Model for special needs training

Karen Thornton reports on the Teacher Training Agency's proposals for national standards for specialist SEN teachers

The national standards machine has ground its way through newly-qualified teachers, subject leaders, headteachers and special educational needs co-ordinators. Now it has set its beady eyes on spelling out what makes a good special educational needs teacher.

r-indent = The Teacher Training Agency has issued two new consultation papers, one setting out draft standards for those who regularly teach pupils with severe and complex needs. The other offers some thoughts on training aimed at meeting these draft standards.

The standards document offers a "pick and mix" format, with teachers, schools and education authority services expected to apply the standards most appropriate to their circumstances.

Detailed core standards set out the professional knowledge, understanding and skills needed by and expected of all specialist SEN teachers.

The specialist standards give a summary of the additional skills needed in each of nine particular areas of SEN work - autism; emotional behavioural difficulties (EMD); deafness; deaf-blindness; physical disabilities; severe and profound learning difficulties; specific learning difficulties; speech, language and communication difficulties; and visual impairment.

Moderate learning difficulties are not included.

"In reality, pupils with general learning difficulties are increasingly supported in mainstream schools, and though some special schools still hold MLD in their designation, in practice they provide for pupils with a range of complex learning needs," argues the document.

It emphasises that the degree to which any teacher will have to meet standards from the nine specialist areas will vary according to the nature of their responsibilities.

For example, a teacher working in an EBD special school will need to meet all the EBD standards. But teachers working in other areas may also need some EBD training to support their work with pupils with other difficulties.

Finally, there is a set of standards covering the additional roles and responsibilities that specialist SEN teachers often find themselves taking on - from education authority adviser to outreach support worker helping mainstream schools.

These cover the full range of advisory, managerial and curricular responsibilities, and envisage a wider strategic awareness and knowledge covering everything from conflict resolution to staff development and appraisal.

The TTA uses three case studies to illustrate the "pick and mix" approach being proposed. For example, the training needs of a key stage 3 manager with pastoral responsibilities, working in an all-age special school catering for a range of complex SEN including EBD, language and communication difficulties, and fine and gross motor problems, would need his or her training needs assessed against:

* all the core standards; * relevant parts of the specialist standards covering EBD, specific language difficulties, and speech, language and communication difficulties; * departmental, curricular and pastoral aspects from the additional roles and responsibilities.

The training document highlights the variable quality and availability of courses, and the need for national evaluation of the impact of training on the quality of education delivered to pupils.

Training will have to cover needs assessment and target setting, focus on practical, professional training that builds on teachers' existing skills, and be flexible enough to cover a range of SEN, it says.

The Teacher Training Agency offers a range of models for how it might ensure that training is of the right quality. Central assessment procedures could be used to ensure national consistency in a "hands-off" system allowing providers to develop courses as they saw fit. At the other extreme, the TTA would be responsible for developing course programmes and accrediting the providers who delivered them.

National Standards for SEN Specialist Teachers and Options for the Delivery of Training for SEN Specialists are available free from the TTA by telephoning 0845 606 0323. The closing date for consultation responses is December 18.


Core standards: what every SEN teacher should know:

* National and regional strategicdevelopments in SEN.

* Identification, assessment and planning.

* Effective teaching, maximising access to the curriculum.

* Evaluation of the effectiveness of specialist teaching.

* Promotion of pupils' social and emotional development, behaviour and preparation for adulthood.

* Development of literacy, numeracy, communication and information technology skills.

Specialist standards: a summary of the key skills, knowledge and understanding needed by teachers working within the following areas: * Autism.

* Emotional and behavioural difficulties.

* Deafness.

* Deaf-blindness.

* Physical disabilities.

* Severe and profound learning difficulties.

* Specific learning difficulties.

* Speech, language and communication difficulties.

* Visual impairment.

Key roles and responsibilities standards: covering SEN specialists' extended roles as outreach workers supporting mainstream provision, managers of services, and as education authority advisers. Areas covered are advisory, curricular, and managerial.

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