Recruitment in special educational needs


Elizabeth Holmes advocates a school SEND recruitment strategy which takes applicants from a wide variety of backgrounds, to find those hidden gems.

Running a successful special educational needs school, or department in a mainstream school, requires a team with many skills and great depth of knowledge in order to support children and young people effectively. In order to ensure that your staff team has the skills and knowledge required, the recruitment process will need to draw on as wide a pool of potential candidates as possible. While those from a traditional route of initial teacher education may be suitable for your needs, other professions such as psychology, and even accountancy, law and medicine may also produce candidates with just the skills and knowledge that your setting requires.

Emma Hawkins, Director of Education at Jigsaw Trust, recruits psychology graduates and would happily take more. “We tend to attract them because of their interest in behaviour. Psychology graduates learn about different approaches to learning as part of their degree and we are able to provide them with the opportunity to apply this within a SEN setting.” 

The experience that psychology graduates typically have from their degree studies can lead to an interest in approaches to learning for children with SEND and the research surrounding this. As Hawkins has found, “I would happily take more psychology graduates as they learn about different approaches to learning and like to turn that theory into practice in a SEND setting. We also explore a lot of data when supporting different behaviours and we write up and share research so that we continually add to our knowledge base.”

Having the opportunity to try out different strategies in an environment that supports research and innovation will appeal to many with an interest in child development. It is not just psychology graduates who are of interest to those recruitingin SEND settings. As Hawkins explains, “I also recruit people who are TAs from other settings who wish to progress their professional learning within a specialist setting, and who are motivated by the many supported CPD opportunities we have available to our staff team.”

Casting your net as wide as possible in the search for suitable candidates can be fruitful even if additional education and training is required. Hawkins said, “The people we recruit do not have to come from a traditional teacher training route. Often the psychology graduates we recruit don’t arrive with experience of working with children, but they have a strong interest in working with children with SEND. We then are able to provide the necessary training and professional development within our school.”

Teacher Cherryl (@Cherryl-kd), who has extensive experience of leadership in SEND, feels that recruitment in SEND is nuanced and much can be gained from recruiting from a wide pool of people with varied talents. She explained, “People who work with adults and children with SEND are always required to have the same skills. At interview they are expected to demonstrate that they are caring, compassionate, empathetic, patient and understanding amongst other necessary skills. However, there are a myriad of other skills which make a person successful in working with those having special needs. These might include time management, decision making, quick thinking, communication and organisation skills.”

Transferable skills from other professions can be very welcome in the world of special education. Compatible skills with those needed in such a caring profession can mean that a candidate has a strong chance of a successful career in SEND despite originally taking a different career path. As Cherryl said, “Some of these prerequisites might easily come from other professions and it can be advantageous to cast your net far and wide when looking to recruit staff. For example, an accountant can bring spreadsheet proficiency necessary for keeping medical records and care plans. A solicitor can bring knowledge of the law and the ability to compose an email to ensure the disabled person is in receipt of all their benefits and other entitlements. Recruiting from other professions gives access to more candidates who will bring their own skills and a new perspective to the role.

External candidates may also provide excellent role models and show the person with disabilities that they may be able to aspire to a career outside of the caring profession.”

Involving all staff in the successful care for, and education of, children with SEND lies at the heart of the Jigsaw Trust which is another reason why the “wide net” approach is seen as desirable. Hawkins told me, “We encourage staff to look for solutions based on their knowledge of behaviour and understanding of the individual pupils they are working with.

They read up on relevant research and look for strategies to improve specific situations. It is everybody’s responsibility to find solutions.”

In addition to this, staff in SEND settings tend to work alongside interdisciplinary teams so that staff can know and understand how different teams work. Not only do staff members bring with them a range of experience and skills in SEND but they learn from each other in multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary teams.

The message is clear for anyone wishing to recruit staff into a SEND setting: don’t narrow your focus too much, or there is a danger that eminently suitable candidates may be overlooked.

And from Hawkins, the key for anyone interested in working with children with special needs, is “to recognise that there are various routes to entry whether you are a graduate or not, and we would encourage anyone keen to work within this area to research all the options available to them and to speak to organisations to see what avenues might be open to them.”

If these messages are taken on board, we could see recruitment in SEND blossom at a time when we clearly need breadth in knowledge, skills and expertise.

Elizabeth Holmes
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Elizabeth Holmes specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.
T: @eteach
Linked: @eteach


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