School Support Officers, or SSOs as they are commonly known in South Australia, work in schools under the supervision of a classroom teacher to provide learning, developmental, social, behavioural, operational and physical support to students with additional needs such as disabilities and disorders.
A career as a school support officer is stable and rewarding yet challenging and testing responsibility at the same time. This is a fantastic option for anyone who enjoys working with people and children in particular. It is the quintessential people orientated job.
School support officers, also known as SSOs, teacher aides or teacher 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.
This article is specific to the work, tasks and roles of SSOs in SA. To learn more about specific courses including those offered by ITAC, please follow the links below:
While school support officers work under the direction of a classroom teacher, they may take on more advanced tasks and greater 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 for you as it that outlines all the necessary and relevant information you need know before taking the next step.
What you will learn in this article:
An SSO or school support officer, is a special needs teacher’s aide in most cases. A special need's 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 and metacognitive skills. Don't know what 'metacognitive skills' are? Learn this any many other essential and vital skills by enrolling in a reputable school support officer course with ITAC.
Teaching life-skills is an important part of the work of an SSO particularly when working with students with disabilities. 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 a cooking lesson that incorporates 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 that the SSO is charged to support. You will learn a range of support strategies in your SSO course such as explicit instruction and worked examples, play based learning and best practice questioning and feedback techniques.
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 Australians in programs or schools such as Aboriginal Independent Community Schools. Others may work in specialty literacy or numeracy programs such as grifted or talented programs, or for students who are struggling and need temporary gap-training support (remedial or intervention programs). 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 some or most of the time.
There is a spectrum of support needs which is determined by calculating several factors. Some students 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. This gives the allocated student plenty of freedom to develop his or her independence.
Still now sure about what SSO's are expected to do? Here is what some of the latest research has said about the roles and responsibilities of school support officers:
A Victorian study said that 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.’
Think you could be an SSO? To become a school support officer in South Australia you will need to first complete a nationally recognised course to learn the skills and techniques required to effectively meet the task expectation of SSOs, as described in the research above. This is why, only at ITAC will you learn best practice, research-based strategies, techniques, skills, and approaches. You can learn more about our SSO courses by reading any one of our course guides:
Yes. There are various different types of SSOs as discussed in the previous question. The majority of SSOs however work with students who have special needs. Special needs positions 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 from specialist teachers and support staff. You may also work with special needs students in a mainstream classroom. Some SSOs do not work with students with special needs and may work in various locations such as indigenous programs, sports programs or in other areas of the school such as the library.
There are over 150 schools, services and centres in SA specifically catering to the needs of students with disabilities. Almost all of these services require the services of qualified SSOs (meaning someone who has completed a school support officer course such as the CHC40221 Certificate IV in School Based Education Support). You MAY end up working in any one of these schools such as Seaford Secondary College Disability Unit, Modbury Special School, or Adelaide East Education Centre. Once you have completed a reputable SSO course, the sky is opportunities are endless!
Generally speaking, the higher the SSO course or 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 school support officer course is the CHC40221 Certificate IV in School Based 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. After completing this SSO 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 CHC30221 Certificate III in School Based 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 CHC30221 Certificate III in School Based Education Support is the right SSO course for you.
There isn’t really a huge different in difficulty or duration between the CHC30221 Certificate III in School Based Education Support and the CHC40221 Certificate IV in School Based Education Support. This is especially the case if you have experience with children including raising children. Most people generally don’t struggle with either of these courses, however. 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 and with very few hiccups.
That is not to say that we guarantee that every student will finish their SSO 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 for no other reason than they enjoy the social aspect and want to get the most out of their school support officer course - it doesn't hurt to learn more than the minimum!
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.
The main avenue to become an SSO is as follows:
Generally speaking, this process is quite successful for many students.
Hint: begin your search for schools in your area with these links: Association of Independent Schools of SA, Catholic Education, and public schools here. Of course, you could just drive around your area or simply do a Google search.
Many students find work in the school where they completed their work placement. This is assuming you enrolled with a reputable provider, developed the necessary skills and knowledge, performed well, got along with your teachers, were punctual, professional, and did your best each day that 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. A lot of research has shown over the years that poor instructional strategies can actually hinder student development. What this means is that schools want staff that have completed a reputable school support officer course.
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 other than traineeships for existing workers who meet certain criteria. This information could change however - we recommend contacting ITAC or reading the fee's 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 ITAC do not charge any of these additional fees.
Finally but no less important, it is essential that you 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 known to be 'blacklisted' meaning employers generally don't take their graduates. Also, ensure that the provider visits you in the workplace as this is essential for your professional development; schools also expect a site visit as it reflects the fact that you have enrolled in a reputable SSO course. 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 (and their admin) is based in Australia.
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 - some many more!
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 school support officers 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. This is why a school support officer course that covers special needs is so valuable to your wallet and your performance.
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 school support officer 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.
Please read our detailed article: How much do teacher aides get paid to learn more about SSO pay and allowances in SA.
We believe you will generally earn somewhere and $28 and $31 depending on where you are employed and if you have completed a nationally recognised school support officer course. 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.
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 in fact. It is also the most common term used by the general public and hence we use it as well to 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.
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 ITAC 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.
All of ITAC’s SSO or school support officer 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.
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-paced semi-structured courses), and can only study on an irregular basis, then we recommend a provider such as ITAC. The great majority of adult students enrol with private providers.
Generally speaking, we advise that the assessments for the CHC30221 Certificate III in School Based Education Support as well as CHC40221 Certificate IV in School Based 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 school support officer courses however, there is a need to commit a certain amount of time. All students need to have a good routine in order to consistently work through the course.
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.
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 1-3 days 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 (except half days which is generally not allowed). 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 ITAC.
Enrolling in an SSO course with ITAC 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.
This article discussed and explored many of the common questions that we get from students considering an enrolment in a school support officer course and in particular from South Australia. The two most common SSO courses in Australia are the CHC30221 Certificate III in School Based Education Support and the CHC40221 Certificate IV in School Based 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 and how we can help you to achieve your goal of completing a school support officer course, please contact one of our friendly student advisers.
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
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