requirements are met, then people will feel more incentivised to find a career in SEN, and those within the sector will feel they have a bright future.

One major hurdle when hiring staff for SEN education roles, isthat applicants do not feel they have had enough experience and training to support a special needs class. Research spanning the last ten years suggests that new or trainee teachers are not confident, or comfortable, to enter the field after completing their training course.

So how do we overcome this?

Many university courses now make it a requirement for trainees to gain experience in a SEN school, either during the programme or before they apply. Also, education recruitment agencies, which provide short and long term roles in schools, offer teachers and teaching assistants temporary roles in the SEN sector. This means that employees can get to know the expectations and day to day life of a special needs setting, before they decide to commit to a long term position.

Encouraging trainees and new staff to follow this route can be a very effective way of building confidence and skills.

Looking for opportunities

How do we help build up the confidence and experience of those who are looking to work in other areas of SEN, such as carers and therapists?

Well again, there are some fantastic agencies that can provide temporary placements, and applicants will learn all sorts of tips and skills that can help them into a permanent role. However, it is also important not to forget that there are many volunteering websites that can connect trainees with groups and care settings, boosting their skills and experience.

Sometimes we just need to remind people about the opportunities in their own area, and that they can actively seek them out.

Interview time.

Keeping morale high

If all these training and confidence-boosting considerations are taken into account, then hopefully we will have amassed an effective and happy community within the SEN sector. But once staff have come through the door, we need to work hard at retaining them.

For example, roles which are widely (and wrongly) labelled as being ‘unskilled’, such as that of the support worker or teaching assistant, often come with a rate of pay that is barely more than the minimum wage. This shocking fact reduces any motivation to stay in SEN because employees feel undervalued.

On a more personal level, there is no doubt that some SEN jobs are very physically and emotionally challenging. This can affect the mental health of staff.

To address the possibility of a high staff turnover, some organizations are finding ways to boost morale. There has been a great push to support employees with their mental and physical wellbeing. Incentive awards are becoming very popular and discount schemes are being set up, ensuring that the incredible work being done is recognised.

Now that we are coming out of lockdown and the number of SEN roles increase, we all have to work together to ensure that our current problems do not obscure what our job really means – life changing support and freedom for those who need our help. If you are a manager, experienced worker or are just starting out, you can make a difference to the working lives of your colleagues by talking with them about their problems and supporting each other.

Amy Allen
Author: Amy Allen

Amy Allen
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Author Bio – Amy Allen, Founder and Managing Director of Senploy.  

Our mission is to get more people working in Special Education and to make it a career of choice that is full of opportunity, satisfaction and reward. The lives of children and young people with additional learning needs and disabilities can be transformed by having the right education and ongoing support. Imagine being an integral part of helping someone to live their best life and overcome hurdles never thought possible. That’s what you can achieve by working in our sector.

Amy Allen has a career spanning 18 years in recruitment, special education and parenting. Mother to two daughters, two dogs and a growing business, she is dedicated, focused and thankfully enjoys being busy! Her commitment to the special education employment sector is embedded in a desire to ensure every child and young person receives the right support, coupled with facilitating employment opportunities for those who work in the sector.


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