Paving the Way for SEND Pupils: An Interview With a Specialist SEND Teacher

1-2 minutes

In this blog, you will learn:

  • About the importance of nurturing the growth and learning of young people with SEND.
  • How to educate young people with SEND to achieve positive outcomes.
  • How to find and apply for the best SEND Teacher jobs.

Considering a career in the Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) sector but not sure how to make a significant difference to the lives of children and young people with SEND? We recently chatted to Jools Butcher, a Specialist Teacher who has used his experience and expertise to find quality programmes for children and young people with SEND which can lead to successful careers and positive outcomes.

After working in a mainstream secondary school for 20 years, Jools decided to step down from his role as a SENCO and returned to teaching young people with SEND. He is now working towards becoming Careers Lead at a specialist school for 7 to 19 year olds that works with a range of students with moderate learning difficulties.

Jools has a passion for improving the learning opportunities of SEND pupils, he teaches English and Business in his spare time and writes the scheme for the curriculum.

Throughout this interview, we uncover how this Specialist Teacher uses his experience to motivate young people with SEND and the benefits to working in a specialist environment.

Tell us about your career journey so far

After completing my training as a Teacher through the now re-established Graduate Teacher Programme route, I was quite quickly afforded the opportunity to work as an Assistant Head of Year at a mainstream secondary school in Essex.

This role brought me into contact with a number of young people with additional needs in such a different way; it allowed me to start considering and developing my own practice by trying to engage and motivate young people with SEND to enjoy learning.

I began to understand how I could use their experiences to identify ways of developing activities and programmes to inspire them to learn thus reducing their incidences of conflict. It was about changing their focus from expecting the worst outcome to strive to achieve the best.

I was then given the chance to manage the old school Work-related Learning Programme (WRP) where young people sought work experience placements and were taught on a greatly reduced timetable in school.

I had been thinking of looking for a role in a Specialist SEND school for some time and applied for a number of roles and was lucky enough to be taken on as a Teacher (a step down financially but not in any other respect) at a very successful SEND provision.

What action have you taken to improve the lives of young people with SEND?

After a few years of working as the main Teacher on the Work-related Learning Programme with young people with SEND support, I felt it was not working as we hoped, and that the young people were not achieving positive outcomes. I knew something had to change.

In response, I devised a programme within the curriculum at the school and sought to educate young people with SEND to achieve different outcomes and give them access to local colleges and a wider range of courses.

The school’s leaders understood this and allowed me to develop this programme that quite quickly became successful from year 7 through to year 11. We even began to reach out to our feeder primary schools in a more efficient way in order to gather information that would help us think about how we could work more effectively.

I then decided that I would like to learn more about the role of Learning Support Assistant (LSA) and undertook, independently, a Diploma in SEND Teaching Assistant which I really enjoyed. It gave me an insight into how I could use LSAs to support the learner’s more effectively, not only on the SEND-based programme in the school but in the wider school community.

As a result of this work, I was asked to qualify as a SENCO and took over the role in 2015. The school partly funded the National SENCO course for me which I completed within a year. I undertook this role for 7 years in the same mainstream school and after this time felt that I could not take the role any further.

What does your role as a Special Education Teacher consist of?

I came to my current provision as a maths and Business teacher and was excited to teach something new from my combined honours background in english and social skills. I loved teaching maths in my first term and after one term, I moved to teaching English after a dedicated maths Teacher was brought on board.

The Business and Enterprise Role is great; I love writing the scheme for this part of the curriculum and highlighting how to develop our learners through our year groups. 

It has been interesting looking for Nationally Assessed courses for our learners to engage with and enjoy and link them into our curriculum at the College and Trust as a whole.

I am now looking at developing our careers strategy by engaging with national bodies like the Department for Work Pensions to see how they can help us provide quality programmes that lead to successful careers.

Describe a typical day

I’ll get in around 07:30am and prep my day by organising all of my resources and other elements such as trips/visitors and getting the classroom ready for the sessions. 

The pupils arrive at 09:15am and we greet them in the playground and at 09:30am we take them to classrooms for registration and settling and lessons start at 09:50am.

We teach 2 core lessons every day except Fridays and then one Personal, Social, Health and Economic/Careers based session and then options in the afternoon. Most of my work is with the older cohort so I teach a lot of transition and careers-based lessons and programmes.

Fridays are a whole other kettle of fish as Friday is our ‘Community Day’ and I always take a group of learners out into the Public Domain! So, having done a Risk Assessment during the previous days and a pre-visit I will organise any medications that need to be taken for the young people and then complete all of the last logistical bits that are needed for the trip!

How do you collaborate with other professionals, such as Teaching Assistants, therapists, and parents, to support the needs of students with SEND?

We work hand in hand with our learning mentors who know the pupils as well as if not better than us. They see pupils in a broader scope around the college and help us guide the learners through our lessons and the day as a whole. 

We meet as a team once a week to discuss wider issues such as pupil matters and safeguarding, and we have an open door policy and we encourage each other to ask questions about pupils from our groups.

We are constantly engaging parents through meetings, phone calls and emails as well as the standard Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) review meetings. We have parents’ coffee mornings, information days and regularly hold next steps meetings involving external professionals to let our parents/carers know what we are doing!

There is so much more that goes on that I don’t have time to talk about, but the work of each young person is constant! I work on a lot of cross school groups and I definitely benefit from seeing best practice in other settings.

How do you keep up-to-date with changes in the education and SEND industry?

I regularly attend training courses to enhance my education knowledge which I will then share in our weekly team Continued Professional Development meetings to update our curriculum.

I also find it is good to learn from colleagues and I am lucky enough to work with colleagues from across our trust and from other settings. This is invaluable to improve personally but also to help develop our own setting and move forward and we are striving – somewhat ambitiously – to do this in so many areas.

I am currently on an external course learning about internships and this is just one way that we keep up to date! We have weekly meetings about what we want to do to develop our offer and are constantly visiting other schools to see what is good practice! The Trust that I work for is growing quickly and we are always striving to improve our practices.

How have things changed or progressed in the Education and SEND industry?

Having been in mainstream education for 22 years (7 of which were as SENCO) prior to moving into the SEND industry two years ago, I feel that I am working in a place where I can make a difference – not that I couldn’t in my last post but working in a mainstream school with 1300 pupils with 16% of SEND population you always felt as if you were trying to fit round pegs into square holes.

Here, with 130 learners you feel that every day you make an obvious difference and you get to see it! We listen to pupils more (maybe because it’s easier with there being less to listen to and we are really developing our curriculum to fit around their needs rather than following an over-didactic curriculum that gets fed to us by the need to pass exams! There is less money in the SEND sector though and this is more obvious on a day to day basis.

Can you share some challenges you’ve faced in your role as a SEND Specialist Teacher and how you overcame them?

Since starting I have developed a very intense careers-based programme, part of which was embedding a two-week work experience placement for 26 learners with Speech Language and Communication Needs and Social Emotional Mental Health difficulties (this gave me sleepless nights!)

I worked with a wonderful company who had a number of years of expertise in the industry. They have helped me place a number of pupils, but I found that the best way around this obstacle was to work with smaller independent companies that I could sit down with over a coffee and be honest about our aspirations and expectations.

The personal touch really works and I found that these businesses were much more accepting and appreciative of the needs and requirements of our young people.

What do you feel can be done to support the needs of pupils with SEND?

We take a very holistic approach to educating our young people with SEND and I have seen that this perspective - not being afraid to try new things or  being beholden to national statistics – is possible.

If you can intelligently share why you are doing what you are doing to support your pupils and show how your ethos supports and nurtures pupils’ learning and growth – then ‘the powers’ that be will support your plans!

What advice would you give to aspiring Specialist Teachers or SEND professionals considering a career in this field?

I worked for many years in the mainstream and shaped my teaching skills in this arena, embedding ‘Gifted and Talented’ and SEND pupils within the same classroom environment. I believe that gaining experience in this arena first will help significantly for any Teacher with aspirations to come join the SEND field.

Bringing life experience from another industry into your teaching is also very helpful! Now I am here I will never look back.

What are your career plans for the future?

I’m 48 years old now, but I’d like to keep working (if I can keep this pace up) until I am 55 years old and then I’ll start looking at retiring from full-time teaching and working through tutoring or something like that. 

Honestly, I want to be in the mountains and would like to think that when I finally get there – and I will – I’d like to work with young people in the hills!

My 9 year old daughter might have something to say about that though – when she is 17 I’m guessing that being near friends will be the most important thing in the world to her so my plans may change!

Recruit SEND Teachers

As a specialist SEND recruitment agency, we support mainstream and SEND schools with their temporary, permanent and temp-perm staffing needs. 

We currently work with hundreds of schools and have exclusive access to some of the best SEND Teachers and SEND Teaching Assistants in the North West.

If you’re struggling to fill a teaching vacancy, why not get in touch with one of our team to see how we can help?

If you want to know how to become a SEND Teacher, or why every teacher is a teacher of SEND, check out our education and SEND career hub.

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If you’re searching for your next SEND Teacher job, why not take a look at the latest teaching vacancies, or simply upload your CV to be notified when a relevant position becomes available.

Share your experience

Every individual brings a unique set of experiences, thoughts, and insights to the table. We believe in giving a voice to a community of professionals to inspire positive change and champion reform in the SEND sector.

If you work in the SEND sector and would like to share your own personal and professional experiences, we’d love to hear from you. Perhaps you have a different perspective, could offer a fresh angle, or want to challenge assumptions. 

Simply reach out to our Head of Content, Nicole Sherwood, to discuss a collaboration which makes your voice count.

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