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23 ways to get you up to speed with SEN

Special educational needs is a huge and bewildering arena. Anthea Davey unravels a few of the complexities

1 KNOW YOUR PUPILS

Make sure you know of any special educational matters for each child who you teach, and check that your records are up-to-date.

Keep to the facts - don't make assumptions and label children without evidence; this can lead to low expectations and pigeon-holing.

2 FOLLOW THE CODE

The current SEN code of practice (since January 2002) gives advice on how to identify children with special needs and provide for them within the education system. Read it at www.teachernet.gov.uk. Most children who have special needs are in mainstream schools, so the code affects every teacher.

3 LISTEN AND LEARN

Talk to colleagues about any children you teach with particular special educational needs - they could have some useful strategies for dealing with individuals. If another teacher in school has learned the hard way, maybe they can help you avoid some classic mistakes.

4 GET PROFESSIONAL ADVICE

Children with special needs, particularly emotional difficulties and challenging behaviour, can make you feel incompetent. Get expert help from professional organisations.

5 ASK FOR TRAINING

Your school might have specific SEN training every now and again, but ask about courses run by external providers. The school will pay course fees if you can justify it as part of your professional development and they can't train you in school.

6 30 LESSONS IN ONE

Differentiate: This doesn't mean a different lesson for every child - just make sure that you simplify for the pupils who find the work particularly difficult and give extension activities to the whizz-kids.

7 KEEP A CLOSE EYE ON TARGETS

Each child on the SEN register has an individual education plan (IEP), which should list three or four targets for that child and strategies for achieving them, plus a review date. Pay attention to it.

8 TALK TO YOUR SENCO

You need to know who your Senco (special educational needs co-ordinator) is. He or she is responsible for organising the special needs provision, so get to know him or her. You can help each other, and he or she should be able to offer you advice and expertise.

9 DON'T MISS OUT ON EXTRA HELP

The school's SEN procedures should be explained to you during your induction. If you don't know them, find out now. Some of your class might qualify for extra support in the classroom or be taken out of class and given extra help in certain subjects.

10 KEEP UPDATES TO HAND

A formal meeting, known as an annual review, takes place when a child has a statement of special educational needs, but keep a check on the progress of all pupils on your SEN list, and update as often as you need to. Keep records of targets attained, too - you might be asked at short notice for evidence of progress by, for example, the Senco or an outside agency.

11 WORK IN A TEAM

You will probably need to liaise with at least one of a number of other professionals: the Senco, the school nurse, occupational therapists and educational psychologists. If you have a learning support assistant in class, keep them informed of plans for your lesson. The more they know, the more help they can be to you.

12 TALK TO PARENTS

Make sure you keep in touch with home, so that parents, or other carers, feel fully supported. They will often be the best people to give you advice about their child.

13 DEFER TO THE EXPERTS

Don't agree any diagnoses of special needs with a parent, or give commitments to extra provision, even if a distraught parent demands it - those decisions aren't yours to make. Talk to the Senco, who can organise relevant experts to assess a child's special needs.

14 MAKE YOUR CLASSROOM WORK

The layout of your classroom affects how your pupils learn. If you have children who can't see very well, sit them near the board. Those with hearing problems might need to lip read, so think carefully about your position and how you move round the room while you're talking.

15 LEARN THE LANGUAGE

Make sure you understand the information you are given on a child. The characteristics of a disorder can vary enormously. Autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), for example, is the term used to describe a range of disorders within the very wide spectrum of autism. It's not good to generalise, as every child is different. There is lots of specialist jargon, so if you don't know what something means, ask.

16 NOT GETTING THE THREE Rs

Pupils with dyscalculia have difficulty with mathematical skills, such as understanding simple number concepts and learning number facts and processes. Dyslexic pupils have difficulties learning to read, write and spell. Concentration, organisation and pronunciation of common words can also be affected. If you spot a child with any of these difficulties, look again at their IEP. If they haven't got one, ask your Senco about the possibility of setting one up.

17 "CLUMSY KID"

Pupils with disorders such as dyspraxia find movement, co-ordination and balance difficult so can sometimes appear clumsy. The knock-on effect can be hesitancy in their actions and poor social skills.

In physical work, build up confidence through slowly developed targets. Be patient if you have pupils with difficulties like these - it's even more frustrating for them. Take extra time to explain tasks.

18 TACTICS WITHIN STRATEGIES

You may need to adapt your teaching strategies depending on the severity of a child's special needs. If you teach children with hearing, visual or multi-sensory impairment, for example, what impact will background noise or the effect of light and shadow in the classroom have on their ability to concentrate in your class?

19 TALK UP SUCCESS

Children with learning difficulties, whatever the cause, may suffer from poor self-esteem. That's why target setting is a priority and praise is important. Be positive; if a child isn't succeeding at something, remind them how they've done well before.

20 DROP A FEW NAMES

Talk about others who have overcome difficulties. There are many famous dyslexics, for example: Albert Einstein, Whoopi Goldberg, Orlando Bloom and Benjamin Zephaniah. See www.dyslexia.com for more.

21 BE OPEN-MINDED

If you are told about a child's medical condition or physical disability, don't assume they have special needs. Many will take part in the standard curriculum or may only need minor adjustments to it.

Don't turn pupils into victims.

22 SPEAK AND BE HEARD

If a child has speech and language difficulties, they may have trouble understanding the meaning of words, following instructions, making themselves understood and paying attention. Try to keep your sentences short, repeat what you say if you need to, and feel comfortable using gestures and props. Speak slowly and simplify your language as necessary. You can do this without sounding patronising. Make sure you leave time for the child to speak too.

23 ALWAYS ASK

Other teachers are a wealth of information and advice, and there are always new disorders and unfamiliar words. You might find yourself teaching a child who seems to be presenting behaviour that you've never seen or heard of before. Use the TES SEN forum if you don't want to show up your lack of expert knowledge in public: www.tes.co.ukstaffroom

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