Special educational needs assistants assist special education teachers in their classroom duties. They tend to the physical needs of students with a variety of disabilities and help out with tasks such as bathroom breaks, bus rides, eating and classroom switches. They also provide instructional support to students, teachers and parents and prepare lesson programmes. Special educational needs assistants supply support for students tailored to their specific needs, help out with challenging assignments and monitor students’ progress and classroom behaviour.
Special educational needs assistants typically do the following:
- help teachers prepare lesson materials and equipment
- get the classroom ready for lessons and clear away afterwards
- work with groups and individual pupils to make sure they understand their work and stay focussed
- watch, record and report pupils’ progress to teachers
- supervise group activities, including outings and sports events
- provide a safe and healthy environment and follow safeguarding procedures
- help teachers manage class behaviour
- look after children who are upset or unwell
- lead classes with help from the teacher
The following job titles also refer to special educational needs assistant:
assistant in special educational needs
teaching assistant in special educational needs
special education assistant
inclusive education assistant
special needs teaching assistant
special educational needs teaching assistant
SEN teacher’s aide
SEN teaching assistant
Teacher assistants may spend some time outside, when students are at recess or getting on and off the bus. They may need to lift the students at certain times.
Injuries and Illnesses
Teacher assistants sometimes get injured on the job. They actively work with students, including lifting and otherwise assisting special education students, which can place them at risk for injuries such as strains.
Most teacher assistants work full time, although part-time work is common. Some monitor students on school buses before and after school. Many teacher assistants do not work during the summer; however, some work in year-round schools or assist teachers in summer school.
Teacher assistants in public schools generally need at least 2 years of college coursework or an associate’s degree. Some teacher assistants have a bachelor’s degree in fields such as education and psychology.
Some jobs may require staff to have certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid.
Teacher assistants who help students with special needs usually require specialized training and experience.
ISCO skill level
ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:
- the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
- the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
- the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.
Special educational needs assistant is a Skill level 2 occupation.
Special educational needs assistant career path
These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to special educational needs assistant.
Long term prospects
These occupations require some skills and knowledge of special educational needs assistant. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of special educational needs assistant with a significant experience and/or extensive training.
Essential knowledge and skills
This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of special educational needs assistant.
- Learning needs analysis: The process of analysing a student’s learning needs through observation and testing, potentially followed by the diagnosis of a learning disorder and a plan for additional support.
- Children’s physical development: Recognise and describe the development, observing the following criteria: weight, length, and head size, nutritional requirements, renal function, hormonal influences on development, response to stress, and infection.
- Disability care: The specific methods and practices used in providing care to people with physical, intellectual and learning disabilities.
- Learning difficulties: The learning disorders some students face in an academic context, especially Specific Learning Difficulties such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and concentration deficit disorders.
- Special needs education: The teaching methods, equipment and settings used to support students with special needs in achieving success in school or community.
Essential skills and competences
These skills are necessary for the role of special educational needs assistant.
- Manage children’s problems: Promote the prevention, early detection, and management of children`s problems, focusing on developmental delays and disorders, behavioural problems, functional disabilities, social stresses, mental disorders including depression, and anxiety disorders.
- Guarantee students’ safety: Ensure all students falling under an instructor or other person’s supervision are safe and accounted for. Follow safety precautions in the learning situation.
- Assess the development of youth: Evaluate the different aspects of development needs of children and young people.
- Observe student’s progress: Follow up on students’ learning progress and assess their achievements and needs.
- Manage student relationships: Manage the relations between students and between student and teacher. Act as a just authority and create an environment of trust and stability.
- Support the positiveness of youths: Help children and young people to assess their social, emotional and identity needs and to develop a positive self image, enhance their self esteem and improve their self reliance.
- Implement care programmes for children: Perform activities with children according to their physical, emotional, intellectual and social needs by using appropriate tools and equipment that facilitate interaction and learning activities.
- Assist students with equipment: Provide assistance to students when working with (technical) equipment used in practice-based lessons and solve operational problems when necessary.
- Assist in children’s development of basic personal skills: Encourage and facilitate the development of children’s natural curiosity and social and language abilities through creative and social activities such as storytelling, imaginative play, songs, drawing, and games.
- Provide teacher support: Assist teachers in classroom instruction by providing and preparing lesson materials, monitoring the students during their work and helping them in their learning where necessary.
- Support children’s wellbeing: Provide an environment that supports and values children and helps them to manage their own feelings and relationships with others.
- Perform playground surveillance: Observe students’ recreational activities to ensure student safety and well-being and intervene when necessary.
- Give constructive feedback: Provide founded feedback through both criticism and praise in a respectful, clear, and consistent manner. Highlight achievements as well as mistakes and set up methods of formative assessment to evaluate work.
- Attend to children’s basic physical needs: Tend to children by feeding them, dressing them, and, if necessary, regularly changing their diapers in a sanitary manner.
- Provide lesson materials: Ensure that the necessary materials for teaching a class, such as visual aids, are prepared, up-to-date, and present in the instruction space.
- Assist students in their learning: Support and coach students in their work, give learners practical support and encouragement.
- Encourage students to acknowledge their achievements: Stimulate students to appreciate their own achievements and actions to nurture confidence and educational growth.
- Facilitate motor skill activities: Organise activities that stimulate children’s motor skills, especially the more challenged children in a special education context.
Optional knowledge and skills
This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of special educational needs assistant. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.
- Workplace sanitation: The importance of a clean, sanitary workspace for example through use of hand disinfectant and sanitizer, in order to minimise infection risk between colleagues or when working with children.
- Visual disability: Impairment of the ability to naturally discern and process viewed images.
- Hearing disability: Impairment of the ability to discern and process sounds naturally.
- Primary school procedures: The inner workings of a primary school, such as the structure of the relevant education support and management, the policies, and the regulations.
- Common children’s diseases: The symptoms, characteristics, and treatment of diseases and disorders that often affect children, such as the measles, chickenpox, asthma, the mumps, and head lice.
- Mobility disability: Impairment of the ability to physically move naturally.
- Behavioural disorders: The often emotionally disruptive types of behaviour a child or adult can show, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).
- Communication disorders: The malfunction in a person’s ability to comprehend, process and share concepts in various forms, such as verbal, non verbal or graphical during language, hearing, and speech communication processes.
- Development delays: The condition in which a child or adult needs more time to reach certain development milestones than that needed by the average person not affected by a development delay.
- Curriculum objectives: The goals identified in curricula and defined learning outcomes.
- Kindergarten school procedures: The inner workings of a kindergarten, such as the structure of the relevant education support and management, policies, and regulations.
Optional skills and competences
These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of special educational needs assistant. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.
- Consult students on learning content: Take students’ opinions and preferences into consideration when determining learning content.
- Prepare lesson content: Prepare content to be taught in class in accordance with curriculum objectives by drafting exercises, researching up-to-date examples etc.
- Facilitate teamwork between students: Encourage students to cooperate with others in their learning by working in teams, for example through group activities.
- Escort students on a field trip: Accompany students on an educational trip outside the school environment and ensure their safety and cooperation.
- Liaise with educational support staff: Communicate with education management, such as the school principal and board members, and with the education support team such as the teaching assistant, school counsellor or academic advisor on issues relating the students’ well-being.
- Assess students: Evaluate the students’ (academic) progress, achievements, course knowledge and skills through assignments, tests, and examinations. Diagnose their needs and track their progress, strengths, and weaknesses. Formulate a summative statement of the goals the student achieved.
- Work with virtual learning environments: Incorporate the use of online learning environments and platforms into the process of instruction.
- Advise on lesson plans: Analyse policy issues which impact on students’ experience of education. Advise on the ways in which lesson plans for specific lessons can be improved in order to reach education goals, engage the students and adhere to the curriculum.
- Perform classroom management: Maintain discipline and engage students during instruction.
- Secondary school procedures: The inner workings of a secondary school, such as the structure of the relevant education support and management, the policies, and the regulations.
- Organise creative performance: Organise an event in which participants can express their creativity, such as putting on a dance, theatre, or talent show.
- Maintain relations with children’s parents: Inform children`s parents of the activities planned, program`s expectations and children`s individual progress.
ISCO group and title
5312 – Teachers’ aides
- Special educational needs assistant – ESCO
- Early years teaching assistant – ESCO
- Teaching assistant | Explore careers – National Careers Service
- How to become a teaching assistant | Prospects.ac.uk
- Teacher Assistants : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Teacher Assistant Job Description Template | Workable
- Elementary and Secondary School Teacher Assistants – StudentsScholarship.org
- Featured image: Photo by Zainul Yasni on Unsplash