The Careers Adviser

How do you train to teach people with special needs? Can I join the civil service?

Special ambition

My daughter is 26 and has a drama in education degree. She wants to train as a teacher for people with special needs. Experience is no problem as she currently works as a classroom assistant with severely handicapped or disturbed children in special schools. Please can you advise on training possibilities ?

She will need to gain qualified teacher status (QTS) by doing a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) - she can choose whether she wants to teach primary or secondary children. The course will have sections related to special education needs (SEN). But trainee teachers can also supplement this - by asking to work in a relevant school, which your daughter is already doing, or choosing study units which focus on special needs. Once she has qualified status she can choose whether to work in a mainstream or special school. If the school she is currently working in offers posts under the graduate teacher programme (GTP), she may be able to apply through that and stay in the job she has. The GTP is a scheme aimed at those who want to continue earning while training, and is tailored to individual needs. Trainees must be employed as unqualified teachers and the school pays them at that level. If her school doesn't operate the scheme she might want to look for others offering GTP posts. Details of the scheme are on - follow the links for training processes and types of course. There are resource networks such as to support the special needs trainee.

Civil wish

Do you know of careers advice agencies which specialise in helping people interested in working for the civil service? I would like to apply to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) at operational level, and would like help preparing for proficiency tests and interviews.

There aren't specific companies which will specialize in such a narrow field, but you should be able to find help with some of the tests the FCO is going to ask you to do. The first tests are online, and you will be sent an e-mail with a link to three scenario based exercises. You can't get hold of these in advance or find previous examples, but you get a dry run with a series of practice questions which you can do just before the test, also online. The FCO says all applicants satisfying the minimum requirements of the online exercises will be invited to attend an assessment session to do verbal and numerical ability tests, and practice papers for these will be sent out about a week in advance. Employers like the FCO are trying, through these tests, to establish innate abilities and are therefore protective of them. But you can get an idea what they are like by looking at sites like and; and private career companies offer similar tests - it will be cheaper if you attend a block test session with others. They will also help with forms and interviews. Be aware, though, that these are not the sort of tests you need to practice continually - you are not supposed to get any better at them - but it certainly helps if you have an idea of how the paper is going to look before you sit a timed test. The most important thing you can do before the interview is look closely at the competencies required, make sure you have some good examples of how you meet them, and know the answer to the question "why do you want to work in the public sector?"

Careers adviser: Andy Jackson, head of C2, The Careers Group, University of London.

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to

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