Are inclusion and TAs more hindrance than help for pupils with SEN?

30th October 2009 at 00:00

In last week's issue Jean Gross, director of the Every Child a Chance Trust, advocated that the SEN system needed to be changed to refocus on specialist teaching rather than support provided by teaching assistants (Letters, October 23). Her argument was misleading, albeitly inadvertantly.

Her account of the Every Child Counts programme suggests that all children experiencing difficulties in learning will benefit from its interventions and make good progress. This is not the case. A significant number of children with severe and complex learning difficulties will not "catch up" with their peers in the way that she implies.

However, she is not alone in championing this approach. Politicians and policymakers are investing in a range of initiatives designed to increase rates of learning - too many of which are reductionist and fail to conceptualise progress in ways that are meaningful or helpful for children.

An alternative approach is required, one that seeks to recognise and value a much broader range of achievements and paths to progress; and one that does not stigmatise the many children for whom "catching up" is neither feasible or desirable.

The disingenuous aspect of the argument in favour of specialist teaching, rather than teaching assistant support for children with special educational needs, is the way that it presents it as an eitheror choice. Following the publication last month of the Institute of Education's report on the deployment of support staff, it has become almost de rigueur to question the value of teaching assistant (TA) support ("Teaching assistants impair pupil performance", September 4). This is unfair, and fails to recognise the innovative ways in which TAs are deployed in schools.

That report quite rightly identified serious concerns about deployment but also highlighted the importance of finding ways to make sure that TA support is well organised and effective. This is not the same as saying we do not need TAs in schools.

Christopher Robertson, Lecturer in inclusive education, School of Education, Birmingham University.

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