From SEND teacher to recruiter – my journey

Samantha is a consultant for Axcis in our Midlands office. In this article, she tells us all about her journey from SEND mum to SEND teacher to SEND recruiter and why she’s glad she found Axcis.

Diagnosis in the family – the first step on the SEND road

Samantha Wilkins, Axcis Midlands

14 years ago I was called into my sons primary school to be told they were referring him to a child psychologist because he wasn’t learning in the same way as other children and wasn’t interested in making friends, this began the road to diagnosis and statementing as my son was first diagnosed with semantic pragmatism and then changed to high functioning autism, this means he suffers from a triad of impairments.


The road to diagnosis was hard not just for me as a parent but also my young son who didn’t like talking to strangers or entering new buildings, When we needed to choose a secondary school for him we went into a panic. He was offered a school without any specialist SEND staff. With the help of our MP we went to appeal and won a place at an outstanding teaching school, known for its support staff and SENCO.

The new school

From the very first time we entered the school in September the head teacher consulted with us and moved my son to a different form – giving him access to an experienced LSA. He has always been good at maths but struggled with other subjects. He was well supported through school and they made reasonable adjustments to engage him and allow him to recognise his intelligence and anxieties and thus he realised his full potential, in the end gaining 13 GSCE’s then 3 A levels and going on to study Nuclear physics at a Russel Group university (proud mum moment!)

The next step on the SEND road – teaching

This experience inspired me to become a teacher. I was once told by a support worker from Autism West Midlands that the best teachers of people with autism were the parents that had children with the condition because they truly understood the challenges these children have to face both with communication and sensory issues every single day.


I loved working as a teacher and spent several happy years supporting children with autism and other complex needs. It was great to feel that I was able to give something back  and be an active advocate for some of the most vulnerable children in our society.


However, during my time in the classroom, I also saw plenty of examples of poor practice. It was clear that not all staff were well trained in special educational needs and disabilities, and it was heart-breaking to see children not always receiving the quality of care and support which they both deserve and are entitled to. This was one of the things which led me to become a SEND recruiter.

From SEND teacher to SEND recruiter

I saw becoming a recruiter as a fantastic opportunity to work closely with schools, and to ensure that children with SEND receive the best possible members of teaching and support staff to work with them.


Since joining Axcis, I have visited many schools and had many discussions with senior leaders about how to best support the children in their care. It’s not an easy job – simply because of the sheer variety of special needs and the varying level of support needed by the children in our classrooms. But I do my best to understand not just the skills and qualifications needed by the staff, but the human element, too. It’s important to get the right personality when selecting staff to support SEND children. Some children respond well to bubbly, high energy teachers and support staff, where others might need a quieter, calmer personality to help them to engage with their learning.


This is why my mantra is listen, understand and respond. There is nothing more important in the recruitment process than understanding the needs of the children who the staff you select will ultimately work with – I find that if I get this first step in hand, then the rest naturally follows and I am able to select staff with not just the right qualifications and experience on paper, but the right personality too.

Are you seeking SEND work or staff in the Midlands area?

If you’re seeking SEND staff, or work in the Midlands area, why not get in touch with Sam today? Or if you’re interested in SEND work in other areas, register on our website or get in touch with your local office to find out how we can help you.

Introducing Erin (Axcis South West & Wales)

Axcis is continuing to grow as more and more schools hear about us and start using our services. As a result, our South West & Wales offce has a new consultant, so if you’re seeking work (or staff) in the Gloucester or Swindon areas, why not get in touch with Erin? Find out a bit more about her here.

About Erin

I hold an MA in International Education and prior to joining Axcis, I worked as the Head Counsellor/Supervisor for an American summer camp catering for children (from all over the world) aged 7-16. It was my job not only to interview, train and manage the summertime staff members, but also to ensure the health and welfare of the campers was placed at the forefront of the

Erin Walton


Most recently, I was the Student Services Manager at Bath Spa University’s joint venture company, Bath Spa Global. On a daily basis, I worked with international programmes aimed at students who required additional educational support while embarking on their higher education journey.

Every child has the right to a fully supported and care-filled education, regardless of personal circumstances. It is our duty to speak out and stand up for those individuals who, for one reason or another, may not be able to do so for themselves. Children of all shapes, sizes and abilities are our future – we need to do everything we can to ensure that future as bright as possible!

In my spare time, many of my interests revolve around sport. I am the captain of my Bristol-based softball team and have just joined a touch rugby league.   As an American, I am an avid American football fan – a lifetime fan of the New England Patriots!

I’m always keen for a good hike, and will soon begin training for an attempt at the Three Peaks Challenge. Walking the West Highland Way has always been a dream of mine and I hope to tick that box off my list very soon!

Would you like to work with Erin?

Erin covers the following areas for Axcis: Gloucester and Swindon. If you are seeking work (or staff) in these areas, then get in touch with Erin today to see how she can help. Or if you’re seeking work in any other area, register online and we will put you in touch with your personal consultant in your local office.


Planning for an autism friendly Christmas (guest post)

Sue Goldman

Sue Goldman is an autism education specialist offering support, advice and teaching to autistic children, their families and educational settings. She has kindly written us this guest post about planning for an autism friendly Christmas.



Music, glitter, festive foods, surprises, colour, presents, lights, concerts, people… and more people!


There is so much to love about Christmas time but also so much to challenge our autistic pupils. As timetables and routines are thrown to the wind, many of us relish the freedom and unpredictability of the festive season but, for autistic children, the loss of safe structure can feel confusing and worrying. There is concern about what lies beneath wrapping paper, the profusion of visual and auditory stimuli can feel overwhelming, the constant stream of people in both public and private spaces can just be too much – and this can lead to stress, meltdowns and shutdowns.


However, I bring good tidings…!


There is much that we can do to support our pupils through this very special time of year, helping them to enjoy the wonderful stuff whilst minimising the tricky bits.

Know your students

Preparation and planning are key elements of a successful autism-friendly Christmas. Keep up the visual timetables, giving the right amount of advance warning for your particular pupil. Some will need more preparation time, some will find waiting hard to handle. As always, be guided by your knowledge and understanding of the individual you are working with.


Surprises are generally quite hard for an autistic child to cope with. Involve them in decision-making and be creative when thinking about how to help them to enjoy the surprise elements of Christmas. For example, you could wrap presents in cellophane, which preserves the excitement of unwrapping while reducing uncertainty. If the class is having a party, try asking your autistic pupil to help you to set it up while the room is quiet. It can be much easier to be part of creating the transition to a party room than to enter a room that is so different to normal.


Food issues are magnified around Christmas, both for children who love food and for those who have very selective diets. In general, it’s a good idea to stick to familiar mealtimes, foods and routines as much as possible, whilst also offering opportunities to step out of comfort zones in a safe way. New foods can be introduced through play, which offers a low-anxiety strategy for helping pupils to become familiar with unusual smells, tastes and textures. Cinnamon play dough anyone?

Plays, concerts and all that jazz!

Practise, practise and practise again! Autistic pupils can and should have the opportunity to be part of Christmas celebrations, including plays and concerts, but you will need to think about how to fit their role to their abilities and preferences. They may need more opportunities to practise than other children, maybe starting with a trusted adult, then building up to a small group, then to a bigger group and finally to the full group with an audience. Don’t underestimate how much courage and energy this can take for them, but don’t deny them the chance. They may surprise you! The behaviours that we expect at Christmas (for example, decorating a tree or giving presents) can also be practised through fun, structured turn-taking games – adapt the words of a simple tune to create a clear beginning, middle and end to the game, make or find some appealing props and off you go…!

Play to their strengths

Play to their strengths. Autistic pupils are unique, complex and hugely rewarding to work with. When you discover what they like and are good at, they will often bring exceptional commitment, focus and talent to the activity or task, and there is no joy as deep as autistic joy! So harness their autistic superpowers! Your Christmas will be better as a result.

Remember to relax!

Remember the importance of rest and relaxation! Christmas is an all-singing, all-dancing, bells-and-whistles-on sensory smorgasbord, which can just be too much. Encourage breaks during which your autistic pupils can do whatever they need to do to help themselves to stay calm and well-regulated. Provide quiet spaces or access to outdoors to give decompression time and let them know that you will be responsive to them when they communicate – through words or through actions – that they have had enough.

Further reading

For more thoughts, I would recommend the excellent NAS guide to Christmas, which parents may find particularly helpful (, and also the advice for pupils produced by the fabulous autistic young people at “Ambitious About Autism” (

***I wish you and your pupils a sparkling and peaceful Christmas***


Note: I am deliberately using identity-first language (‘autistic child’ rather than ‘child with autism’) as the autistic community expresses a clear and strong preference for this.


More information at

Register with Axcis and become connected to a range of specialist and mainstream schools in your area for work.

Huge thanks to Sue for this fantastic submission. If you’re interested in working with SEND students, either in a teaching or support capacity, why not register with Axcis or check out our jobs pages today?

SEND news roundup from our partners

At Axcis, we are thrilled to be associated with the National Autistic Society and nasen. Each month, we bring you the latest news highlights from our partners, so if you’d like to know what’s been happening with these great organisations and in the world of SEND, read on.

NAS News

Below you’ll find a list of some of the latest autism news, compiled by our friends at Network Autism. Each title is clickable and the link will take you to their website where you can find the full story.

Get the latest SEND news here with Axcis

  1. Chris Packham, Aspergers and Me
  2. Debunking myths about autism in schools
  3. Review of local area SEND inspections
  4. £3.3 million to help disabled young people find work in London
  5. Major study on autism and mental health launched
  6. More support for autistic children who show aggressive behaviour
  7. Professor Uta Frith on what teachers need to know about autism
  8. Learning from autistic perspectives
  9. Lenehan review into residential special schools
  10. Autistic teen creates game to help people understand autism

Nasen News

Below you’ll find a list of the latest SEND news from our friends at nasen. Each title is clickable and the link will take you to their website where you can find the full story.

  1. Local Area SEND Inspections – One year on
  2. Submit your entry for the ERA Awards
  3. i asc research project
  4. SEC survey into the transfer process for Statements to EHC Plans
  5. Tribunal decision regarding young people aged 16-25
  6. New interactive resource out now
  7. Proportion of statements and EHCPs in special schools over time

Are you seeking work with young people with SEND?

Register with Axcis and become connected to a range of specialist and mainstream schools in your area for work.

Register with Axcis and become connected to a range of specialist and mainstream schools in your area for work.

If you’re not already registered with Axcis, but would like to seek a special needs teaching or support position, why not get in touch or register today and find out how we can assist you? We have offices nationwide and a team of expert consultants who have proven relationships with specialist and mainstream schools in your area.


5 common concerns about Behaviour Schools (guest post)

Graham Chatterley

Graham Chatterley is an assistant head at a school in Warrington for pupils with a range of SEMH needs. He has 4 children, the youngest 2 of which have varying ASD needs. One being very high functioning with some social and understanding difficulties, however managing well in Mainstream Primary. The other having significant ASD, ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder needs requiring an SLD setting. This has put Graham in an unusual position of experiencing both sides of Special Education Needs which has aided his understandings of both. He has kindly provided this guest post for the Axcis blog.

5 common concerns about Behaviour Schools

Firstly ‘Behaviour Schools’, ‘Naughty boys/girls Schools’ or ‘Schools for Delinquents’ don’t exist. There are too many acronyms in the world but SEMH really does describe what we do. We support children socially. This has been the barrier to them fitting in at their previous School. For some children this is a difficulty they have because of upbringing and is a skill that can be learned, for others it is something they find impossible because of a learning need and it is something they will never master but can get better at and cope in society.


We support children emotionally. It is how a child feels that causes them to behave in a certain way. Sometimes this is aggressively which gets them excluded but doesn’t make them bad. By helping ourselves and the children to understand how they feel we can reduce and prevent the behaviours. Emotional literacy is a key that unlocks so many doors to helping a child’s wellbeing and behaviour.


We support the child’s mental health. So much damage can be done in the early years of a child’s life and we are just starting to understand all aspects of healthy child brain development and how its evolution can be irreparably changed by things like trauma and neglect. By understanding and building relationships we can hopefully halt and even reverse some of this damage.


We are not a ‘Behaviour School’ and we are not like a prison. Yes we deal with behaviour, yes we deal with aggression, but behaviour is the secondary symptom and too much focus goes on it. If somebody has an infection which causes a temperature you have to treat the infection or the temperature won’t go away. By all means keep applying a cold compress and giving paracetamol but the temperature will keep coming back. All too often this is where schools go wrong, they have excellent staff who apply the cold compress and dish out the paracetamol but don’t have the time or staffing  to treat the infection. They can calm down an angry child quite effectively but can’t teach them to control their anger. That is what we try to do.


Three children could experience the same thing and feel the same way about it. One cries, one is verbally abusive and one throws a chair at the head teacher. Even

though they have the same experience and the same negative feelings because of the behaviour they will be treated differently. One will be excluded and be referred to me, one will receive a punishment in school and one will receive pastoral support and be wrapped around. They should all be wrapped around and receive the pastoral support. They are being punished for losing an emotional lottery of how their body reacts to negative feelings.

If a child is angry and knocks over a chair, quite often they will be told to pick up the chair. If a colleague at work comes into the staffroom and knocks over a chair we ask them what’s wrong. Why is it different?

If a child is angry and knocks over a chair, quite often they will be told to pick up the chair. If a colleague at work comes into the staffroom and knocks over a chair we ask them what’s wrong. Why is it different?


Saying that the decision to send a child to a specialist setting is a big one. I went through it with my youngest and even though we knew with his extreme needs he could never go to mainstream, choosing the right provision was difficult and so important. So for any parent trying to find a setting for their child who is statemented for behaviour related needs I want to challenge a few of the perfectly natural and common concerns;

Concern 1 – Stigma

‘Because my child is in a special school people are going to look down on me and think I’m a bad parent’!

This statement might be true; on occasion people will see “special school” and cast an opinion. However I can guarantee that not doing what is best for your child because of fear of what other people think is letting a child down. If they have learning, physical, developmental, social or emotional difficulties they should be in the best place to meet those needs. I have children at school who have excellent supportive parents whose children’s difficulties are completely out of their control. I have a son with severe autism and Sensory Processing Disorder who requires an SLD setting.


Do people talk behind my back? Probably. Does he get the care he requires? Absolutely. Am I remotely bothered what people think? No chance.


A setting like mine seems different though, there are still so many misconceptions around ADHD or ODD or High functioning autism. People don’t fully understand that a chemical imbalance in the brain is no fault of the parent but human beings make snap judgements; have wrong opinions and unfortunately love to criticise others. I do have my share of parents who have played a role in their children’s difficulties I cannot deny this, and I have many children who come to my school because of their early life experiences but I also have plenty of parents who do there absolute best to support their child through their difficulties. What pains me greatly is parents who refuse to even come and look at our school and what it could offer their child because ‘my child’s not going to a special school!’.

Concern 2 – They will learn naughty behaviours

Again, this is possible. For a number of reasons some of our children will use bad language, show verbal and physical aggression and many other negative behaviours at times. Therefore it is possible a new child may see these and may pick up some learned behaviours. However these will still be deemed unacceptable and be challenged and are more than likely no worse than what they see on TV and in computer games. It would be a real shame to deny all the positive opportunities we could offer because they might pick up a new swear word.


In reality, the behaviour of our children is not that different to those in mainstream. I am not naïve enough to believe that my own two teenagers don’t swear, haven’t seen kids fighting and have mates who smoke. The difference is that those children, who are successful in mainstream know when and where to do it and are able to show self-control.

Concern 3 – Getting bullied

Now this is one concern I can absolutely debunk. There is a far higher chance of a child being bullied in a mainstream school than in special and there are two main reasons for this; the first reason is that there are less children and the staff are more vigilant. Again that is not a dig against mainstream. Especially in secondary schools, the staff to pupil ratios are far higher and it is inevitable that children will have more opportunity to bully. Don’t get me wrong, we get altercations and aggression towards each other but what he have is much more spur of the moment and reactive. It is very unusual we have something that builds over time like bullying often does.


However, the main reason we don’t have it is because nearly all our children didn’t fit where they were and now they do. This means that they are incredibly accepting of each other’s differences. We vertically stream so that the children are in classes with likeminded children and learn tolerance towards each other. They still drive each other nuts at times and they still find each other annoying but they understand that it’s not necessarily deliberate or that child’s fault. They look at themselves, how they were when they started and give each other time to work on it.


I have a number of really vulnerable children, very unique in their own ways who have struggled all their lives to fit in and make friends. These children are interacting, working and playing together and the knock on benefit to their mood, self-esteem and behaviour is something that couldn’t be achieved isolating a child and teaching 1 to 1.

Concern 4 – They won’t achieve the academic qualifications they would in mainstream

Again, there is a small element of truth in this in that the same amount of GCSE subjects won’t be on offer. Other than that I would argue that the results children leave my school with are far better than they would have achieved at mainstream. This is because the chances are that to have come to special they either weren’t attending or weren’t achieving and those 2 things will not get GCSE grades. All our teachers were secondary teachers and have taught children through to A* level. The knowledge is therefore no different to secondary. The difference is they have every teaching style imaginable to get the best out of and engage children who hate the classroom, are petrified of writing and have huge emotional difficulties or a range of learning needs. It doesn’t work for all, some will never achieve good GCSEs. This does not mean they shouldn’t do them but what are they good at? We will find out and use it to gain other qualifications like vocational, life skills etc which all count and give that child the opportunity to get to college.


The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter how many GCSEs a child has if they aren’t equipped to deal with adult life and so our focus and the focus of special education is to give that child as many skills and coping strategies to go on and have the most successful life they can. Give them the social tools to have relationships, teach the self-control, to hold down a job and to raise their self-esteem so that they attempt these two things in the first place.

Concern 5 – It didn’t work at the last school, why will this be any different?

It is different for all the reasons previously stated. It is based on relationships and knowing a child inside and out. It’s about understanding the causes of the difficulties rather than focussing on the negatives. It’s about meeting all the needs of the child not just academic or health or emotional literacy. Most importantly it’s about making a child believe they can change and when they want to change giving them the tools to do so.


These are the conversations I regularly have with concerned parents who walk through the door. They are conversations I love to have because just like when I see a child buy in to what we are trying to achieve it is fantastic, to see a parents opinions change when they see hope for their child after facing so many barriers is just as amazing.


Register with Axcis and become connected to a range of specialist and mainstream schools in your area for work.

Huge thanks to Graham for this fantastic submission. If you’re interested in working with SEND students, either in a teaching or support capacity, why not register with Axcis or check out our jobs pages today?

Do you have care work experience? Axcis needs you!

Did you know that many of the schools we work with at Axcis require staff with care work experience? This is because lots of children with complex needs or disabilities may require care assistance while at school. So, if you have a background in this area and would be interested in working in a school environment, read on to find out how Axcis can help you!

Why should I use my care experience in a school environment?

  • There is a shortage of staff in this area, so you’re likely to find work quickly
  • Hours are usually more sociable than traditional care work – most schools (unless residential) will expect you to work school hours, in term time.
  • This work often pays better than traditional care work – speak to your local Axcis office for further information on this
  • There are some great opportunities for training and progression within the SEND education sector for those wanting to progress into this career.

What does an educational carer do?

An educational carer will usually provide in-school support for children and young people with complex needs. These needs can vary greatly and may include personal care, moving and handling, assistance feeding and generally completing day to day tasks. As you’ll be in an educational setting, you’ll also be working with the individual(s) during lessons, helping them to participate in activities as directed by the teacher.

What experience do I need for this role?

As with all classroom based work, you must have a good standard of literacy and numeracy. This is because you’ll be communicating regularly with colleagues, parents, medical practitioners and parents as well as the children themselves. You may be asked to write or contribute to progress reports and Education, Health and Care Plans, among other things. You must have a patient and calm attitude and be reliable and punctual. It’s really important for the continuity of learning for there to be as few changes in staff as possible for SEND children. You don’t necessarily need to have any previous experience working with children but this would help your transition to the classroom.

How can I find educational care work with Axcis?

If you think you would be suitable for educational care work, why not get in touch with your local Axcis office for a no-pressure chat with one of our friendly consultants? They will discuss your skills, experience and what you’re looking for in your working life, and will be able to advise you on whether they feel this sort of work would be suitable for your situation. So why not give us a call? What do you have to lose?

Is mindset the single best solution to bullying in schools?

It’s anti bullying week so I thought I’d share my thoughts on something I read recently about mindsets, which could help schools to stamp out bullying.

How it started

Me speaking at the conference

It started when I was at a head teachers conference. We were sponsoring the event, so I went along on behalf of the company to the keynote address, where I had been asked to say a few words. I thanked everyone for coming, spoke briefly about Axcis and then took a seat, leaving the main speakers to take to the podium.

The Growth Mindset

One of the other speakers gave an inspirational talk about the most effective measures of progress. He talked about mindsets and how important it is to foster a growth mindset in our young people if we want to provide them with a desire to learn and to take pleasure from their failures (yes, pleasure! Research shows that children who are taught to relish failure and to see it as a chance to challenge themselves go on to become positive, engaged and independent learners). Anyway, after his address, I went to have a quick chat to this chap. I explained that I have a small boy at home and asked if he could point me in the direction of some further reading. I certainly wanted to do my best as a parent to raise a child with this amazing “growth mindset”. He directed me to read Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset“. And so I did.

About the book

Axcis Andy having a read of Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset”

The book is all about the differences between a fixed and a growth mindset. As I’ve already briefly mentioned, one of the key differences between the two is that a person with a growth mindset will not see failure as a negative. In fact, failure is seen as a challenge, a chance to learn, to improve and to become a better person (which is why it can be so key in a learning environment). In stark contrast, a person with a fixed mindset will often not cope at all well with failure. In fact, it can be so damaging to a person with a fixed mindset that they may refuse to even try things if they think they might not be able to do them. The fear of failure is that strong. (Does that sound like anyone you know?) They will often try to attribute blame to a third party for their own shortcomings (“it’s not my fault, I’ve got a rubbish teacher”!) and they may also appear to take pleasure in the failure of others as it can help them to feel more secure. This is dangerous ground for a potential culture of bullying…

Understanding bullying

During my time teaching, I heard other staff say things like “bullying is just a part of life, it helps to build character”. But I don’t agree. Bullying can destroy lives, lead to suicide in the worst cases and can harm the mental health of our young people for years to come.  It’s important to understand why some children act as bullies if we are going to come up with a plan to prevent/deal with the problem.


In her book, Carol Dweck tells us that:

“Bulling is about judging. It’s about establishing who is more worthy or important. The more powerful kids judge the less powerful kids. They judge them to be less valuable human beings, and they rub their faces in it on a daily basis. And it’s clear what the bullies get out of it. They get a boost in self-esteem. It’s not that bullies are low in self-esteem, but judging and demeaning others can give them a self-esteem rush. Bullies also gain social status from their actions. Others may look up to them and judge them to be cool, powerful or funny. Or may fear them. Either way, they’ve upped their standing.

So, what can schools do about bullying?

Carol also tells us in her book that:

Individual children can’t usually stop the bullies, especially when the bullies attract a group of supporters. But the school can – by changing the school mindset.


School cultures often promote, or at least accept the fixed mindset. They accept that some kids feel superior to others and feel entitled to pick on them. They also consider some kids to be misfits whom they can do little to help.


But some schools have created a dramatic reduction in bulling by fighting the atmosphere of judgement and creating one of collaboration and self-improvement.


While I can’t go on to quote her entire book, (and no, I’m not being paid to promote it, either!) I can share a few ways that you can promote a culture like this at your own school. You can:


  1. Empower the bullies, but don’t call them out on their behaviour. This means that you can explain to them that a person is upset about the way they are being treated and seek assistance from the bullies themselves. Ask them to help you come up with a plan to help/support a child who is the subject of bullying.
  2. Praise their efforts. Bullies need the boost in self esteem that they get from their negative behaviour, so this needs to be replaced by positive reinforcement on your part. If you can see that a bully is getting into fewer confrontations, tell them that you’ve noticed this and think it’s great!
  3. Aim to turn the bullies into ambassadors for anti-bulling in your school – after all, it’s likely that they are already well liked and respected and that they have a group of “followers” who will dutifully emulate their behaviours

Further reading

This article is intended to give a brief outline of mindsets and how understanding the fixed and growth mindsets can help to overcome bullying in your school. If you’d like to implement these ideas as part of your school’s anti-bulling programme, then I’d strongly suggest that you read Carol Dweck’s book in full (I am not suggesting that I am an expert in this area or that this article gives a one-size-fits-all solution to the issue!)

Are you seeking work with young people with SEND?

If you’re not already registered with Axcis, but would like to seek a special needs teaching or support position, why not get in touch or register today and find out how we can assist you? We have offices nationwide and a team of expert consultants who have proven relationships with specialist and mainstream schools in your area.

Moving into special needs teaching and need to ace a trial day/lesson?

Are you in the midst of moving from working in mainstream schools to special needs schools? Do you need advice on how to perform well at a sample lesson/day? If the answer is yes, then this article is for you.


Method of application

Find your next SEND job with Axcis

Your method of application for a position may directly affect the selection process. Those applying directly to schools will have to complete an extensive interview pack before being invited in for a formal interview/lesson. If, however, you are applying through an agency for a role at a special school, the process may well forego a formal interview and move directly to a practical “trial day”. Temporary positions are often a great stepping-stone for those wanting to transition from working in mainstream to special needs schools as the selection process is often based more on how well you actually perform in the job, rather than your suitability on paper for a given role. Regardless of your method of application, you need to perform well with the children if you want to be offered the job. But how do you do that when you don’t know the class and might be a bit anxious about your level of knowledge when it comes to working with special needs?

Remember, the basics are important!

Before you start getting into the nitty gritty of the differences between working with mainstream  and SEND pupils, remember that all the basics still apply. This means you need to dress appropriately, be on time, be prepared with all your lesson plans/materials and have a friendly/approachable and confident (but not cocky) manner – first impressions really do count – especially when you have just one day to impress a school.

Do your research and pitch your level appropriately

When planning a special needs lesson, you need to understand the level at which you should be pitching it. If you work through an agency, your consultant should be able to give you an insight into the school and the approximate levels at which the students work. It would be no good turning up to an MLD school with a lesson plan geared towards PMLD students and vice versa, so it’s important that you find out a bit about the school and what sort of learning outcomes are typical for the students in the class. Most schools have a website which will give information which will help, or you might gain insight from inspection reports. Social media can also be a useful tool – you can find special needs teachers or groups and ask for some direct advice on how to pitch your lesson and what sort of learning outcomes are suitable. Remember, the school knows that you don’t have the details of the class you will be taking, so they won’t expect a perfect lesson in-keeping with that the students are currently learning, they will be looking for your teaching methods, attitude, ability to engage with the students and direct the support staff so try not to get too bogged down in the actual content of the lesson, but try to pitch your activities at about the right level, and have some easier/harder tasks available to aid differentiation. If you have time, and the school is willing, they may be prepared to have a look at your lesson idea beforehand and let you know if it’s suitable for the group you’ll be working with.

Ask to see EHPs

When you arrive at school, ask if there is time to look at the EHPs (formerly Statements of Special Needs) or learning plans for the group you will be working with. Some schools will be eager for you to do this, others may be too pushed for time and may need you in the classroom. Even if you don’t have chance to read these important documents, the school you are interviewing with should be impressed that you at least WANT to see them. If you do have a chance to look at them, don’t panic about remembering every tiny detail – even a quick scan will give you an idea of the needs of the children and how best to support them with your teaching method. Look out for triggers – if it transpires that playing music (for example) may lead to a meltdown with a particular student, and your lesson happens to include playing a song, you might want to have a quick re-think!

Speak to the support staff

In a mainstream classroom, teachers will have usually come across support staff, such as teaching assistants before. They will often sit with an individual student, or group of students and help them to complete their classwork. While the role is similar in special schools, due to the (usually) more widely varied needs of the students, the support staff can hold the key to whether a lesson goes smoothly or not since they are the people who really understand the needs and limitations of the children in that group. Therefore, if it is possible to set a starter  activity  which the children can work on independently, it will give you a chance to run through your lesson plan with the support staff and make any last-minute adjustments. Even better if you can speak to them before the lesson begins. It doesn’t need to be an in-depth discussion of your lesson – quickly showing them your plan or telling them what you intend to do and asking if they foresee any problems should be enough. It’s too late at this stage to completely re-write the lesson so only minor adjustments are likely to be possible, but the support staff will appreciate being involved and feeling that their opinion matters to you. And remember, their opinion of you may well be instrumental in whether you are offered the job or not!

Use a range of teaching and learning strategies

In a special needs setting, you may be working with students who have a huge range of limitations. In some environments you may have non-verbal or partially-verbal children in your class, or you might have students who have physical disabilities to the point where they are not able to hold a pen and engage in writing tasks in a traditional way, so make sure you have a range of teaching and learning tools at the ready. There is plenty of information out there on how to engage students with more complex special needs in your lessons, so if you are interviewing for a role with a class like this, be sure to have some ideas on how to achieve your content. For example, some students might find that tracing a word in a tray of sand is achievable, but holding a pen to write it may not be. It may be a good idea to sketch out your learning objectives and then devise several different methods of achieving each task required to meet them – but keep it simple as you may need to carry any additional materials for the lesson with you and you won’t want to lug a huge suitcase around with you!

Be honest if the debrief

After your lesson is finished, you will usually have an opportunity to discuss how it went with a member of the school management team. If you know that there are areas you need to work on, acknowledging these and explaining how you would improve them in future will go a long way to impressing your observer. Nobody will expect you to be an expert on a class you have never worked with before, but you can impress with your self-evaluation and willingness to learn and improve. This is they key to what we find many special schools are looking for, so don’t beat yourself up if your lesson didn’t go 100% to plan.

A note for agency trial days

At times, I have received calls from teachers who have prepared for a trial day and then feel let down that they did not have a senior member of staff observing them, especially if they didn’t get offered the job. However, it must be remembered that the feedback of the support staff will be taken into account when making a decision on who to hire, and in many special schools their opinion is very highly regarded.

If you are considering making the transition from teaching in mainstream to special needs school and you’d like assistance from an agency, why not give your local Axcis office a call to see how we can help? Registering with Axcis won’t cost you a penny, and we’ve helped many teachers to make the move to special needs.

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Axcis sponsor local special school Christmas Card initiative

With self employment in the UK at an all-time-high, it’s never been more relevant for children to learn about running a business. And having special needs is proving not to be an issue for students at Highshore school in London.


Enterprise students at the south London Special School have created their own Christmas Card business. Here at Axcis Education Recruitment, we have commissioned them to design this year’s company card. Representatives from the company will visit the school to select a design, and will then commission the students to mass-produce it so it can be sent out to clients in the run up to Christmas.


We loved the design the students came up with last year

This is an important imitative for the students, who learn about all stages of the business cycle through this process, from creating a bespoke design for a client and getting it approved, to producing the cards and delivering them – all of course  for an agreed price.  The teens will need to consider the cost of the materials they use, the time it will take to produce each card and how to ensure a degree of uniformity in the finished product.


A similar arrangement has been in place for the last two years, and has proven to be highly successful, with students benefitting from a deeper understanding of the business cycle. A representative from the school explained that:


“Axcis have done so much with our students. Relationships like this one teach the students about the whole cycle of business – designing and making products for a client (Axcis) –when you have finished the order you get paid – you can use this money to then buy new materials to make more products and earn more money! Having a client makes it more real for them. Along the way students also learn about things like marketing, profit, customer service skills, organisation, such as stock taking, numeracy and handling money etc. Any profits students make from their enterprise activities goes towards their end of year residential. This is a big incentive for them.”


Staff at Axcis are thrilled to be involved in this again in 2017, and can’t wait to see what designs the students come up with this year!


If you’re seeking SEND work, or staff for your provision, why not get in touch with Axcis to see how we can help?

Introducing…Cassie (Axcis North Wales)

Axcis is continuing to grow as more and more schools hear about us and start using our services. As a result, Axcis has a new consultant, so if you’re seeking work (or staff) in the North Wales area, why not get in touch with Cassie? Find out a bit more about her here.

About Cassie

I’ve been working in education recruitment since 2007, and many of these years have been spent working in close partnerships with mainstream and specialist provisions, sourcing SEND teaching and support staff.



At home, I also have a son with mild Asperger’s syndrome and a step daughter who struggles with dyspraxia – giving me personal knowledge of some special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and what the system can be like from a parental perspective.


I feel that this background puts me in a fantastic position to understand the needs of the schools I work with, and to find well qualified people who are perfectly suited to the provisions in which I place them. For example, on one occasion, which I am particularly proud of, I interviewed a profoundly deaf candidate (I am Level 2 BSL trained) and placed them in a specialist HI school. I feel that my empathy, knowledge and ability to do things like this are what sets me apart from many other SEND recruiters.


In my spare time, I enjoy theatre and dance. I also like to get outdoors – you can often find me climbing, walking and taking part in charity events.


Please don’t hesitate to contact me at any time for advice regarding your personal recruitment needs. I’d be happy to hear from you or visit you at your education establishment to discuss your requirements in detail.

Would you like to work with Cassie?

Cassie covers the following areas for Axcis: North Wales. If you are seeking work (or staff) in this area, then get in touch with Cassie today to see how she can help. Or if you’re seeking work in any other area, register online and we will put you in touch with your personal consultant in your local office.