All about the role of ... Special school nursery teacher

Anne Hayes
Friday, July 12, 2013

There are plenty of training opportunities available for those who want to become teachers and specialise in this important area, says Anne Hayes

Local authorities provide for children with special educational needs either in mainstream schools where children take part in school activities with the support of special educational needs assistants (SEN) or in special schools. Of the 38,000 twoto 19-year-old children in England with severe learning difficulties (SLD) or profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD), around three quarters attend special schools where the staffing, facilities and resources are dedicated to providing for their complex individual needs.

A report commissioned by Labour in 2010 highlighted some of the problems around the training of specialist SEN teachers. Written by Toby Salt, then deputy chief executive at the National College for Leadership of School and Children's Services, the report recommended strengthening coverage of early childhood development and basic knowledge of the definitions of SLD/PMLD for trainee teachers. It also recommended raising awareness of the fact that qualified teacher status (QTS) placement in a special school, and special school experience, can count as prior experience for admission to a teacher training programme.

The special school nursery teacher delivers the EYFS to a class of around six children with the support of classroom assistants and specialists such as the school nurse, physiotherapist, occupational therapist and speech and language therapist.

He or she works within the stated policies and practices of the school, establishing effective working relationships with the children, their parents and the school team to enable every child to reach his or her potential. A key aspect of the work is identifying individual needs and developing and adapting conventional teaching methods to meet them within a safe, stimulating and supportive learning environment.


The training route for SEN teachers is the same as that for all QTS teachers - you need a degree and must complete Initial Teacher Training. Routes into teaching include studying for a PGCE with a university or college, undertaking the School Direct Training Programme, completing a programme of school-centred initial teacher training, and Teach First, a programme designed to help participants become effective leaders in challenging schools. The National College for Teaching and Leadership can advise on these routes in greater detail.

A key feature of the professional standards for QTS is to meet the needs of all learners, including those whose needs are complex. Trainee teachers are given the opportunity to develop core skills such as: planning and teaching for inclusion and access to the curriculum; behaviour management and an awareness of the emotional and mental health needs of pupils; assessment for learning; and an understanding of when professional advice is needed and where it may be found.

The National College for Teaching and Leadership has a number of additional learning programmes aimed at enhancing skills in relation to SEN and disability. Some focus on the core skills required to manage SEN and disability in the classroom while more advanced training materials cover autism; dyslexia; speech, language and communication needs; emotional, social and behavioural difficulties; and moderate learning difficulties. The programmes are on offer to trainees, newly qualified teachers and experienced teachers.



Ginny Assinder is the nursery class teacher at The Cedar School in Southampton, a Special School for children aged three to 16 years who have physical disabilities and complex health and learning difficulties.

Ms Assinder says, 'I became interested in special needs teaching while supporting the special educational needs co-ordinator at my children's primary school. I was already a qualified teacher but wanted to learn more about special needs and took a short course in multi-disciplinary education. I began supply teaching at The Cedar School and later acquired a teaching post and then became the nursery class teacher.

'Children come to our nursery when they are three. I work closely with my two special school assistants and the new hybrid health and education care worker to provide for the children's education and health needs. One of the most important aspects of our work is developing strong relationships with parents before their children start school. The children may not have been left with other adults before. We have a bespoke induction programme; parents can stay as long as they wish.

'It's also important to get the right equipment and specialist support in place. For example, many of the children are non-verbal so it is vital to have the support of the multi-disciplinary team. We follow the EYFS curriculum and in addition to classroom activities we use the hydro pool and sensory room and the children take part in whole school activities such as choir, drama and art.

'Our school has a very supportive family atmosphere and the children have such an amazing zest for life. It's good to see them developing their independence as they progress through the school. Being a special needs teacher allows you to be creative in the ways you teach.

'I will be retiring at the end of this term and my one regret is that I didn't go into special needs teaching early in my career. It's such a huge field with so much to be learned.'

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