'Talis shows teachers need much more SEND training'

The latest Talis report shows that teachers need support for working with pupils with special educational needs and those who speak English as an additional language

Natalie Perera

SEND teacher

The latest Teaching and Learning International Survey (Talis), published today by the OECD, provides a rich assortment of findings about the English school system. Both critics and supporters of government policy will no doubt find ammunition to further their respective causes.

But, beneath the headline findings about teacher recruitment and pay, there are some crucial messages about training and continuous professional development (CPD), which deserve equal attention.

A promising finding is that, by international standards, teachers in England are more likely to have accessed CPD opportunities in the past year than in other OECD countries. In fact, 97 per cent of teachers reported doing so, and 82 per cent reported that it had a positive impact on their teaching.

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This doesn’t mean that the CPD is necessarily of high quality, but it does show that there is at least commitment and participation. Within this, there also appears to be a recent push for training in student behaviour and classroom management. While 63 per cent of novice teachers (those with fewer than five years’ experience) have recently participated in training on this issue, that figure falls to 42 per cent among more experienced teachers. This could indicate that the relatively recent focus on behaviour is having an impact on early teacher training.

Greater support needed

Interestingly, we also appear to value mentoring in a teacher’s early career much more highly than in other countries – over third of teachers in England with fewer than five years’ experience have an assigned mentor, compared with only a fifth of teachers internationally.

These findings should come as good news to the profession, particularly as teachers who reported participating in impactful training also tend to demonstrate higher levels of self-efficacy and job-satisfaction – with the relationship being particularly strong for teachers in England.

But there are features of our system that teachers need far greater support in dealing with, according to today’s data. Above all, teachers expressed the greatest need for better CPD in relation to teaching pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and those for whom English is an additional language (EAL). Over a third of teachers said they needed extra support for working with pupils with SEN, and just under a third required the same for EAL pupils.

This isn’t surprising when we consider that we have a relatively inclusive system by international standards, and that teachers in England are more likely to work in schools where a significant minority of pupils have a migrant background (25 per cent of teachers, compared with 17 per cent across the OECD).

Funding concerns

However, it’s clear from our domestic research that we need to intensify efforts to support these pupils. EPI analysis finds that children with a SEND statement or Education Health and Care Plan are, on average, three years behind their peers by the end of secondary school. Our recent work on unexplained pupil exits from schools should also be a cause for concern: we found that, among the year group who took their GCSEs in 2017, almost a quarter of pupils with social, emotional and mental health needs experienced at least one move out of a state school that did not appear to be driven by parental choice.

And we see similar issues facing pupils with EAL. While, on average, this group attains higher grades than their peers, our research finds that this masks a wide variation in attainment depending on the pupil’s ethnicity and how long they have been in the English school system.

There is an obvious answer to this problem – more tailored CPD should be available to support teachers to support these pupils. But teachers are increasingly concerned about funding for such training. Back in 2013, 44 per cent of teachers reported that cost was a barrier to CPD; that figure climbed to 56 per cent in 2018.

The fact that we have an inclusive and diverse system should be celebrated. But that inclusivity means very little if we cannot provide the support that these, often vulnerable, groups of pupils need in order to thrive.

Natalie Perera is executive director of the Education Policy Institute (EPI)

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