At Axcis, we support many education professionals who are looking to make the transition from working in mainstream environments to special needs schools, units and provisions. But without specialist experience, how can you make your CV and cover letter look appealing to schools? Here are some useful tips you can use when considering making the move.
Of course, the standard advice on writing cover letters stands. If you’re not familiar with it, check out our blog on writing an effective cover letter. However, it may seem like a much more daunting task when it feels like you have little or no experience in the sector for which you are applying. This is why we thought we would offer some tips specifically for those who are new to the SEND sector on what to include in their cover letter to schools or agencies:
- Demonstrate that you are ready for this transition – by the time you start to apply for SEND teaching/support roles, you should have done some research and decided if you feel you are suitable for this sort of work. You need to explain what research you have done, and why you feel that you are suitable, despite not having direct experience. If you have done some volunteering, observations or even had a consultation with one of our Axcis staff, mention it (and what you learned from it) – the school will be encouraged to take your application more seriously.
- Explain that you understand what the role entails – after reading the job description and looking at the school website, you should have an idea of the sort of special needs which are catered for. From this, you should be able to find some information on what sort of levels these children are likely to be working at, and hence how lessons should be pitched and what sort of activities are appropriate. If you have any friends or family who work in special schools, it may help to discuss it with them – they should be able to give you pointers. When writing your cover letter, you’ll need to include some examples of how you would adapt your current classroom practice. This includes both delivery of lessons/activities as well as classroom management and assessment strategies, where appropriate.
- Remember to tell them what you can bring to their school – when changing sector, it’s easy to fall into the mind set that you are a sponge and ready to learn all about the new environment you’ll be working in. However, you should remember that you will still have some core skills and attributes which they will find useful, too. This might be things like your subject knowledge, classroom management skills or pastoral passion – but it might also be things like organising trips, a penchant for gardening, swimming or going to the shops! (These are all activities which are popular in developing life skills and mobility in special schools so if you show you’d be keen to get involved in these things then it may appeal to many schools).
As above, when writing a CV to support a mainstream to SEND transition, the standard advice still stands. You can read our CV guidance here. However, if you find that your biography, work experience and qualifications are a little lacking on the SEND front, here are some tips for making the most of what you have:
- Personal statement – make sure you include why you want to move from mainstream to SEND teaching/support. This doesn’t mean you should include everything you’d write in a cover letter – your personal statement should be much more concise. However, you should definitely talk about the fact you have done some research, know what to expect and are passionate/excited about making this transition on a professional level. Including a personal reason for why you want to make the move is also a good idea to demonstrate your passion and commitment.
- Experience – your current CV is likely to list a number of mainstream schools in which you have already worked. You should make the most of this experience by explaining the following for each school you’ve worked in:
- What proportion of SEND are on roll
- What specific needs the school catered for in the time you were there
- Any SEND individuals you worked with in your classes, and how you formed a partnership with the TA and/or SENCo to achieve the best possible outcomes for these students
- Any other experience you gained directly related to SEND pupils – for example, did you liaise with outside agencies, assist in the Statement/EHC process, support parents, run any training to share good practice with other staff?
- Other experience – if you didn’t work in schools which had SEND students on roll, or have limited professional exposure, you should make sure that you include any other relevant experience when outlining your work history. For example, if you have done volunteering, working on summer holiday play schemes, or even looked after the children of friends or family with a SEND, you should include it. Any experience is useful, even if it’s not formed part of your professional career so don’t miss out on this opportunity to showcase it as part of your CV. If you’re not sure how to put dates down, you could include something like “On an ad-hoc basis during the dates (from) (to) – child minding relative with autism.”
- Qualifications – any standard teaching/support qualification is relevant, but you should also include any training or qualifications you hold specific to special needs. These may be from CPD/Inset training sessions rather than being formal qualifications. The sorts of training SEND schools will find appealing (among others) re:
- Any form of communication training – from British Sign Language to using PECS, Makaton, Sign-a-Long or any other form of communication support.
- Any form of behaviour training – from Team Teach to Positive Options or any of the other systems of behaviour management training. Many teach very similar principles to each other and will be useful in SEND schools. Even if you’ve done basic in-house behaviour training, it’s worth including in this section of your CV.
- SEND training – if you have done an inset on supporting students with autism, or any other sort of special need, include it!
- Moving and Handling Training – if you have completed any courses on how to safely move others (this could include using a hoist or how to lift another individual manually using a particular training system) make sure you include it in your CV as many special needs schools will have students on roll with reduced mobility so your training could be very valuable.
Why using an agency can help
Many staff looking to make the transition from mainstream to special needs do so with the assistance of an agency, and at Axcis we recruit ONLY for the special educational needs sector, which puts us in an excellent position to help. There are several reasons why doing it this way can be very beneficial for you:
- Your agency should be able to discuss your skills and experience with you and suggest where you’d fit in well in the sector, as well as discussing your overall suitability for SEND work.
- Your agency should already have plenty of existing relationships with schools, which puts your consultant in a good position to know which schools will appreciate your skill set, and which schools offer good levels of support for those new to the sector.
- Doing supply work will allow you to try out different SEND schools and roles until you find your niche.
- Short-term supply work does not usually require a CV to be sent to the school, so if you are looking to increase your experience in order to improve your CV, doing it this way can help (but you need to be flexible and willing to try out different schools and assignments).
- Many short-term supply positions become longer-term, or even permanent jobs. So if you are looking for a way to take smaller steps rather than jumping straight into a permanent post, this can be a great way to do it.
- Some agencies will offer to provide you with specialist training. For example, at Axcis, we provide Autism Awareness training, Team Teach, Moving and Handling as well as a range of other useful CPD courses to help enhance the skills of our contractors.
If you’d like to talk to a consultant at Axcis about making the transition to special educational needs, get in touch with your local office today for a friendly, no-pressure chat. We’d love to help you!