SEND: 4 things teachers can learn from special schools

From patience to velcro-based resources, there’s a lot mainstream schools can take from SEND practice, says this Sendco

SEND: Four things teaches can learn from special schools

In September, I started my new role as Sendco in a mainstream primary.

As part of my reconnaissance activities, I went to visit a special school. 

How very grateful I was to Five Acre Wood, an "outstanding" special school in Maidstone, Kent, which welcomed me with open arms, a basket of biscuits and an excellent coffee machine. 


Quick read: How effective are nurture groups?

Quick listen: Why peer learning is more effective than you think

Want to know more? SEND: Why your school should sign up to BSL


Here are my key take-aways:

SEND: Lessons from special schools


Patience

Some children at special schools will be assessed using traditional methods (such as end of key stage testing), but others will have their progress measured in alternative ways. 

What might seem like small steps to mainstream colleagues can be large leaps for a SEND child. 

I had the privilege of watching the quiet victory of a classroom assistant who, for the very first time, watched a child choose to sit at a table and engage in a structured activity. 

This was a real milestone for this child’s learning and independence. A combination of patience and a rigorous attention to assessment detail means that young people progress along their own measurable paths of success. 

Why could this not work at mainstream for children who are working at a level significantly below their peers?

Predictability

All children find comfort in predictability, which is why, if you are a parent, you will probably know all the words to The Gruffalo

Five Acre Wood prides itself on its days being predictable and consistent. While being able to manage change is a life skill that both special and mainstream schools work hard to address, it would be fair to say that consistent, whole-school expectations would greatly benefit SEND children in mainstream schools. 

This could be in areas as diverse as managing behaviour, using visual clues for vocabulary or assessing children who are below age expectations. 

Children are able to thrive within these calm expectations, with reassurance found in a clear timetable which is managed by staff who all deal with situations in a similar way.

Positivity

When dealing with children who have a myriad of complex special needs, staff at Five Acre Wood are trained to remain positive and focused, defusing challenging situations using humour or distraction wherever possible. 

Children are treated with respect and humility, with an underlying acceptance that they are not being “naughty” but are, in fact, communicating their needs through their behaviour. 

I believe this skillset can easily be transferred to supporting SEN children in mainstream schools. As their adults, we need to be positive, understanding and dependable – to be their calm port when they are in a storm. 

I think it is also important not to disregard the fact that mainstream SEND pupils have the additional daily challenge of not only trying to manage their own feelings and emotions, but also to deal with perceptions of themselves as different from the other children around them.

The power of velcro

While my article about the history of velcro will have to wait for another time, I feel obliged to highlight what a serendipitous day for education it was when George de Mestral took his dog for a walk and became intrigued by the tiny hooks on cockleburs that he found stuck to his trouser leg. 

Fast forward 80 years, and Five Acre Wood has taken the humble velcro to new heights, with dozens of resources painstakingly created in order to foster learner independence in an incredible array of tasks, including following instructions, making choices, earning rewards and regulating their emotions.

I reflect back often on my experiences at Five Acre Wood, and have not only kept in touch with but also reached out to them for training courses and advice. 

Teachers in mainstream schools are dealing with an increasing number of children with an array of additional needs in the classroom, and need the knowledge and skills to enable these children to be successful. What better place to start than to go and visit the experts in action.

@AgentSenco is an experienced teacher with a new role as Sendco. She is based in Kent

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