Isn’t it about time we had a compulsory curriculum for teacher training? And shouldn’t it include a more substantial element of special educational needs training? Surprisingly, it is still at the discretion of the college offering the course to decide what, if any SEND content is included in ITT courses. When you consider the number of students in both specialist and mainstream schools who are considered to have a special educational need or disability, isn’t it about time we started to cater for them a bit better?
As any qualified teacher can tell you, there is a distinct lack of SEND training included in most Initial Teacher Training courses. When I did my secondary science PGCE, I was expected to write a couple of thousand words on inclusion and differentiation – that included talking about SEND. That was about the limit of the special needs content of my training. My two placement schools, despite having a relatively high proportion of SEND children on roll did little to add to this training. As a result, when I started teaching, I really didn’t know very much about how to work with children with specialist needs and as an NQT, I didn’t receive an awful lot of guidance in this area.
Some people reading this might think; “So what? you were a secondary science teacher – not a SEND teacher”. However, in our current system EVERY teacher is a SEND teacher. Although there are post graduate courses available for staff who want to specialise in a particular area of special needs, we can’t rely on those few staff who do such courses to ensure that our 1.5 million children with statements of SEN (or an EHC plan – all new ones are EHC Plans now with existing statements to be completely carried over by 2018) are given appropriate access to education.
There is a legal responsibility for all children aged from 5 to 16 to receive a suitable education. And now the EHC Plan runs from 0-25 as long as young people with SEND remain in education. Many specialist schools do an amazing job of ensuring that the children on their register receive just this. However, of the 1.5 million SEND children in the UK (figures based on 2014 DfE report), a surprising quarter of those children – that’s about 375,000 students are in maintained secondary schools. Furthermore, approximately 25% are in maintained primary schools.
This means there are approximately three-quarters of a million children with SEND in mainstream schools in the UK.
So, it’s clear that there is a need for primary and secondary teachers to have a good idea of how to include SEND children in their lessons appropriately. If a child has a Statement/EHC Plan, they will be in receipt of some degree of additional support – be it an LSA in the classroom for some or all of the time, or withdrawal from lessons for additional support. But many students don’t receive funding for full-time support in school, and those who are going through the process of obtaining an EHC Plan are not obliged to receive additional support in school until they have one in place (unless they already previously held a statement of special needs).
This leaves many teachers in the UK under-prepared to do their jobs to the best of their ability. We need to close the training gap and we need to do it as soon as possible. Every year we delay is another year SEND children – especially those in maintained primary and secondary schools – potentially have teachers who are not fully skilled to deliver the curriculum to them. And remember – this is a legal responsibility.
Don’t misunderstand me – there are a lot of teachers out there who go out of their way to increase their knowledge and understanding of SEND and do all they can to make sure they cater for the needs of individual students appropriately in their lessons. But equally, there are many teachers who feel that they barely have time to plan, deliver and assess effectively for students without SEND… let alone for those who do. Many SEND children without a Statement/EHC plan (the process of obtaining one can be long and stressful for some families) end up being labelled as having “EBD” (a label no longer used) or as having behavioural “issues” and are put on behaviour reports or sat in an office or colleagues classroom to do their work in order to prevent further disruption to their lessons.
On a positive note, the new Code of Practice encourages schools and outside agencies to look for the underlying causes of poor behaviour rather than just labelling a child as being badly behaved (or EBD) and leaving it at that. Our company trainer, Tony often says “Seek first to understand…” before deciding on a course of action – that couldn’t be more appropriate than in this context.
What the experts say
We asked some SEND experts to give us their views on the issue and this is what they had to say:
“More and more children are entering our schools with very complex needs. These are 21st century children and we need to ensure that we have a pedagogy that will meet their individual needs. This relies on having a workforce that has been trained to meet the complex and diverse needs of these children. 21st century children need 21st century teachers – does our current ITT system address this?” Lorraine Peterson, OBE – former CEO of nasen
“The advent of nasen’s SEND Gateway, the online training materials, (the Lamb materials and the Complex Needs materials), as well as the massive training programme developed by the Autism Education Trust are examples of how more is being done. However, it’s haphazard rather than there being clearly defined pathways to learning more about SEND in general and also being able to become better informed about the different types of needs now present in most classrooms.” Rona Tutt – past president of the NAHT
The need for greater consistency in ITT was flagged up by the Carter Review:
“…DfE should commission a sector body…to develop a framework of core content for ITT. We believe that a framework of the essential elements of core content would build a stronger shared understanding of good ITT content meaning that trainees will have a more consistent experience.”
Carter made it clear that information about normal child development should be part of this core knowledge for every teacher, regardless of the age range they were training for, with:
“particularly significant gaps in areas such as subject knowledge and subject-specific training, behaviour management, pupil assessment and special educational needs.”
In its response, the DfE has said it agrees with Carter and has already established a working party to look at what the core content should be. If, despite a possible change of government, the working group manages to complete its work, this would be a start. It then needs someone to pull together clear routes to gaining advanced and then specialist knowledge in specific areas. Roll on the day!
So, we are moving in the right direction with regard to special needs education. The new Code of Practice, which will be fully integrated by 2018, helps to join up schools, families and services to ensure that SEND children receive a more integrated approach to their support. Nasen has also announced that it is to receive additional funding from the Department for Education (DfE) to provide further support for the education sector in meeting the needs of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). This is fantastic news!
“The additional funding will be used to provide high quality teaching as the first response to identifying and meeting special educational needs of children and young people. Funds will also be used to extend the scope of the SEND Gateway, an online portal offering education professionals free, easy access to high quality information, resources and training for meeting the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities.”
Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson said; “I’m delighted to give this injection of support to voluntary organisations who offer life changing services to those with special educational needs and their families. This was a highly competitive process and every bid that has been successful has shown that they will put the funds to great use. This is a significant investment in a tough financial climate which will make a real difference for children and young people across the country.”
This is a huge step in the right direction, and will give SEND students a better chance of educational success than ever before, but it is clear there is still much more work to be done.