'New teachers ill-equipped to deal with special needs pupils'

31st October 2008 at 00:00
Academic says that innovations in training are needed to help them respond to pupils' needs

Radical changes to initial teacher training are needed to improve new teachers' abilities with children who have special educational needs, research has found.

Innovations in training have failed to keep pace with changes in schools, especially as mainstream classes increasingly integrate SEN pupils, notes Alan Hodkinson of Liverpool John Moores University.

New teachers are starting work ill-equipped to recognise and respond to the needs of children with special needs and can even be fearful of contact with these pupils, his paper concludes.

Successive governments have shown a lack of commitment to improving the situation for teachers over the past three decades, writes Dr Hodkinson, a former teacher and special needs co-ordinator. They have failed to respond to consistent warnings that teacher training is inadequately preparing students, he says, describing the situation as like Groundhog Day and a "scratched record".

This continued after Labour won the 1997 general election, even though the party was committed to a policy of including more special needs children in mainstream lessons, his report says.

New standards with regards to special educational needs were introduced for teachers last year, which ministers believe will help develop trainees' knowledge.

But Dr Hodkinson argues that there is still not enough focus on the "pedagogical principles that underpin effective SEN practice".

He writes: "Evidence from the newly qualified teachers survey shows that although there has been a small increase in trainees' preparedness to teach children with SEN, some 48 per cent still do not feel prepared to do so."

Half of higher education institutions deal with special educational needs in a "purely theoretical manner" and data indicates that trainee teachers can "receive as little as 10 hours of training on SEN issues", notes the study, which reviews a number of research projects into the topic.

A recent report by Ofsted also criticised the quality of initial teacher training in preparing teachers for children with learning difficulties and disabilities.

Too much responsibility for training is being handed over to schools, inspectors said, with the result that trainees are given an inconsistent grounding in the necessary skills.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said she recognised that the quality of initial teacher training could vary. She said Pounds 12 million would be spent over the next three years to improve teachers' skills with children with special needs and disabilities.

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