Lessons for instructors

28th April 2006 at 01:00
A complete guide by Barnardo's to help special needs children reach their potential puts teachers in the driving seat, writes Su Clark

When Barnardo's first piloted its new resource on inclusive education in 25 primary schools in Fife, the cry from headteachers was for even more detail. They wanted blow-by-blow accounts of what to do, what to say and how to act.

The result is a weighty guide, launched this week by the Education Minister, Peter Peacock, on how to keep vulnerable children engaged and included.

"Teaching children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties can be very rewarding but it can also be challenging," says Mr Peacock. "I hope that the practical tools and techniques in this pack can help teachers tailor their teaching to make sure all pupils reach their full potential."

Barnardo's took on board what the teachers in Fife had said and the Inclusive Education in Primary Schools pack, developed by the children's charity and funded by the Scottish Executive, is full of practical techniques to help mainstream school staff develop new skills and confidence to support children with additional needs.

"It has a practical focus," says Mary Duffy, head of research and development at Barnardo's Scotland and co-author, with Karen Knamiller, of the comprehensive resource. "We found that is what teachers want.

"So it has case studies, personal stories from individuals involved and research evidence to back up all our advice. It also has examples of what to do in different circumstances."

Moving away from the idea that too much information risks overburdening busy teachers, the guide runs to 300 pages and includes an overview on Scottish policy for inclusive education, plus the policies of the other three UK nations.

The charity, which works with more than 10,000 children, has developed its approach over years of practice. "We work with many vulnerable children and know the very difficult life circumstances they often face," says Hugh Mackintosh, director of Barnardo's Scotland.

"We have heard the frustrations of teachers, many of whom want to approach the issues with hope but lack the energy and the tools to do so, given the many demands they face in teaching the whole class. We are now making our successful techniques available to mainstream primary schools to enable teachers and staff to work positively with all children."

The charity also recruited the help of education experts within Scotland.

Professor Pamela Munn, head of the school of education at Edinburgh University, was involved in the early stages.

"How children experience education makes a difference to them in the short, medium and long term," she explains. "This resource offers advice and techniques based on Barnardo's work to support inclusive education for children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. It should be a valuable addition to any teacher's toolbox and to those involved in education planning."

Much of the focus is on working with vulnerable pupils within the whole class or group environment, rather than in isolation. The charity wants to move away from the idea of "fixing" a child through individual, solitary teaching. It also encourages the involvement of families and the community to help more children attain positive outcomes.

"Much of our research shows that children do better when they stay with their peers," says Dr Duffy. "And their peers prefer it too. Many of the children we have talked to have said so.

"People are aware of the inclusion agenda and are looking for ways to embrace it fully in schools. We hope this pack will help."

The pack, which comes as the Scottish Executive establishes a new national network of co-ordinators focusing on behaviour and support, is intended to complement the strategies in the Additional Support for Learning Act. It is now being made available to every primary school in Scotland and beyond.

The initial target audience is headteachers, members of school senior management teams and professional development co-ordinators, as sections focus on whole school policy and procedure, as well as in-class practice.

But it is hoped the practical advice and information will cascade through the entire school staff.

Inclusive Education in Primary Schools costs pound;85 and a flexible training course to support it has been developed. Details from claire.buchanan@barnardos.org.uk

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