The Conversation: Special needs training
A: Specialist teacher training courses for pupils with learning difficulties had been phased out. By the end of the 1990s we were finding it difficult to recruit teachers who had any training or experience of special needs classrooms. We were appointing new class teachers from mainstream settings, and it was a huge learning curve for them.
Q: It is a lot to take on. How does the programme support them?
A: It introduces new teachers to the range of disciplines they will work with in the school. It gives them an introduction to specific teaching approaches, such as multisensory work, use of signing, symbols and objects of reference, and intensive interaction (a programme that develops self-esteem and communication skills). In a sense, it equips our new teachers with a bag of tools that helps them do a very complex job.
Q: How is the programme arranged?
A: It lasts for a year and averages half a day a week in addition to planning, preparation and administration time.
The first term is a series of pre-planned sessions with other teachers and people from various disciplines who work within the school, covering key issues such as lesson planning, speech and language, team-building, manual handling and behaviour management. We've now got to the stage where some of the staff who were previously inducted are delivering training, which is great to see.
In the second term, sessions are tailor-made to meet each new teacher's specific needs. And in the third term, they have the opportunity to observe lessons and visit other special schools.
Q: Logistically, it must be quite challenging?
A: Yes. Sessions have to be planned well in advanced. Cover is provided for both the new teachers and those delivering training, which obviously requires financial support. Thankfully the school is totally committed to it. Problems sometimes arise from staff absence, but now we have adapted it so that we have one formal session every other week, which allows for more flexibility. It is made easier by the fact that it is all in-house.
Q: Do you think the programme would suit other schools?
A: Perhaps not the specifics of it, because every school operates differently, but certainly the model and ethos that it embraces is of value to all schools.
I like to think that we take the same approach to our induction that we take to our teaching, starting from the needs of the individual and adjusting and developing as we go along. We've changed and changed again over time, adapting the content to support the evolving nature of our staff and pupils.
Q: So what lies ahead?
A: We base future training on the feedback from our inductees. For instance, this year we are doing trial sessions every other week, combined with two full days, but we might deliver those out of school in future, at another venue, which may help to reflect the value we put on training.
Louisa Leaman is a special needs teacher and author.