Even with the best will in the world, no teacher will ever get through their NQT year without hitting a few stumbling blocks and trying to provide outstanding teaching for children with SEND can be one such challenge for the newly qualified.
This is why the University College London (UCL) Institute of Education and Swiss Cottage School Development and Research Centre undertook a project which looked at how best to prepare teachers for working with children with SEND to achieve effective inclusion.
The project was launched in response to concern among UK policy-makers that during initial teacher training (ITT) in the UK there is not enough emphasis on SEND. Consequently, this means that NQTs coming into the classroom are not always adequately equipped to address and meet the needs of children, particularly where an SEN may be present.
Creating a new path
The project partners worked together to formulate, pilot and evaluate a two-year specialist route to prepare teachers for effective inclusion. A group of teachers followed a modified two-year programme, with an emphasis on becoming “Champions" for SEND and sharing their knowledge with other teachers.
What the creators of the project wanted to see was teachers having the skills, knowledge and confidence to teach children across the SEND spectrum: from those children with complex needs, down to those with mild learning difficulties.
In some territories it is not uncommon for there to be two strands of teacher training, in which teachers are split between their “mainstream" training and “special" training. This segregated approach is detrimental to an inclusive attitude towards teaching. The new SEND Code of Practice calls for a differentiated approach to teaching, not for different teaching styles altogether. Inclusive teaching practice can only come from inclusive teacher training and this is something which needs to be encouraged in NQTs from day one.
Following the completion of the SEND in ITT pilot, two options were suggested in order to address the improvement of teacher training for SEND in the context of both ITT and CPD.
The first was the creation of an enrichment and dissemination model that offers a modified route within the standard PGCE programme, offered to around five per cent of ITT trainees nationally with an emphasis on leadership and dissemination. This approach aims to encourage participants to share their understanding with colleagues, both during their ITT and NQT years and beyond.
The second was for a longer or extended PGCE programme for all students including additional enhancement on SEND for all students. In this way, all trainees could gain benefits in terms of impact on attitude, knowledge and understanding about effective inclusion of children with SEND.
Enriched teaching and learning
The evaluation of the pilot route clearly indicated that enrichment input on SEND in ITT courses can have a significant effect on increasing the understanding of new teachers in how to achieve effective inclusion with children with SEND. In particular, the experience of being in a special school setting, even for a short period, had a significant influence on the practice of student teachers in mainstream settings, something that continued to have an effect into the NQT year.
The Carter Review of Initial Teacher Education (DfE, 2015) highlighted better training for SEND as a priority. The results of this project support that recommendation, in fact going further in arguing, based on the evidence, that current arrangements for ITT are not structurally appropriate. They do not allow for the increase in understanding by teachers about both general principles of inclusive pedagogy and key knowledge about specific diagnostic categories that are needed to give the best chance to children with SEND in the classroom.
Effective collaboration and support
One of the key things to remember when it comes to a school's SEND policy is that it must support teachers to ensure they are responsible and accountable for the progress and development of all children in their classroom. Young people with SEND are not the sole domain of the SENCO; with one in five children identified as having SEND, the reality for many teachers will be around five to seven pupils per class group who may have SEND.
Making sure that teachers have access to training, support from the school's senior leadership team, including the SENCO, is crucial, as research has shown that the more time children spend away from class teachers, the less independent they become and the less progress they make academically.
Effective support for all pupils in school is about strengthening collaboration but still maintaining responsibility for the pupils and taking an adaptive approach to teaching. Teachers should use additional resources to address targeted support for pupils and focus on better understanding the outcomes of that support:
- What progress has been made towards agreed outcomes?
- How has the additional support enabled the pupil to achieve this as independently as possible?
- What is the pupil's view on this?
- What is the view of the teaching assistant, the teacher and (maybe) the pupil's peers?
This reflective, constantly shifting approach is integral to good practice, and something which should be nurtured in NQTs to become standard practice within the classroom.
No two pupils are the same, even if their needs are identified as belonging to the same area of need. Once we know this, the next steps become reassuringly clear. This approach enables teachers to know their pupils well and drives the requirement for high-quality teaching to be present in every classroom.
Assess, plan, do, review
The SEND Code of Practice identifies four broad areas of need: communication and interaction, cognition and learning, social, mental and emotional health, and sensory and/or physical needs.
However, it is important to remember that SEND is a hugely broad term, covering children with needs ranging from the complex and physical, to mild learning difficulties. Part of the challenge is being able to adapt your classroom teaching to ensure that all children will be able to engage and learn.
A core part of the graduated approach to SEND is “assess, plan, do, review". We need to constantly assess a pupil's needs before planning how to address those needs and then implementing this plan.
This is a continuous cycle that should be constantly under review with agreed dates and times to appraise outcomes regularly (every two to six weeks is good practice) so the teacher and SENCO can act swiftly to “tweak" and adapt any arrangements accordingly.
Know your students
Ultimately, the best advice of all is to get to know your pupils, their individual needs and the ways in which you can help them to get the most out of school. Sometimes, having a label of SEN can be just as much of a barrier to learning as the special need itself.
We must continue to have high expectations of all children and present the level of challenge they need. By providing appropriate provision – which is tailored to individual needs and takes account of the talents that all students have – to drive progress and attainment forward we can make a real impact on future life chances.
So have you taken the time to talk your students' needs through with the SENCO or previous teachers and heads of year? Have you built-up a relationship with the parents or carers? Are you familiar with your school's SEN policies? Have you taken the time to talk directly with the pupil, using a person-centred approach so the young person can tell you what works for them, how best to support them, and how your teaching and intervention will make the positive difference?
Having got to know your pupil cohort well, are there any areas where you feel you need more training and support? Talk to your SENCO, access the SEND Gateway online and look out for the free online SEND CPD offer available for teachers from February 2016. Nasen, with funding from the Department for Education, will provide online support and training which can be accessed on a flexible basis by educators. The content and design of this training will focus on the “assess, plan, do, review" requirement for teachers.
Jane Friswell is chief executive of Nasen, a national professional association for those working with children and young people with SEND. Visit www.nasen.org.uk
Access the SEND Gateway at www.sendgateway.org.uk
NQT Special Edition
This article was published as part of SecEd's NQT Special Edition – an eight-page special published on June 25, 2015, offering guidance, advice and support to all NQTs and trainee teachers. To download the full eight-page section, which was produced in association with the NASUWT, click the Supplements button above