SEN teacher skills under threat, government adviser warns

12th March 2010 at 00:00
Urgent action needed on training or vulnerable children will forgo support they need, he says

Failure to tackle serious problems in special schools will leave thousands of children without properly trained teachers unless urgent action is taken, a Government adviser has warned.

The scrapping of dedicated courses, an aging SEN teacher population and the growing numbers of severely disabled children has created a worrying staff supply problem, according to Toby Salt.

Specialist skills learnt over generations will be lost unless the Government reintroduces training for those wanting to work with the most vulnerable pupils, said Mr Salt, who last year was asked by Schools Secretary Ed Balls to review SEN teacher supply problems.

Many dedicated courses for special needs teachers were scrapped in 1989, Mr Salt's report said. As a result, many trained special school staff are due to retire in five years.

Mr Salt, who is deputy chief executive of the National College, which provides training to schools and children's services leaders, wants more trainees to get experience of the SEN sector. He is also calling for Teach First and the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) to set up a six-month course for newly qualified teachers who want to work in special schools. Mr Balls has accepted his recommendation, but has allocated just #163;600,000 in the 201011 academic year to fund the changes.

"Anecdotal evidence suggests that the increasingly complex needs of pupils with severe, profound or multiple learning difficulties are not always understood and therefore not always being met," Mr Salt said.

"This, coupled with an ageing population of teachers, school leaders and academics with specialist skills, has created a situation which requires urgent attention.

"We need to ensure that these children receive the best-quality education now and that we do not lose this invaluable source of expertise for future generations of learners."

Lorraine Petersen, chief executive of the National Association of Special Educational Needs, said she was "disappointed" the review had not recommended the reintroduction of SEN initial teacher training courses. "We need to make sure special schools are actually willing and able to take on students because they've never had to in the past," she said.

"SEN staff are having to train new teachers themselves and... I think that will continue."

TDA officials have attempted to improve SEN training for trainees over the past two years. This has included new course materials and short placements in special schools. But the scheme is optional.

However, an Ofsted study last year found the quality of SEN experience students received depended largely on the school they trained in.

Undergraduate trainees at Edge Hill University have been doing extra placements at special schools, while more time-poor PCSE students are making single-day visits.

According to Greg Parker, assistant head of primary and early years, many are now planning to work in the SEN sector. He has started research to track their progress over the next few years.

"It's something many of our students really want to do and we have been actively encouraging them to look at special schools when applying for jobs," he said.

Meeting their needs

Report recommendations

- The DCSF and the TDA should raise the profile of specialist teaching and encourage trainees to do placements in SEN schools.

- The DCSF should establish exactly how many special school teachers are needed.

- The National College should make SEN headteacher recruitment an "urgent priority".

- Child development and SEN definitions should be on the teacher-training curriculum.

- Teach First and the TDA should develop a six-month course.

- Local authorities should develop induction training for teachers entering the SEN sector.

- It should be easier for overseas trained teachers working in special schools to get QTS status.

- SEN school teachers should do outreach training in mainstream schools.

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