Your NQT year is an exciting time: you’ll have a classroom to decorate and exciting lessons to plan, but there’s a newfound responsibility. You’re now responsible for the progress of all of your students, including those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). In January 2019, the government reported that 1,318,300 students were identified as having SEND: this equates to 14.9 per cent of all students across our classrooms.
The SEND Code of Practice does state that you "should be supported by the special educational needs and disabilities coordinator (Sendco)" but ultimately it is your duty to create an inclusive space where you make necessary adjustments so that all your students can access the curriculum.
The teacher standards (TS) are probably etched into your brain from the long hours of evidence-making from your initial teacher training year, but TS5 really matters here. The teacher standards are a legal code that has to be adhered to, regardless of our setting, and meeting the needs of all of our students is of paramount importance.
SEND: the special needs you may encounter in your class
In the SEND advice given by the government, a student has special educational needs if they:
- Have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age.
- Have a disability that prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools.
This covers a broad range of our students and it’s important to note here that students don’t have to have an EHCP (education, health and care plan) to be receiving classroom support.
The SEND Code of Practice states that "additional intervention and support cannot compensate for a lack of good quality teaching": it all begins with you. This approach is called quality-first teaching (or QFT) and is the first step in supporting all students, including students with SEND.
There are a variety of needs that you’re likely to encounter frequently in a mainstream setting, including dyslexia/dyscalculia, autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and visual and hearing impairments. Under the SEND Code of Practice, "class or subject teachers are responsible for carrying out the assessment, planning and support for SEND pupils in their class".
Get to know the needs of your students with SEND
When you receive your class lists, you must spend time reading about your classes: schools will have SEND information available (many use SIMS or centralised network folders) and it is your responsibility to read through these notes. They will have notes for things you may not know about the student, such as where they should be seated in a classroom; what size font they need for handouts; what coloured reading overlay they need; or perhaps whether you need to wear a microphone neck loop for your hearing-impaired students. It is also important to discuss a student’s particular needs with the student themselves and their parents, so make this a priority.
There will also be students that you must make adjustments for and this is especially important around assessment time: some students type rather than write; some will need extra time; and others might be entitled to a scribe or a quiet space. It is your job to plan assessments appropriately to allow students the opportunity to succeed.
SEND plans will vary depending on the student and may include some of the following arrangements:
- Extra help from a teacher or assistant.
- A special learning programme.
- Working in a smaller group.
- Observation in class or at break times.
- Help taking part in class/group activities.
- Support with physical or personal care difficulties – ie, getting around school safely.
What are the school’s responsibilities for students with SEND?
Your school will have a dedicated SEN team. This will include: the headteacher, the Sendco, staff with pastoral or safeguarding responsibilities, teaching assistants and potentially literacy and numeracy/curriculum leads.
This team will ensure that students will have personalised plans for all staff – teaching or support – to follow and use. These plans must be reviewed and updated annually. As an NQT, you may not have experienced any pupil progress meetings or progress update requests so make sure to keep a note of your in-class strategies (those that worked and those that didn’t) and what areas students are particularly finding difficult.
With your exam classes, it’s important to look closely at their assessments. What do their marks imply? Are they using their exam access arrangements? What other roadblocks might be in their way and what are you doing to support them? Throughout the year your Sendco might ask for these notes as they collate information for progress updates and the more information you can give, the better.
Schools must also work closely with parents to create as much cohesion as possible; they will also work with outside professionals (such as therapists), if necessary, to help students.
What else can you do?
As well as working with your TAs, try to spend some time with your Sendco. They are mines of knowledge and will be full of advice about adjustments that you can make in order to help your students reach their full potential. It’s vital you take time to read all the notes about your students with SEND and, when planning lessons, keep in mind how you can specifically support their needs.
Even if SEND isn’t your specialist area of teaching, it is your responsibility. Every teacher is a teacher of SEND pupils, so make sure you read around the subject, and don’t be afraid to ask for more training if you have gaps. It will all serve to make you a better teacher for all pupils.
Lauran Hampshire-Dell is a secondary English teacher and NQT lead