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Working in special schools- what's it like?

(17 Posts)
purpleaura Fri 27-Nov-15 11:09:14

Apologies if that is the wrong terminology. It doesn't feel right, so if you can correct me please do.
I'm an ex secondary biology teacher, thinking about getting back into teaching. I want to work with vulnerable children and I'm wondering what it's like working in a special school? Do you get a real sense of helping people? Is it mega pressured and stressful and admin driven, like mainstream? Do you spend all your time collecting 'evidence of progress'? Do I need extra qualifications to get a job in one? I'd love to hear some stories of what it's like, good and bad. Any advice also welcome. Thanks x

Clarella Fri 27-Nov-15 14:30:37

I love it.

It's difficult to compare - I was just coming on to moan about how much teaching has changed; we are getting the influx of admin, appraisals etc and our new head is putting a lot of pressure on us - but in truth it's from ofsted.

We have been outstanding many times as it's very much teaching over time. About the relationship between you and your pupils in much much more of an in depth way. However we had very little actual outstanding lesson obs as quite frankly it can be hard to know what to actually do, in our school each year group and class can be very different from year to year. I've had pupils who are so disregulated that often all they will do all day is play with Lego, but then gradually you build up routines, task reward task reward etc and the learning is more facilitated rather than actively taught.

Ofsted have just changed the criteria so unless there's outstanding teaching you can't be outstanding.

Sen schools are inspected every 3 years regardless of outcome as results cannot be relied on.

You have to be a bit of a one man band at times -.or rather work with your team very well, share ideas with other staff etc. I have to try to think of activities rather than turning to teaching ideas etc, to suit the child and their learning style. But not being able to do this utterly frustrated me.

You have to be rather bomb proof too. To poo, snot, being wacked, shouted at, cuddled etc. But I do love it.

I've been completely trained on the job. I know I demonstrated that I was a very visual teacher in interview; I have an art degree.

I teach in a primary Sen school for moderate learning difficulties, autism and complex needs. From non verbal to aspbergers. I don't ever really feel like I stop learning.

Clarella Fri 27-Nov-15 14:44:18

In summary yes We've started to have to collect evidence of progress as all of it is teacher assessment. This then means we need a more rigorous monitoring system.

Currently, in our school, it's getting a bit much. But these things tend to run their course and get rejigged as we all realise we aren't able to meet needs if our primary focus is paper work.

parrotonmyshoulder Sat 28-Nov-15 08:36:55

I love it, and Clarella's post is a great description of life as a teacher in a special school.

I have a primary class in an all-age special school. It's the fourth I've worked in and the good bits are all still good. The relationships with children and your team, the constant need to think on your feet and to jump on teachable moments when you can, because it's difficult to predict when they'll arise.

'Bomb proof' is right - although I have cried once this week.Discreetly and briefly though!

Lots more data than there used to be, lots more target setting and evidence collecting. Some of this is important and a good sign that we've moved a long way from special schools merely being places of care rather than education. But a lot of it is unecessary and takes up time that should be spent on more important things.

And it's very hard to show academic progress with a child who, as Clarella describes, is 'so disregulated' that attention to learning tasks is not possible at that time.

DoreenLethal Sat 28-Nov-15 08:54:40

Yes there is a qualification in it now - for people who are specialising in teaching those with learning difficulties or disabilities [link below]. I did it last year and have taught 14-19 in this area for the last 5 years and now have my own company that delivers Alternative Education for those with behavioural difficulties that have been permanently excluded. I have to say it is hard hard work. Hard. Relentless. But when someone does progress the rewards are huge. Until the next day.

www.ncl-coll.ac.uk/courses/5231/education-and-training-for-learning-difficulties-and-disabilities-specialists-fda-part-time

purpleaura Sun 29-Nov-15 19:36:32

Thanks very much ladies. Very interesting. It sounds like you really feel the passion in what you're doing. That's wonderful. Tough job though. I'm not sure that I'm ready for that quite yet. I think I might try and do a bit of work shadowing and get a feel for some of my local schools. Thanks again. x

BumpPower Fri 04-Dec-15 16:54:52

Shadowing sounds like a good idea. I have worked in lots of different types of school - independent primary, state secondary, inner London mainstream, special needs unit within mainstream etc and now work in a special school. I think the big difference is in a special school Everyone is special - sounds silly but it means you really have to knuckle down and muck in with others. You can't argue yeah but I have a GCSE group or but I have x who has seizures, or y who is autistic or z who will punch me in the face if I don't get it right. Everyone has classes like that and so if you are asked to prepare a 5min piece for the carol concert, teach anti-bullying week, show progress, get involved in sports day you have to find a way to do it. It's extreme differentiation and I love it but many wouldn't.

AwfulBeryl Fri 04-Dec-15 17:01:30

I loved it, I worked in a school for children with pmld and autism and challenging behaviour. I honestly loved most of it, some days could be intense, but it was always exciting, interesting and rewarding. I left to go on mat leave and didn't go back.
I work with adults with learning disabilities in a training centre/ college now which is great but I do miss my old job.

ReallyTired Mon 14-Dec-15 22:55:19

What type of special school are you interested in? Working in a pupil referral unit would be a very different experience to a school for the deaf or psld school or mld school. I am not a teacher, but I believe many teachers get into working in a special school through supply work.

I am not a teacher, but I have worked in a special school. I think the biggest difference at secondary level is that you teach children rather than a subject. Teachers and support staff get to know the children really well. It's a mistake though to think that a special school is an easy option. Just because the classes are small does not meant that there is less marking, paper work or targets. OFSTED strikes terror into special schools as much as mainstream.

ReallyTired Mon 14-Dec-15 22:58:26

The best special school teachers I have met have the ablity to keep calm when everything else is in chaos.

BackforGood Mon 14-Dec-15 23:17:08

Depending on your LA, 'a special school' can cover a MASSIVE range of different types of school though..... primary / secondary / all age..... specialising in ASD / SLD / MLD / HI / VI / PMLD / psychiatric / behaviour......hospital / shared site with mainstream / own site / Resource Base.....etc., etc.

My experience is it is a bit harder physically and emotionally (when you have children with degenarative conditions and life limiting illnesses for example), as well as all the body fluids that seem to end up on you.... but there is also a lot of joy and love there too. It's very rewarding, but, like all teaching, still ridiculously skewed in the actual teaching : pointless paperwork ratio.

ReallyTired Tue 15-Dec-15 02:52:06

There isn't much in the way of bodily fluids in an EBD or psychiatric setting. A secondary MLD setting might have a handful children in nappies, but the majority are toilet trained. Death of students in a secondary MLD setting happens, but it's not that common. I knew a young girl whose cause of death had nothing directly to do with her disablity. Death hits a special school really hard because they are very close communities.

I agree that working in a special school can be hard emotionally. In EBD or MLD behaviour can be very challenging. It's not nice having to restrain children or being assaulted.

I would strongly recommend you visit any school to see what it is like before applying.

SisterViktorine Tue 15-Dec-15 07:04:54

There isn't much in the way of bodily fluids in an EBD or psychiatric setting

We have different experiences of that then ReallyTired because I have worn a lot of spit, experienced more than one incident of angry poo-smearing and even the odd angry w*nk in my time!

SisterViktorine Tue 15-Dec-15 07:05:26

Don't let me put you off though OP- SEMH is great!

ReallyTired Tue 15-Dec-15 09:34:37

Children do revolting things in mainstream schools.

Every special school is different. The special school I used to work at spitting might happen if a child was restrained, but behaviour was not quite as bad sistervickortine described. The children that I worked primary special need was learning difficulties. Not all children with learning difficulties have behavioural issues just as not all children with behavioural difficulties have have learning difficulties.

Children are all individuals and do not fit into neat boxes. A child who has been excluded from mainstream might be beautifully behaved at an MLD school. Pupil referral units are good at working out what went wrong.

Sadly more and more special schools are closing. There is less choice for children with learning difficulties than before.

Considerphebas Sat 26-Dec-15 09:42:11

I work in a special school, mixture of pmld, ASC with sensory needs and multi sensory impairments. I love it and will never, ever go back to mainstream! I'd agree it can 've very intense and draining at times but I have so much freedom to design a curriculum that suits my class and with a class of 7 students I can get to know each one incredibly well & build up great relationships with parents. You do end up doing lots of things you never prepared for- particularly medical procedures! And you need to be very patient, it can take weeks to make a small step of progress but our management team are all experienced SEN teachers and understand that progress in a lesson isn't possible for most of our pupils (wether OFSTED will agree I don't know!)

IonaNE Thu 31-Dec-15 22:49:13

Unless it's EBD, you will be doing a lot of personal/physical care (including changing nappies). In my native country only TAs do this in special schools but in the UK being a teacher makes no difference, you will be on the rota and will also be expected to do this when taking children swimming or to hydrotherapy. Only get into SEN teaching if you are OK with this.

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