The narrative is always the same: initial teacher training does not adequately prepare teachers for teaching children with special educational needs and disability (SEND).
For example, this from the newly qualified teacher (NQT) Annual Survey 2016: “In line with previous years, NQTs felt their training had prepared them less well to cater for pupils with specific needs – such as those with English as an Additional Language (EAL) or Special Educational Needs (SEN), deploy support staff in the classroom, or communicate with parents or carers.”
But irrespective of how you achieved qualified teacher status (QTS), it is important to remember that this is the beginning of your journey, rather than the end of it.
Gaining QTS can be considered similar to passing your driving test. Upon completion, you are safe to be left alone in front of a classroom of children, but it is unlikely that you will have all the necessary knowledge, understanding and skills to be truly effective.
So, treating SEND as an area for further development, here are 10 things that you could do to develop your ability to address complexity in the classroom.
1. Understand children’s rights
There are a number of documents that you will need to familiarise yourself with in order to become better informed about SEND.
Start with the Equality Act, in particular the guidance provided for schools by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (bit.ly/EqualityActGuide), and the Salamanca Statement, produced by Unesco (bit.ly/SalamancaStatement).
Starting from a rights perspective will help develop an understanding of the duties that a school is required to fulfil. This helps to form a context for the implementation of the SEND Code of Practice, and also explains why ensuring that all children have their requirements met is an essential part of being a teacher.
2. Know your children
In busy classrooms, we can risk finding ourselves reliant on assessment data and – in terms of children identified as SEND – not developing adequate focus. This can create negative perceptions regarding pupil capability, which need to be offset by a broader understanding of what children can do, rather than what they can’t.
Seeking out a range of different sources of information can help to ensure that your understanding of what a child requires is more robust– ultimately leading you to make better-informed decisions.
Investigating different assessments, such as the Derbyshire Language Scheme or the Boxall Profile, means that if you come to need them you will be better versed in what they offer and to whom.
3. Visit specialist providers
In my experience, special schools are very accommodating when it comes to allowing visitors to see how the requirements of the children who attend their schools are met.
A lot can be learned by visiting these schools and by spending some time in the classroom. The effectiveness of their methodologies and resources are not necessarily context specific and a day or two in a specialist classroom can provide rich rewards. Furthermore, developing relationships with your local specialist settings can lead to a long-term support network, providing opportunities for guidance when new SEND challenges are faced.
4. Reflect on your environment
It is vital that you develop a classroom culture where all learners feel welcome, are valued equally and are enabled to participate in school life. This includes making adjustments to the classroom and how it is accessed.
Online groups such as the Senco Forum and SLD Forum can be an invaluable source of support and expertise, but also make sure to talk to the children about how they are affected by the spaces they use and how it could be improved.
5. Understand child development
In terms of supporting schools who were finding a child’s requirements difficult to meet, I often encountered situations where they had not looked back far enough or fine enough to identify the barriers to progress.
Continuing to refine your knowledge of child development and considering the implications of both typical and atypical developmental pathways may offer a greater degree of understanding of why a child isn’t making expected progress.
6. Speak to parents
The knowledge within the lived experience of families is one of education’s untapped resources. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain in developing open, honest and constructive relationships with families.
Having the professional confidence to tell them when things are not going well and asking for their input is, in my opinion, a great strength and may well lead to simple strategies being shared that could transform what is happening in the classroom.
7. Speak to other professionals
As with parents, making full use of the knowledge and expertise of other professionals is vital when looking to develop your own knowledge and expertise regarding SEND. This must include teacher colleagues as well as those with specialist roles, such as speech and language therapists and physiotherapists. Integrating the successful strategies of others into your classroom can provide a useful starting point to building a broader repertoire of teaching approaches.
8. Reflect on transitions
The transitions that children go through daily can have a destabilising effect on both their ability to learn and to regulate their behaviour. Considering the nature of the transitions and discussing with them the impact they have – and how this can be mitigated – could have a positive impact on both learning and behaviour. The work we have been doing at the Whole School SEND Consortium on developing a SEND Reflection Framework has a useful section on transition (wholeschoolsend.com).
9. Explore challenging behaviour
Complex behaviour can present challenges within the classroom. Supporting children to be able to better regulate the way they behave can be demanding. It’s important to recognise this is a collective responsibility within a school and not yours alone.
The advice, guidance and support of colleagues is essential. There is a wide range of behaviour management books that can provide useful tip and hints. However, these approaches are likely to work best within a supportive and constructive professional working environment.
10. Make the best use of TAs
The way we work with teaching assistants is fundamental to ensuring that they have a meaningful impact in the classroom.
The best source of materials for developing your skills in this area is the work of the Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants team (maximisingtas.co.uk), who have produced a range of resources to aid the effective work of TAs. Investing time in understanding the skills that your TAs have to offer and how to best use them will pay dividends for all.
Working with children with SEND can stretch your developing skills – but every child has a right to have their educational needs met and every teacher a duty to ensure they have the skills necessary to achieve this. If you combine a collaborative attitude with a willingness to learn, you’ll be on the way to enabling every child in your class to succeed.
Simon Knight is a director for Whole School SEND and a former special school deputy headteacher. He tweets @SimonKnight100