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SCHOOL SUPPORT OFFICER COURSES: A DETAILED GUIDE

School Support Officer Courses: A Detailed Guide

guide to becoming a school support officer

SSOs support students in a range of educational activities.


Working as a school support officer is one of the most rewarding yet challenging careers that you can contemplate undertaking. This is a fantastic career if working with people and children in particular is something that you can see yourself doing long term; education if nothing else, is a people orientated industry.


School support officers also known as SSOs, teacher’s aides or teacher’s assistants, support students in a range of activities such as reading, writing, maths, numeracy, science, physical education and music. They quite often work with students with special needs who require specialised one on one support.


While SSOs work under the direction of a classroom teacher, they may take on more advanced tasks and a higher level of responsibility. This may include making pedagogical decisions, instructional design and delivery, and administration tasks. If you are thinking about working as an SSO, this is an important article that outlines all the necessary and relevant information you need know before taking the next step.

Takes-outs from this article:

  • While SSOs work under the direction of a classroom teacher, they may take on more advanced tasks and a higher level of responsibility. This may include making pedagogical decisions, instructional design and delivery, and administration tasks.
  • Typically speaking however, many SSOs work with students with disabilities either in a special needs school, a specialised program or in an inclusive classroom.
  • The top level SSO course is the CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support.
  • While some students breeze through their program, some also find it a challenge.
  • Support services can mean the difference between successfully completing the course and withdrawing.
  • School typically prefer to try staff out and get to know them before offering more long-term contracts.
  • Generally speaking, finding an SSO job is not that hard especially if you are looking for casual and relief work. Most students find causal work in their local area.
  • Typically speaking SSOs are paid approximately $30 per hour and they normally work around 32 hours per week.
  • A cluster means that between 1 and 5 units are delivered and assessed together. This saves the student a huge amount of time, effort, stress and the annoyance of having to repeat the same thing over and over again.
  • Most students will undertake their voluntary or unpaid work placement hours in a local school.

What is an SSO or School Support Officer?

An SSO or school support officer, is a special needs teacher’s aide in most cases. A special need teacher’s aide is a person employed in a school and who works under the direction of a classroom teacher. They can however be assigned various different levels of responsibility - some work quite independently such as in a specialist literacy program. SSOs or school support officers help students to develop their skills and knowledge. This includes the traditional subjects such as English as well as other important facets of a well-rounded education program such as life-skills.


For example, in some schools, SSOs take students with special needs on shopping excursions to teach them how to purchase healthy foods. This activity may be followed by cooking lessons that incorporate activities or discussions related to healthy eating, food storage, hygiene and cleanliness. Your exact role depends on the position, the teacher’s curriculum, and the needs and developmental age of the children the SSO is charged to support.


It should be noted that not all school support officers work with students with special needs. Some can undertake a range of other tasks such as those who work with indigenous or aboriginal students. Others may work in specialty literacy or numeracy programs such as grifted or talented programs, or for students who are struggling and need additional support. Some do more administrative type tasks and other may work in more specialised subjects such as science or art.


Typically speaking however, many SSOs work with students with disabilities either in a special needs school, a specialised program or in an inclusive classroom. An inclusive classroom is simply a ‘normal’ mainstream classroom with one or more students with additional needs who require the support of a school support officer.


There is a spectrum of support needs. Some students for example, are allocated support for a limited number of hours per week – such as 10-15 hours. Many have a full-time school support officers due to the need for constant supervision and assistance (high needs). In mainstream classrooms, even if you are assigned a single student to support full-time, you will circulate and assist other students from time to time.


A Victorian study published that ‘one of the major roles of the teachers’ aide’ and the four main areas where teacher’s aides are focused on are ‘a) inclusion in the school community, (b) curriculum, (c) classroom management, and (d) student support.’


Another study, published in the International Journal of Inclusive Education, stated that teacher’s aides have a ‘pivotal, complex and ambiguous role’ in terms of supporting students with disabilities.


Other studies such as this one in 2016, found that ‘students with disabilities in full-day kindergarten have higher reading and mathematics outcomes at the end of kindergarten when the classroom has a teacher's aide.’

Are there different types of SSOs?

Yes. There are various different types of SSOs as discussed in the previous question. There are SSOs who work with special needs. Special needs can be further divided into several categories. One category is SSOs who work with students with special needs in a special needs school. These are schools that are designed and orientated specifically for students who require a high level of support. You may also work with special needs in a mainstream classroom. Some SSOs do not work with students with special needs and may work in other areas such as indigenous programs, sports programs or other areas of the school such as the library.

What is the best SSO course for me?

choosing a course when becoming a School support officer

Which course is best for you? Pictured: FTTA student on placement in a primary school.

Generally speaking the higher the qualification, the better. It looks better on your resume and gives you a leg up in the job market. It also means that you are as highly qualified as possible, in terms of your work as an SSO.


The top level SSO course is the CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support. This particular qualification specialises in special needs and covers most of the main disabilities that you are likely to come across in a school. It is however not a disability qualification per se, and after completing the course you will be able to work as an SSO in any school doing a wide range of tasks. Whether that means working with special means or non-disabled students (often called neurotypical, mainstream students etc.).


The CHC30213 Certificate III in Education Support is probably a little bit easier but takes about the same amount of time to complete. If you’ve never studied before, are a high school leaver, or struggle with English (for example English is your second language) then potentially the CHC30213 Certificate III in Education Support is the right option for you.


There isn’t really a huge different in difficulty or duration between the CHC30213 Certificate III in Education Support and the CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support. This is especially the case if you have experience with children including parenting. Most people generally don’t struggle with either of these courses. Generally speaking, the only time students don’t complete their course is if their studies are interrupted for some reason such as medical issues, travel or alternative employment. Most students who are willing to put in the time and effort work through the course relatively easily with very few hiccups.


That is not to say that we guarantee every student will finish the course. While some students breeze through their program, some also find it a challenge. That is why it is important to enrol with an RTO that has appropriate support services including workplace visits and face to face workshops. Even if you don’t believe that you will need these services now, you may in the future. Many students attend tutorials and webinars for example, because they enjoy the social aspect and want to get the most out of their course.


Support services can mean the difference between successfully completing the course and withdrawing. It can also mean a difference in the time it takes you to complete your program. The longer it takes to complete your course, the longer you are not out there working and earning an income.

How do I become a School Support Officer?

The main avenue to become an SSO is as follows:

  • Complete a nationally recognised qualification such as the CHC30213 Certificate III in Education Support or the CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support.
  • Apply for your clearances. You will generally do this as part of your course.
  • Prepare your resume, a short letter and copies of your identification & clearances.
  • Prepare a list of all schools in your area including contact details. Aim for as many as you can such as 10 or 20+. Don’t ignore high schools and special needs schools or you are severely limiting your opportunities.
  • Contact all of these schools and ask to be put on their ‘relief list’ and if there are any up-coming contracts that you can be considered for.
  • Be available and ready to work on the days you said you would be available – you could get called in the morning of.

Generally speaking this process is quite successful for many students.


Many students find work in their school where they completed their work placement. This is assuming you enrolled with a reputable provider, developed the necessary skills and knowledge and performed well, get along with your teachers, were punctual, professional, and did your best each day you were on placement.


School typically prefer to try staff out and to get to know them before offering more long-term contracts. There are obvious reasons for this. Schools want to ensure that they have the best person for the job, that you represent the best value for money and have suitable skills to maximise student outcomes.

How much do SSO courses cost?

SSO courses typically cost around the $2000 mark depending on who you enrol with. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this there is no government funding available for SSO courses. We recommend contacting FTTA or reading the fee tab on our website for the latest information regarding course costs. It’s also important to consider the full cost of enrolling in a program, and not just the course fee - there may be additional unit by unit charges or additional fees such as for your learning materials and placement. Note that FTTA do not charge any of these additional fees.


Additionally, it is also important to consider what you are paying for as no two providers are the same. Some courses are more expensive, but they offer a higher quality of service, more support services, better trainers, better resources and come with a positive reputation which helps you when looking for work; some providers are blacklisted by employers. Also ensure that the provider visits you in the workplace, as this is essential for your professional development and schools expect a site visit. Finally, check that you can visit your trainer for assistance face to face and can speak with them easily over the phone. Ensure that the provider is based in Australia.

Are SSO jobs hard to find?

finding a job as a school support officer

Generally speaking, finding an SSO job is not that hard especially if you are looking for casual and relief work. Most students find causal work in their local area. Of course, this is not guaranteed even if you have a nationally recognised qualification with a reputable provider. Some areas are more competitive than others such as inner-city areas and especially for early childhood positions. If you are willing to work in special needs and high school, you will have many more opportunities. In saying that, there are thousands of schools and tens of thousands of support workers – South Australia has about 750 schools for example and almost all schools employ 10-20 SSOs.

How much do SSOs get paid?

Typically speaking SSOs are paid approximately $30 per hour and they normally work around 32 hours per week. This of course is not a hard and fast rule – some earn more, some less, some work 38 hours, some receive additional allowances. The reason SSOs earn around about $30 per hour is because the majority of SSOs work with students with special needs. This includes students with ASD and a range of other additional needs that require full time or part time additional support. Casual or relief staff receive a loading of 25% but forgo personal leave and annual leave.


It should be noted that some websites suggest that the average SSO is paid somewhere between $23 and $27 per hour. This is in fact incorrect and misleading (this is calculated by either the average of the jobs that have been advertised over the past 12 months or taking the lowest paid tier and the highest paid tier and assuming that the average teacher assistant is paid somewhere in the middle). However, as the great majority of SSOs work with special needs, the average is therefore towards the top of the pay scale.


We believe you will generally earn somewhere and $28 and $31 depending on where you are employed. If you are deployed in a remote or regional area for example you can expect to earn a little bit more via a regional allowance, paid either on a fortnightly basis or at the end of the school year or term. If you require more detailed information about your pay scale or anything related to pay and allowance, we recommend speaking to your school.

What is the difference between an SSO and a teacher’s aide?

Teacher’s aide is the broad term used to describe teacher’s assistants, SSOs, education assistants and learning support officers in Australia. It is used all around the world. It is also the most common word used by the general public and hence we use it as well simply to prevent confusion. Different states use various terms for teacher’s aides – school support officer and SSO is predominantly only used in South Australia.

What is the hardest thing about being a School Support Officer?

Most school support officers will give you a slightly different answer to this question. Many will probably quickly note that behaviour management is one of the areas that causes them the most concern and stress. That is why it is very important that you choose a reputable provider – to ensure that you get adequate training before entering the workforce.


An important part of behaviour management is having a toolbox of techniques and strategies that can be used throughout the school day. At FTTA for example, we teach students to develop a set of systems for managing behaviour. Just like a surgeon going into surgery - you have a process to follow for all eventualities. This prevents stress and the emotional energy required to be constantly thinking about how to manage challenging situations.


For some people behaviour management comes naturally but for others it is something that you need to work on. Certainly, the more experience you have with children the easier behaviour management will be.

Can I study an SSO course online?

All of FTTA’s courses are available online. As we say throughout these articles, studying online can mean many different things depending on your provider. Ensure that you enrol with a provider that offers a range of online services such as live webinars, pre-recorded webinars, interactive activities and the ability to contact your trainer as needed.


Another important factor when enrolling online and choosing your provider is ensuring that they visit you in the workplace. This is an important service that some RTOs unfortunately don’t provide as it saves them money. It is your final opportunity to have a trainer observe and provide feedback. It will dramatically improve your skills and knowledge, and you may never have this opportunity again.

Can I study an SSO Course at TAFE?

TAFE courses are great for younger people, and who are able to attend classes 3-5 days per week for 12 months or so. If this is for you, then we highly recommend the TAFE system. If, however, you are an adult learner and require a bit more flexibility, self-study and can only study on an irregular basis, then we recommend a provider such as FTTA. The great majority of adult students enrol with private providers.

Are the assessments difficult?

Generally speaking, we advise that the assessments for the CHC30213 Certificate III in Education Support as well as CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support are not that difficult. Certainly not as difficult as completing an IT course or accounting course where you are required to learn a large amount of technical knowledge. Those with experience with children will struggle less and may find the course quite easy.


As with all nationally recognised courses however, there is a time commitment. All students need to have a good routine in order to consistently work through the course. Below we have published several example from our learner guide to give you an idea of what to expect in your course.*

How are the SSO course structured?

We structure our SSO course into clusters. This means that similar units are combined into a cluster (also known as a module). A cluster means that between 1 and 5 units are delivered and assessed together. This saves the student a huge amount of time, effort, stress and the annoyance of having to repeat the same thing over and over again. There is a lot of repetition from one unit to another and clustering removes this repetition. Many units are very similar and in fact some a practically identical.


For example, there are several units that have assessment requirements regarding work health and safety. By combining these units, you are only required to be assessed once on work health and safety. However, if you were to complete them separately you would have to be assessed on multiple occasions.

Do all School Support Officer courses have a placement requirement?

school support officers doing a work placement

FTTA student on placement.

Yes. All SSO courses have a work placement requirement which is currently 100 hours in a registered school. Most students will undertake their voluntary or unpaid work placement hours in a local school.


Generally, students complete their work placement one day per week over a period of time. They may also complete it in a block of time, or another format approved by the school and the provider. You can also complete your work placement in a school where your child attends but generally not in the same classroom.


For more detailed information about the work placement or any specific questions related to your situation, we recommend contacting FTTA.

How long does it take to enrol and start an SSO course?

Enrolling in an SSO course with FTTA is easy. The enrolment form is located on our website and takes between 10-20 minutes. We also require a copy of your ID which can be uploaded during the enrolment process.


If you have any problems during your enrolment, please let us know – we are only a phone call away. If you are enrolling in an online course, you can start pretty much straight away.

Summary

This article discussed and explored many of the common questions that we get from students and in particular from South Australia. The two most common SSO courses in Australia are the CHC30213 Certificate III in Education Support and the CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support.


We have discussed in some detail how to become an SSO, the types of jobs that you can get as an SSO as well as the responsibilities and tasks that you will potentially undertake. We have discussed the different courses, modes, and the workplace requirements.


If you have specific questions regarding your unique situation, please contact one of our friendly student advisers.


* Example from learner guide

Behaviour plans

Behaviour Plans are a written document that set out the way that the education team are planning to manage and improve the behaviour of a particular student. A behaviour plan is specific to a single student. Behaviour plans identify the root causes of behaviour, clearly identify the undesirable behaviour and develop strategies to encourage desirable behaviour.

behaviour plans in the classroom

Behaviour plans are often developed in conjunction with other people involved in the student’s management such as:

  • Caregivers
  • The student
  • Teacher(s)
  • Education assistants
  • Specialists treating the student
  • School psychologist
  • Line manager, HOD (head of department), principal, deputy principal

All students in special needs centres and those in mainstream classes who have been assigned an education assistant for additional support will have a behaviour management plan of some type. A teacher may also develop their own version of a behaviour management plan for various reasons such as:

  • Disability or disorder (undiagnosed or traits of)
  • SAER (student at education risk). This could be due to absenteeism, drugs etc.
  • Behaviour issues that are chronic (serious and long term compared to the norm)
school support officers using a behvaiour plan

A teacher may develop a basic behaviour plan to target 3-5 of the most challenging students in a particular class. This helps reduce the mental load and stress (for the teacher) as the students’ management is simply an agreed process or system. It helps provide consistent and clear consequences for the student and enables the teacher and education assistants to apply the consequences consistently.


Note that there are various types of plans that you will come across. There are also variations as schools and teachers use different terminology. Some of the more common plans that you will come across are listed in the following table.

TYPE OF PLAN

PURPOSE

Personal Learning Plan (PLP)

A plan that is developed by the child (with support) to provide them with ownership over what they are going to learn and how.

Individual Transition Plan (ITP)

Aims to prepare a child for life after school or when moving schools.

Social Competency Plan (SCP)

Outlines what is needed to promote self-worth and build the skills needed to develop positive relationships and manage emotions.

Individual Behaviour Management Plan (IBMP or IBP)

Considers a child’s behaviour that is causing concern and creates strategies to manage and improve the behaviour.

Individual Education Plan (IEP)

A plan that outlines a student’s current educational level, educational goals and the process to achieve those goals.

Risk Management Plan (RMP)

Considers a child’s behaviour and the physical risk to themselves or others and creates strategies to manage the child’s behaviour

Individual Attendance Plan (IAP)

Aims to remove barriers to increase school attendance

Medical emergency plans

The most common plans are anaphylaxis, allergy, asthma and diabetes emergency plans. These are often displayed prominently in the classroom and are simple (1-2 pages) so that anyone can quickly use the plan to manage an emergency situation.

A typical student in a special needs centre may have up to three programs/plans at any one time: IBPM, IEP and RMP. This covers the student’s safety, educational goals and behavioural goals.


About the author

Adam Green is a former teacher, member of the government’s Education Support Industry Advisory Group, MD at FTTA, and a post-graduate researcher at Murdoch university.


Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is general, may not be relevant to you, is not legal advice and no guarantee of accuracy is provided. Users should seek expert advice before relying on any information provided in this article.

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