Special Needs Officer

Approximately 20% of pupils are defined as having special educational needs - caused by physical disability, speech and language problems, behavioural problems or learning difficulty at some point during their school careers.  Councils are responsible for providing appropriate education for them.  Most children can be given extra support in mainstream schools.  A small percentage attend special schools.  Councils have a duty to assess the provision required to meet children's special needs.  Special needs officers are employed to manage the process and to make recommendations on possible support.  Around two per cent of children of all children are likely to require what is known as a 'statement' - a formal document detailing the special needs and provision being made to meet them.  Special needs officers work for county, unitary and metropolitan councils.  They are also known as special educational needs assessment officers.

Work Environment
Special needs officers are based in offices within education departments.  However, they are usually responsible for all the schools in a geographical area and spend a large proportion of their time in visiting schools and attending meetings and case conferences.  Hours of work are 37 per week, but flexible. Some evening and weekend work is required.

Daily Activities
Requests for assessment normally come from schools; sometimes from parents. Special needs officers first ask the school to provide written information - which includes the reasons for the assessment request, details of special measures already in place, medical reports, examples of the child's work, and notes of parents' wishes. When they have weighed all the facts, they decide either to give responsibility for planning further assistance directly to the school or to undertake a very detailed review of the child's needs known as a 'statutory assessment'.  Before making the decision, they might ask advice of colleagues, educational psychologists or the authority's senior education officer responsible for special needs.  If the decision is made to conduct an assessment, the special needs officer consults parents, teachers (normally the school's special needs co-ordinator and the head teacher), educational psychologists, doctors and possibly social workers. Following the statutory assessment they decide whether or not to issue a 'statement' of recommendations.  They then write a 'statement', summarising the views of everyone consulted and recommending what extra support the child should receive - for example, speech therapy, physiotherapy, extra help with literacy and numeracy or help in changing some forms of behaviour. 

After consulting the parents they recommend a school where the action listed on the statement should be carried out. This is often at the child's current school.  Special needs officers have to work within a very strict timescale laid down by law.  There are deadlines for each decision and the entire process up to issue of a statement must normally be completed within six months of receiving the assessment request. A statement must be reviewed every year through a meeting held between school staff and children's parents.  In some cases, for example where changes are requested to the provision or the child is moving from primary to secondary school, the special needs officer attends the meeting.  After discussion with the child, parents and all the professionals involved, they may decide to recommend changes to the support provided.  Special needs officers usually spend a large amount of time each day on the phone, talking to parents and to professional colleagues.  They might spend several hours each week drafting statements and one or two days visiting schools and attending reviews.  Parents may appeal against a council's decision not to carry out an assessment or against the provision offered in the final statement.  In such cases, special needs officers may have to prepare reports for a senior education officer who will attend a Special Educational Needs Tribunal and defend the council's decisions.

Skills & Interests
Special needs officers need to be:

  • diplomatic;
  • able to form relationships with children, parents and colleagues;
  • able to handle stressful situations sensitively and accept that some parents may become aggressive if their wishes cannot be met;
  • good communicators and be able to write clear reports;
  • able to plan their own time and prioritise their workloads.

Entry Requirements
Councils normally ask for at least an A level standard of education and some experience of dealing with special needs.  Many special needs officers are graduates. Some have experience in educational administration.  Many are former teachers.  Training is given on the job by experienced colleagues.

Future Prospects & Opportunities
A small council might employ special just one special needs officer.  In a large council there might be six to eight.  There are prospects of promotion to senior education officer/ deputy director of education.

Further Information & Services
Department for Education www.education.gov.uk 
Education jobs www.eteach.com
General Teaching Council for Wales www.gtcw.org.uk
Graduate Teacher Training Registry www.gttr.ac.uk
Teacher Training & Education in Wales www.teachertrainingcymru.org

You may find further information about this area of work through Careers Wales (www.careerswales.com/) or in your local library, careers office or school careers library.

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