A few thought on targets Read more
Online resources, software and assistive tech at the TES SEN Show 2017
In previous years I had attended the show with my school-based teacher’s hat on. For four or five years I had chosen seminars to develop my understanding to support existing pupils and fill the gaps between experience and INSET. This year I was returning without a school, and with a very different perspective. Read more
Last weekend marked the tenth World Autism Awareness Day. Last week and for the rest of this month, people and organisations all over the world #LightUpBlue for fund-raising events and initiatives, to raise awareness, show solidarity and, importantly, to celebrate. Read more
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.
We hear this regularly, particularly before moving into secondary education: a student appears to cope well in one class, then at transition to the next academic year, and a new teacher, certain tasks become overwhelming. Such hiccups can typically occur between Key Stages in the English school system, when the increase in pace and formality are most pronounced, at rising ages 6, 8 and 12 (and sometimes between lower and upper KS2, age 9-10). This is perhaps unsurprising – the increased demands of more complex instructions, longer and denser texts, extended writing, the expectation of increased self-reliance – any one of these factors could be enough to set back a learner who is already working harder than most peers to meet daily classroom challenges.
Around the age of 7, many students with learning differences can find meeting everyday school requirements exhausting if not, occasionally, apparently impossible. This is often when parents will talk to people like me, specialist teachers or SEND co-ordinators, as they seek to find a way to ease their child’s path through school and the education system, a system designed with limited consideration for those who fall outside the ‘typical’ range in their approach to learning, socialising and conforming.
What is not so often reported, but what can also happen, is that such learners can thrive in the care of particular teachers. Parents will sometimes relate how their son or daughter appeared to first struggle in, say Year 2 or 3, then do well with their next teacher, allowing both pupil and parent a sigh of relief, but return to the cycle of difficulties and differences after that year is past. It is possible that in some cases the cycle reflects that student’s learning profile and the relative academic demands faced, but in my experience, it has at least as much to do with the teachers in the ‘good’ years recognising a pattern of events and challenges for the student concerned and implementing supportive practice to alleviate those demands.
So why can’t all teachers spot these signs? And why does it seem that some teachers aren’t able to access the support and resources that would make the difference, even if they are able to spot the signs? I do not claim to have all the answers, but I have two or three ideas to share:
- Training – if teachers are to recognise support needs, they need more, and more in-depth, training in a wide range of learning differences, support needs, support techniques and adaptive practice.
- Culture – if teachers and schools are to promote and celebrate equity and diversity and allow all to reach their potential in a supportive, well resourced environment, then the rights, roles and responsibilities of pupils, parents and teachers need to be clarified and crystalised so that no-one can mistakenly believe that it is not in their remit to ensure this common goal is attainable.
- Funding – as long as we cannot afford to implement these changes in the earliest years of schooling, we will be paying the price later on, with children leaving primary school unable to read, or with their self-esteem in tatters, or both. Such students rarely go on to thrive in secondary education. History has already shown that such children’s life chances are measurably adversely affected. We cannot afford not to afford these changes any longer, if, indeed, we ever could.
I’m in the process of writing up the findings of a teachers’ survey I conducted to better understand the current extent (or lack of) of SEND training. In the mean time, I’d like to hear your stories and experiences, whether positive or negative, and from teacher or parent perspective.
Over the years, teaching colleagues, students’ parents and my own family and friends have often asked what the ‘best’ way is to promote this or prevent that when it comes to behaviour, development or learning. Sometimes, but not always, the question is one that I’ve handled before, or frequently faced myself. We all know that every human is a unique individual, and that no two combinations of personality and circumstance are likely to be completely identical, so I must suppress my impulse to respond immediately in an effort to please.
Perhaps this applies especially to teachers, but it seems to me that many people can look back on their school days and remember a particular teacher who inspired them to greatness. I am almost ashamed to confess that I am not one of those. Admittedly, it was Miss Roberts’ encouragement that persuaded me to study English rather than maths at ‘A’ level (I would have done better at maths and it would have served me better in my first profession in banking). And Mrs Price’s persuasiveness convinced me to apply for the degree course I eventually chose, rather than the more conventional options preferred by my parents and the careers advisor at school. There are many teachers I remember fondly, particularly late in primary school, early in secondary school and at sixth form, but the memories that really stick with me are not the rosy reminiscences of school success. They are the occasions when, even now, I shudder that an adult with influence on young hearts and minds could thoughtlessly say and do as they did.