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Staff starved of training to help disabled pupils

Most teachers are unprepared to cope with conditions such as autism. Adi Bloom reports

Most teachers have received less than a day's training on how to teach pupils with special needs.

A survey for The TES reveals that 37 per cent had no instruction at all during their initial teacher training, while just over a fifth (23 per cent) received only one or half a day's instruction.

Jonathan Rix, lecturer on inclusion, curriculum and learning at the Open University, believes that it is impossible to prepare a teacher in just a day for the challenges of working with special-needs pupils.

"One of the primary battles for teachers is overcoming fear of working with special needs pupils," he said. "If you have hands-on experience, you start to understand that tools which you use with other children can also apply to those with SEN.

"But one day is not enough to build up confidence. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you have self-confidence, you'll believe it's your job, rather than a role for specialists."

Fourteen per cent of the 511 classroom teachers surveyed by pollsters FDS international had received between two and five days' training. Eighteen per cent had received more than five days. These teachers tended to have trained within the past five years, while most of those who had never been trained had been teaching for more than 20 years.

To achieve Qualified Teacher Status, trainees must be able to "differentiate their teaching to meet pupils' needs" including the more able, and those with special needs. They must also know how to seek advice from specialists on less common special needs.

The Training and Development Agency for Schools aims to allow trainees to do four-week placements in special schools. A spokeswoman said: "To qualify in a specialism related to SEN, experience as a mainstream teacher is needed first. New teachers receive considerable support through induction and beyond, and may identify SEN as an area for development."

Matt Dickson, deputy head of North Beckton primary, east London, believes teachers need continual updating. North Beckton is in Newham, the authority with the lowest percentage of pupils in special schools or centres. "To have teachers trained at a high level in every special need would be unrealistic," Mr Dickson said. "You'd be in training for ever.

"But, if we are moving to an inclusive system, people need to know how to differentiate, how to deal with children who are having difficulties seeing. And they need to know where to get support."

Mr Dickson believes training should reflect each year's intake. So a teacher whose class includes an autistic child would be sent to learn about autism. He says teachers should also be backed by trained support staff, physiotherapists and speech therapists.

Newham offers teachers the chance to take diplomas in specific learning difficulties. Further courses deal with risk-assessment and safety issues involved in working with special-needs children. And 34 specialist advisory teachers visit schools regularly.

Mark Vaughan, founder of the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, believes teachers' attitudes are as important as training. "It comes down to professionals warming to the philosophy that inclusion is a human-rights issue," he said. "It's about wanting to create an inclusive society."


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