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How to Ace your SEN Trial Day and Interview

Updated: Feb 20

It's hiring season! As a SEN Recruitment Consultant, I have spent the last few weeks constantly coaching teaching assistants and teachers around how to impress at interview. Landing a new job can be challenging but if you are able to confidently demonstrate your abilities in the activity/teaching session, answer interview questions and eloquently explain your experience and knowledge, you'll land that dream job in no time!

The Trial Day and Activity

Most schools will ask to see how you interact with their pupils and how you conduct yourself in the classroom. Many will ask you to prepare a short activity for you to complete with a small group of students and then observe you on how you do this. Others may just ask you to join in with the day-to-day activities and then get feedback from the main class teacher as to how you got on. Below are some tips on how you can shine when you are being observed.

1. Take Initiative

This is the best opportunity for you to show off your experience. The most common piece of feedback I have received from schools regarding unsuccessful candidates is that they didn't take initiative and needed too much direction. If you are a teaching assistant, you are there to support the teacher but if they are having to tell you how to do every little thing, you're actually becoming more of a hinderance! If you see children who need support, go over and help them. If you see some low level disruptions start to arise, intervene. If you see some cleaning or classroom admin (photocopying, sticking paper in books, cutting worksheets) then just mention that you're going to do it! Getting stuck in and appearing confident (even f you aren't!), shows willingness and enthusiasm for the role you are applying for and this will go a long way.

2. Dress the part

You would be surprised how many people can turn up to interviews or trial days in very inappropriate clothing. Be sure to research if your school has a dress code or dress policy - this is often on their website. If you can't find one, or you don't have time to research this before your trial, then some pretty standard things are;

  • Be comfortable in what you wear! You are likely going to be on your feet most of the day so you need to be comfortable - no one needs to be worrying about tight trousers!

  • Wear something you don't mind getting dirty. Chances are you may be getting involved in messy play or sensory play and there's every chance you may get paint, glitter, slime or foam on your clothes so don't wear anything you wouldn't mind getting a bit messy.

  • Sensible footwear. Never wear open toed shoes, especially in a SEN school where there's lots of equipment or wheelchair users. Close toed shoes like pumps or boots are best, and again, make sure you are comfortable.

  • Nothing revealing. This is a professional environment so don't wear things that are too skin tight or revealing too much skin. Especially if you are working in KS2-4, where hormones and puberty are rife, you need to appear professional.

  • Hair and make up. If you have long hair, be sure to wear it up in a bun or high pony tail. this will avoid any hair pulling incidents. With regards to make up, if you are going to wear any, make it minimal and natural looking. Again, especially in a SEN setting, bright coloured make up is not appropriate.

3. Prepare a Solid Activity

This is where you can really show your creativity and experience. If you have been asked to prepare an activity, really think about which one you are going to pick and how you can demonstrate it meets the learning objective set. If you are struggling for ideas, I highly recommend the books by Georgina Durrant, 100 Ways Your Child Can Learn Through Play: Fun Activities for Young Children with SEN or How to Boost Reading and Writing Through Play .

4. Arrive Early

If you can get to school 30 minutes early, you will have so much time to not only acquaint yourself with the classroom that you are going to be in but you can also start introducing yourself to key members of staff in the school. Even if you can just pop your head into the staffroom and say hello to the SLT, it will make a difference and make you memorable. With this extra time, you can also read through pupil passports and get to know some of the key children before they arrive. Being equipped with their likes and dislikes will really help you throughout the day and you also have the opportunity to liaise with your class teacher about the plan for the day, areas they specifically need support with and how they expect behaviour to be managed in their class.

10 Most Common SEN Interview Questions

1. Tell me about yourself.

A classic opening question and it's not designed to trip you up! Provide a brief overview of your experiences and qualifications, working in chronological order. e.g. "I'm a qualified Teaching Assistant, specialising in teaching children with autism. I started off my career in X school, supporting a child in Year X...". The most important thing is don't waffle! Keep your answers concise, under two mins ideally, and be sure to inject some personality too!

2. Why are you interested in this position/school?

This is your opportunity to show off your research. Ensure you have read the job description and clearly outline how you meet the requirements and what you can bring to the role. It is also a chance for you to discuss things about the school that you are looking forward to being a part of or that have impressed you (Ofsted report, community involvement, latest news). Be sure to convey your passion for Special Education and some of the qualities you hope to bring to the role.

3. How would you support a child with X?

Here, the X represents the SEN need of a child you may be working with and it really could be anything so do some basic research into various conditions (autism, ADHD, global developmental delay, SEMH) before you attend the interview. This question is designed to assess your understanding of each condition, how it affects children and their learning/cognition/behaviour and what strategies you would use in the classroom to make learning accessible and inclusive.

If you have read any books on SEND or neurodiversity, this is also your chance to show off any learnings from them. I highly recommend books by Pete Wharmby.

4. What would you do if a student is refusing to or not engaging in work?

This assesses your ability to manage difficult situations in the classroom. Talk through exactly how you would handle this situation, how you would get the student back on track, provide encouragement, use positive reinforcement etc. to re-engage the student. Likewise, it could be a good idea to anticipate how you would react if the situation were to escalate, where the child could display behaviours that challenge.

5. How do you build relationships with students?

We all know that good relationships with pupils is key to helping them succeed. Explain how you build rapport with new students - how do you get to know their interests/likes/dislikes/info about their lives? What sort of activities could you do together? Do you use Pupil Passports? Explain why relationships are so important, especially for students with SEN.

6. Safeguarding

There are many ways a question around safeguarding could crop up, but it is vital you know the procedures. Be sure you know the correct protocol for reporting safeguarding concerns, including the signs of abuse/radicalisation/neglect, who and how to report a concern, when to escalate matters etc. This is such an important question to answer correctly as, no matter what role you are applying form, it is your responsibility to safeguard every child within the school.

7. How do you manage challenging behaviour in the classroom?

Some children you could be working with may display challenging behaviour, whether that be physical, verbal or a refusal to engage with learning. This question will assess how you manage various situations in a calm, controlled manner, prioritising the well-being of the child at all times. Discuss how you could use distraction, diffusion or de-escalation techniques to calm a situation, and how you could handle an escalating situation.

8. What do you think are essential qualities for a good SEN TA/Teacher?

Really think about the qualities that it takes to be a great SEN Teacher or TA. Qualities such as patience, compassion, creativity, dedication, reliability etc. should spring to mind and as you list each of these, remember to explain why they are important and how you can demonstrate that you posses each of them!

9. How do you work collaboratively within a school team?

Being a good team player is an incredibly valuable skill to have when working in a school! You will be working alongside teachers, SLT, therapists, and other TA's whilst also liaising with outside agencies and the child's parents/carers. Explain how you collaborate with others to ensure a holistic support plan for the pupil, how you coach others and how you communicate effectively to everyone involved in the child's education.

10. Do you have any questions for us?

Always have questions prepared! Asking about the school or role in more detail shows willing, commitment and a desire to ensure that this is truly a good fit for both parties. You could ask about the schools plans for the future, about the career progression available, about what the best/most challenging aspect of the role or school have so many options! It's a lovely way to round off the interview as well!

For more step-by-step support on how to structure your answers, find a great teaching agency and some activity ideas, grab my e-book which is full of more top tips!

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