The Big Question: Should trainee teachers spend more time with special needs children?

Each week, we speak to the people who count, people like you, and post their opinions on the big issues in the education world. Read it and comment to make it a lively and insightful debate.

This week’s question: Should trainee teachers spend more time with special needs children?

Teachers need to be able to spot children with special needs at an early age, says a new report.

The report by Sir Alan Steer, the government’s school behaviour adviser, highlights a clear link between SEN and behavioural problems.  He recommends closer partnership between different schools and better training for teachers.

Most current initial teacher training schemes require students to show that they have an understanding of SEN but they are not required to work with SEN children outside the mainstream. 

Should trainee teachers do more work with special needs children?

Here are some thoughts from the education community:

“Initial teacher training is significantly lacking in special needs awareness- it tends to be confined to “issues” and stops short at the ethics of inclusion- or should that be illusion?

“Dyslexia, sensory impairment and physical disabilities are on the agenda for most trainees, but the needs of students with severe or complex learning difficulties are often ignored.

“Initial teacher training has led to an impoverished service with training that is often on the job. Post qualification training is currently extremely limited. 

“We need a well qualified, experienced and rewarded workforce.   Access to quality training, advanced qualifications and relevant pedagogical research is vital in maintaining a motivated workforce that can respond to significantly changing demographic trends where there are more acutely demanding young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities.”
Dr Len Parkyn. senior special needs teacher in the secondary phase


“This is a tricky question because in theory it would be a good idea for trainee teachers to spend time with special needs children. However, unless, as a new teacher, you have some experience of what is ‘normal’ how do you understand what isn’t?

“Behavioural problems and special needs don’t always go hand in hand. Sometimes it is only the extremes of both of these categories that cause problems to arise. Behavioural problems can be caused by 101 different things and needs to be solved by staff with skills in this area.   

“New teachers have to learn to cope in the classroom with a whole mixture of children before they should be expected to teach special needs. New teachers seem to be thrown in at the deep end in a lot of cases already; why make it more difficult for them?

“Having taught in a special school as a comparatively new teacher I know how difficult it is. The skills needed should be part of ongoing professional development, something that all teachers should be required to do after two or three years teaching to update their skills.”
Gill Long, science coordinator, independent prep school


““The answer is a resounding Yes! Not only should trainee teachers work more with special needs children, they should be taught to recognise and diagnose traits in their classroom pupils that should then be flagged up to the SENCO. Also, qualified teachers should be timetabled to work in special needs departments for at least one of their 39 teaching weeks of the year. This way, they keep up-to-date with the latest teaching techniques for special needs, which will help them with those SEN pupils they have in their classrooms.”
Alan Watkins-Grove, deputy head of English, secondary school

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