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Support for professionals in the special needs sector

Type: Parliamentary Questions

Topic(s): Disability Services, Financial Assistance & Social Support

18 May 2018


Ms Rahayu Mahzam
MP for Jurong GRC

To ask the Minister for Social and Family Development (a) what is the current total number of professionals (teachers/social workers) who are in the special needs sector; (b) what training and professional development programmes are available for the professionals in this sector; and (c) what are the support structures in place to ensure that these professionals do not suffer from burnout or are able to cope with the stresses of the job.


1 There are about 1,900 professionals working in the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) and in Special Education (SPED) Schools today. This include teachers, social workers, psychologists and therapists.

Supporting Professionals' Development

2 These professionals play a key role in the development of special needs children, and we support them in several ways.

3 Professionals working in the special needs sector must hold the relevant degrees or diplomas in their fields of practice.1 To complement this, the Social Service Institute (SSI) and the National Institute of Education2 (NIE) provide professionals in the disability sector with continuing education and training (CET) programmes. These range from broad-based courses to targeted ones focusing on the skills and knowledge required to work with special needs clients. For example, teachers working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can take up targeted courses that build specialised knowledge in autism. There are also courses that equip professionals with skills to cope with the demands of their work, such as mindfulness and self-care practices.

Training Grants and Sponsorships
4 These courses are subsidised by the government, through grants such as the Local Training Grant from the VWOs-Charities Fund. To further upgrade themselves, in-service professionals can also apply for professional development sponsorships, such as the MOE Scholarship for SPED teachers and SkillsFuture Study Awards. Promising social workers and EI teachers taking up managerial and leadership positions can also apply for the Professional Development and Management Programme and the Leadership Development Programme, which fund leadership, management, and other skills-based training.

Practice Networks
5 Second, we also help professionals learn from each other's experiences and expertise through practice networks. NCSS organises annual sessions for social workers and psychologists in SPED schools to share resources and best practices. SPED schools have also put in place Professional Learning Teams (PLTs) where teachers and other professionals can discuss how to improve teaching practices.

Tackling Burnout

6 Third, we have put in place measures to help social service professionals cope with the challenges of their jobs. Aside from self-care courses run by the SSI, NCSS also introduced the Sabbatical Leave Scheme in 2008 to help reduce burnout in professionals. Through this scheme, social service professionals nominated by their organisations receive funding from NCSS that provides them with 10 weeks of paid leave to recharge and refresh themselves, as well as sponsorship for professional development courses. To date, about 170 professionals have benefitted from this scheme.

7 Mentoring and on-the-job coaching by senior practitioners also help to alleviate burnout by equipping younger teachers and social workers with skills and strategies to build up their confidence and resilience. For example, SPED schools have mentoring and coaching programmes for teachers, and ensure that teachers have access to counselling services and enjoy protected time during school holidays. Some EIPIC centres have also structured the work week such that teachers have a one-day reprieve from direct intervention, to work on back-room administrative tasks such as programme planning.

8 To complement these targeted efforts, NCSS has also been working with VWOs to improve their human resource management capabilities, to ensure that all our professionals are well-deployed and cared for, as they give their best to help those in need.

1 Entry requirements include Degree or graduate diploma in Social Work for social workers, 18-month part-time Advanced Diploma in Early Childhood Intervention (Special Needs) (ADESN) by Ngee Ann Polytechnic for EI teachers. 12-month full-time Diploma in Special Education (DISE) by NIE for SPED teachers, Physical, Occupational and Speech-and-Language degree for therapists, and Masters in Psychology for clinical and education psychologists.

2Other training providers that focus on specialised training for each profession include the Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) and Singapore Association of Social Workers' (SASW) Family Resource and Training Centre.