All staff benefit from strategies for sharing information, says David Abrams
In order to achieve high standards for pupils with special needs, all participants need to be empowered. Sharing information and a sense of purpose will accomplish this. Those at the sharp end, usually nursery nurses or support assistants, have many skills and much expertise. Working together with the class teacher provides the most effective support. An obvious statement but do you recognise it? In your school, do support staff arrive late in lessons because they have been with other pupils? Do they try to work out quickly what to do, and do they leave before the end as they have others to support? Is training limited, do they attend staff meetings - do they have a voice?
Data: Information arrives in school and best practice demands that it is shared. A careful analysis of the Autumn Package indicates what pupils can achieve. It can come as a surprise that so many pupils who achieve level 1 at the end of key stage 1 can attain level 4 or even level 5 by the end of KS2. Similar forecasts can be made for the end of KS3. Sharing data can raise expectations for staff and pupils. While having special needs may impede the attainment, it should not be used as an excuse for having lower expectations.
Curriculum: having raised expectations, it is important to deliver an appropriate curriculum. There is no denying that teachers and support staff work hard, but in order to raise standrds, work should be challenging. Schools need to undertake an analysis and assessment of the curriculum and the SATs. They should make good use of the standards report. In fact, schools should write their own standards report so that speedy changes can be applied. Are all staff aware of P scales and are they being trained to use them? P scales are important in mainstream as well as in special schools. As all pupils can achieve, use of P scales can show this. Breaking down work at higher levels can do the same.
Planning: Best practice must involve support staff. A school's commitment to this would be to pay for any extra hours involved. Support staff know their pupils well and can make an invaluable input. It is amazing that support staff are often only asked to deliver. In planning meetings, the learning objectives can be explained in detail and advice given by teachers - this is real on-the-job training.
How many times do support staff work out what to do by watching the teacher? Is this the best we can do? A proper interactive process would provide the best support. Do support staff sit among their charges, keeping them on task, explaining where appropriate, stimulating the pupils to be active in their own learning or are they passive? Do they sit behind like spectators, trying to work out by assimilation?
A culture of "how can we?" will lead to best practice.
David Abrams is advisor with responsibility for assessment at Bolton LEA