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A lifetime’s journey from special needs pupil to supporting others with SEN

If you had told me nine years ago that I would now be working with children and young people with SEN in schools, I would have laughed at you.

When I was a child, I was in and out of several SEN units, and taught different lessons from the rest of my peers. At the time, I found all this so alienating and hard to understand, as I wanted to be just like the rest of the pupils. When I was 11 years old, I went to a school which caters for students with moderate learning difficulties. I really enjoyed the first couple of years because everyone was learning the same thing together and it wasn’t like it had been at primary school.

When I hit puberty, I started to see things in a different light. I began to notice that some of the other pupils’ needs were much more complex than my own. When I was with my friends at home, I wanted to be like them – normal, as I saw it back then. I just wanted to go to a mainstream school like everyone else. At that time, my behaviour began to change and I started to get more frustrated and angry at school, as I thought that I was “normal” and that I should be in a mainstream school. As a result, my behaviour worsened. However, in spite of this, my school arranged for me to attend a mainstream school for a couple of subjects. Unfortunately, I struggled to keep up with the other students and I returned to my own school full-time.

During the rest of my school days, I began to realise who I was and I started to work with the teachers instead of against them. As a result, they agreed to enter me for two subjects at GCSE level and gave me lots of support and extra tuition. I did not do well in the exams but I did do well in ten Entry Level subjects. All this taught me that if I stuck at it and gave it 100 per cent, I could do so much better both academically and in life generally.

On leaving school, I was accepted onto a 12 month youth work training scheme a full two years earlier than they would usually consider. During this time, I worked in schools and youth clubs, both leading and assisting. My main role was working with young people with both moderate and severe special needs.

This gave me a passion for working with children and young people with special needs and I began an NVQ2 course in learning and teaching (a teaching assistant course). This involved both academic work and volunteering two days a week at a special needs school catering for students aged between three and 19. I successfully completed the course and gained my certificate.

I now realise that I am capable of achieving so much in life and my goal is to work with children and young people who are in the same situation that faced me during my school days. Through my experience of working in schools, I have found that there are indeed students facing the same difficulties and frustrations that affected me. I know that an education in a special needs school may not be the be all and end all, but it can be just as much of a launch pad into a full and amazing life as that in a mainstream school.

Further information

Jakob Whiten has worked for youth organisations in SEN drop-in centres and in an SEN school. He now works in an SEN day care centre.

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