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Working in a Special Educational Needs School

Differences between Special Educational Needs and Mainstream education

As a parent or educator, you may have heard the terms "special education needs" and "mainstream education" used interchangeably. However, these two types of education have distinct differences that are important to understand. In this article, we will explore the differences between special education needs and mainstream education, and why it is important to recognize and support diverse learners.

Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) can affect a child or young person’s ability to learn and develop. It can affect:

  • Behaviour or ability to socialise, e.g. struggle to make friends
  • Reading and writing, e.g. dyslexia
  • Ability to understand things
  • Concentration levels, e.g. ADHD
  • Physical ability

Every school in the UK is different, and the requirements within the role of the Teaching Assistant may vary depending on the additional needs of the children within the setting.


apprentice testimonial

Apprentice Testimonial

"My time as an apprentice has taught me so much about working in an SEN environment. I learnt about all the different needs and how I as a TA could support them with this to make sure this doesn't affect their learning.

I learnt Makaton sign language which I am very proud about as I can communicate with the students who require it.

The apprenticeship has given me independence for me to grow but for the times I have needed support.

The whole experience of working in an SEN environment is so rewarding as you are helping students everyday with their academic work and also their emotional and physical needs. You feel happy when you see the students you have helped with succeed."

— Demi B - Woodlane High School


Here are some examples of duties and responsibilities that a Teaching Assistant is required to support within mainstream schools, and Special Educational Needs schools.


Mainstream Schools

  • Work with a class, group of children, or on a 1:1 basis (if SEND is identified).
  • Support with assessment for learning, e.g. marking homework, live marking in the lesson, assessment during interventions, etc.
  • Ensure that resources and activities are adapted and promote inclusive practice.
  • Support positive behaviour for learning following the school’s behaviour policy.
  • Work in partnership with parents/carers and colleagues, e.g. class teacher and SENCo, etc.
  • Being a professional, flexible and approachable member of the team, e.g. covering lunch cover and changes in their timetable, etc.

SEN Schools

  • Work with children who has SEND in a small group of children or on a 1:1 basis.
  • Regularly support with assessment for learning, e.g. feedback to the class teacher and SENCo.
  • Ensure that reasonable adjustments have been put in place and followed.
  • Support positive behaviour for learning following the child’s individual needs identified in their EHCP.
    Work in partnership with parents/carers, colleagues, and external professionals, and attend review meetings every half-term/yearly to discuss their progress, strategies and next steps.
  • Implement recommended strategies from external professionals, e.g. PECS cards, physiotherapy, etc.
  • Being a professional, flexible and approachable member of the team, e.g. supporting a different child, etc


We would always encourage our future candidates to look at the school’s website, job description and Ofsted report to have a better insight into the children’s additional needs and expectations in the role of the Teaching Assistant. You might also attend a taster day at your new school to ensure that you have a thorough understanding of the responsibilities of the role

Behaviours that you may encounter

It is important to know that these will not be exhibited by every child, but you may encounter these types of behaviours, it is important to remember that support and training will always be offered.

Examples of common challenging behaviour:

  • Aggression (e.g., hitting, kicking, biting)
  • Self-injurious behaviour (e.g., head banging, biting self, hitting self)
  • Shouting/swearing.
  • Sexualised behaviour in public.
  • Throwing items/breaking things.
  • Soiling/smearing.

Working with children that have individual and specific needs can be a very rewarding career, you will make a real difference every day.

At Inspire you will work closely with the support team and also your placement school to ensure that you gain the skills, knowledge, and confidence to be a successful Teaching Assistant


apprentice testimonial

Apprentice Testimonial

"Since starting my apprenticeship in an SEN school last year, I’ve learned so much in my role. I’ve been able to learn how I can adapt communication, resources and lessons to best fit my class’ abilities; problem solving and behaviour management skills, as well as how to best support my learners in self-regulation.

The role has been so fulfilling and I can really see the difference my work makes in these children’s progress, which is the most rewarding part of the job.

Inspire ATA and LMP have supported me throughout this journey, offering additional training to support me in the role as well as helping me with module writing and end point assessment preparation."

— Salem B - Northway Primary School


Glossary of Terms




Special educational needs often referred to as 'SEN' or 'SEND' (Special educational needs and disabilities), is a term used to describe learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for a child to learn compared to children of the same age.



Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviours (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active.



Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.

Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory, and verbal processing speed. Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities.

For more information and guidance, please visit the British Dyslexia Association

Verbal and non-verbal learners


Verbal communication is about language, both written and spoken. In general, verbal communication refers to our use of words while nonverbal communication refers to communication that occurs through means other than words, such as body language, gestures, and silence.

Hard of Hearing


The term is used to describe people who suddenly lose their hearing in childhood or adulthood. This could happen after illness or injury, and the term “hearing impaired” or a person with “hearing loss” is also used for this group.

For more information and guidance, please visit the British Deaf Association

Cognitive and Learning Difficulties


Children with cognition and learning difficulties may have low levels of attainment across the board in all forms of assessment, difficulty in acquiring skills (notably in literacy and numeracy) on which much other learning in school depends; difficulty in dealing with abstract ideas and generalising from experience.




An education, health and care (EHC) plan is for children and young people aged up to 25 who need more support than is available through special educational needs support. EHC plans identify educational, health and social needs and set out the additional support to meet those needs.



Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a wide range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, and speech and non-verbal communication. Autism is a spectrum disorder, and each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

For more information and guidance, please visit the National Autistic Society website

Speech and Language Difficulties


Speech is making the sounds that become words—the physical act of talking. Language is our system of using words to communicate. It includes using words and gestures to say what we mean, and understanding what others say.

For more information and guidance, please visit:

Visual Impairments


Visual impairment is the term used to describe a loss of sight that cannot be corrected using glasses or contact lenses. There are two main categories of visual impairment: Registered partially sighted, which means the level of sight impairment is moderate.

For more information and guidance, please visit the NHS website.



Social Emotional Mental Health - Social, emotional, and mental health (SEMH) needs are a type of special educational needs in which children/young people have severe difficulties in managing their emotions and behaviour. They often show inappropriate responses and feelings to situations.



Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) Services are provided by the NHS for children and young people up to the age of 18 who require additional support with their emotions, their behaviour, or their mental health.





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