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Working as a SEND Teaching Assistant

If you have been reading these blogs and wondering who might be writing them and what experience this person has of the world of SEND, wonder no more! A little about me: I am in my mid 30s, based in Hertfordshire and have been working in education in some way, shape or form for the last 13 years. I started out as an Early Years Educator working in day nurseries but have also worked in mainstream primary schools as a 1:1 SEND assistant. Currently I

support young adults with various profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) in a specialist further education (FE) provision.

SEND is an area of education that I had wanted to work in for years before I actually got there and my first opportunity arose after working as a classroom TA in a mainstream primary school for a couple of years. I had made it known that I had a keen interest in SEND and so at the beginning of my third academic year at the school, I became a 1:1 for a fairly complex young lady who was in year 2 at the time. She was non-verbal and quite severely developmentally delayed, which inevitably led to outbursts of rather challenging behaviour. She was also an absolute delight to teach and we had a lot of fun together. It was decided that she should join her class wherever possible, however there were some lessons that would be difficult for her to access due to the level of her developmental delay. So with the help of her class teacher, I set about devising a timetable that incorporated lessons she

could join her class for (PE and art mainly) and sessions I could adapt to suit her needs (reading time and handwriting, where we focused on pencil control tasks). In September I had a child who could hold a pencil and mostly scribble. By July, after months of daily pencil control and fine motor skill activities, I had a child who wrote her name for the first time – in chalk on the ground outside. I took a photo of her work and she very proudly went to show

her teacher, who got her to stand at the front of the class and show her peers what she had achieved. They all clapped and cheered her and the beam on her face is an image I will never forget.

My second role as a 1:1 was also in a mainstream primary school but was rather different. My learner this time was in the Reception year and had a diagnosis of Down syndrome. My experience of working with a non-verbal child came in handy here, as did my basic knowledge of Makaton signing. It was generally expected that this little lady would remain with her class as much as possible, which is easier to do in Reception as it is a little less structured. I spoke at length with the school SENCO and class TA, who knew this child from the nursery class, to get an insight into what I would need to put in place. I created a ‘Now and Next’ board for her, to give a visual guide to what would happen during her day. During the first few weeks of the autumn term it became apparent that most lessons needed to be adapted to suit her needs better. For example, at the time she was not able to write and so found it difficult to sit through handwriting sessions. I began using this time to encourage mark making in a more engaging way, using her finger or a paintbrush to make marks in a small tray of sand or glitter. Phonics also proved challenging, as children with DS often find it easier to learn words by sight rather than blend the letter sounds. After many weeks of repetition, she blended her first CVC word and I’m not sure who was more proud – her or me! This job also gave me the opportunity to work alongside a Speech and Language Therapist (SALT), which I hadn’t done before and found really interesting. So much so, I almost considered a career move to working as a SALT assistant!

That second role made me realise I had the knowledge and experience to work in a specialist SEND provision, so I did and 3 years later I have learned so much more and I’m still there.

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