At the risk of sounding evangelical, if teachers are to properly support the students in their classes, they need at least one quality:
- an exceptional natural gift to understand each individual’s strengths and needs
- many years experience
- good training in recognising and supporting a wide range and varying degrees and combinations of needs
Since the first is exceptional, it is not possible for all to have innately, no matter how committed or gifted in other areas the teacher(s) in question might be.
Pupils of the second teacher will benefit from their experience, but what of the pupils who were taught before all that invaluable experience was embedded in the teacher’s practice?
By a process of elimination then, good training is the quality which can most easily be imparted to new (and existing) teachers. If all classroom teachers (still training, newly qualified or experienced) can regularly immerse themselves in training opportunities, they will begin to better understand that each individual’s needs, whether or not diagnosed, can be supported, and that diagnosis is only one aspect of the pupil: each individual is exactly that, a unique human being, with their very own combination of strengths that can be harnessed, and areas to support.
Over a decade ago the U.K. Government began commissioning a series of reviews and reports by Sir Jim Rose, covering the primary school curriculum and literacy intervention, including the The Rose Report, in 2009 which gave some hope, proclaiming
Encouraging initial teacher training providers to build on their coverage of SEN and disability by offering specialist units for primary undergraduate initial teacher training (ITT), launched in June 2008, with £500,000 funding to aid dissemination. These include a Unit entitled “Learning and Teaching for dyslexic pupils”;
Similar units for secondary undergraduate courses and for post graduate teacher training (PGCE) courses will be rolled out in September 2009;
Developing materials enabling subject/ curriculum tutors to check their knowledge of SEN and disability in relation to their subject area;
Promotion of enhanced opportunities for student teachers to gain experience of working in special schools or other specialist provision;
Promoting the use of specialist materials for the induction of new teachers’;
Developing nationally approved training for Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs), who have a key role in each school in ensuring effective provision for children with SEN and disabilities, and are an important link with parents.
The Teachers’ Standards state that
A teacher must:
know when and how to differentiate appropriately, using approaches which enable pupils to be taught effectively
have a secure understanding of how a range of factors can inhibit pupils’ ability to learn, and how best to overcome these
demonstrate an awareness of the physical, social and intellectual development of children, and know how to adapt teaching to support pupils’ education at different stages of development
have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils, including those with special educational needs; those of high ability; those with English as an additional language; those with disabilities; and be able to use and evaluate distinctive teaching approaches to engage and support them.
When I enrolled in initial teacher training (ITT) in 2003, there was only limited instruction in learning differences, (more on that here), but these documents suggest that the situation must have changed in the intervening decade and a half. I know that there are ITT providers trying to address theses requirements, having played a very small part in the design, delivery and assessment of one such module.
As part of a research project last year, I polled 170 teachers across the UK and found that less that one third of teachers had received a more in depth introduction to SEND that I had in ITT, including training reported by teachers who had qualified in the previous two years. In fact, often where such training was available, it was described as optional rather than a compulsory module. I asked teachers whether they had received SEND-specific training at school: around half had received training to support dyslexia (55%), ADHD (49%), Autism (52%). Reported in service training (INSET) to support other needs was rarer. In fact, for other diagnoses listed, whether during ITT, INSET or external continuing professional development (CPD), less than half of teachers polled had received any training at all.
I count myself fortunate that my early teaching career brought me into contact with a diverse range of students, and that, as a result, I had amazing support from our SENCo, from Advanced Skills Teachers with SEN expertise and from external professionals. Without this support and experience, and the many courses I enrolled on in my effort to better understand and support the pupils in my class, I might not have realised how rewarding and fascinating this area of education could be.
I strongly believe that neither our children’s futures nor our teachers’ training should be left to chance. I’d love for you to share your experiences with me, from any perspective.