Benefits of team support
Many commentators have argued that the main reason for mainstream schools' persistent reluctance to include children with special needs lies in the abiding insistence of special educators that children's problems at school are only soluble with the intervention of experts who are not routinely available in the mainstream. The received wisdom had it that special children need special help which cannot be given by the uninitiated and the untrained.
However, the notion that teachers can support each other in meeting children's special needs is gaining currency. The idea that the necessary skill for handling learning difficulty or challenging behaviour usually resides within the school is an important part of the rationale behind the Teacher Support Team (TST) described by the authors of this booklet - though it is acknowledged that experts may be drawn into the team where necessary.
The TST is a small group of teachers which offers support to other teachers who make referrals to the team. The team meets weekly for about 45 minutes and deals with one "case" at each meeting.
Around three-quarters of this 58-page A4 manual consists of overhead-projector-like presentations which cover the setting up and running of a TST. These presentations would be useful to a facilitator such as an adviser or an educational psychologist, though the implication is that they will mainly be used by the school's own staff.
Included among the training materials there are some simulation exercises (using pen pictures of children who might be referred to the team) on which embryonic teams can cut their teeth.
The notion of the TST is a sensible one and the encouragement to foster collaboration within the school should be welcomed. In schools where TSTs are set up one hopes that the organisational paraphernalia which seems inevitably to surround such initiatives does not inhibit looser, more informal attempts at collaboration among teachers - that the TST, in other words, can be seen as a stimulus to collaboration and teamwork rather than the necessary or correct way of collaborating.
A major obstacle to further collaboration and better teamwork - among support teachers, mainstream teachers and classroom assistants - is lack of time, and if initiatives are to succeed there needs to be an acknowledgement within the school that this is an appropriate avenue. The need for such a commitment is acknowledged by the authors of this excellent little book and it is to be hoped it stimulates the development of more TSTs.