SEN teachers are left to go it alone

21st October 2011 at 01:00
A poll reveals a `worrying picture' of unsupported staff unable to cope

Teachers of children with special educational needs (SEN) already face one of the most challenging jobs in the profession. But their working lives are being made considerably worse by deteriorating pupil behaviour and a lack of support from schools, according to research.

More than 80 per cent of SEN teachers in mainstream schools report behaviour getting worse over recent years, a survey of more than 1,500 teachers has found. And their colleagues in special schools paint an even grimmer picture, with 90 per cent saying that the situation has worsened.

Despite the problems being faced by teachers, schools have failed to support them with proper training and sanctions for unruly children, respondents to the poll said. In special schools only 29 per cent of teachers said school policies effectively supported staff in instilling discipline.

"The worrying picture that emerges . is that there is a sizeable proportion of teachers who do not consider they have a sufficiently wide range of strategies to manage the behaviour of pupils with SEN and do not feel well supported by their school," said the report, which was written by academics at Canterbury Christ Church University.

The research, commissioned by teaching union NASUWT, follows pledges by the Government to give teachers more powers to improve unruly behaviour.

But the study has thrown a light on to how schools are failing to make proper use of the powers they already have.

Teachers reported overly complicated policies governing behaviour, which meant that sanctions such as detentions were issued, but not followed up. The number of "stages" in the disciplinary process resulted in pupils not being properly monitored.

"The motivation behind such systems seemed to be to avoid pupils reaching the higher-level sanctions such as exclusion, but a number of teachers felt the reality was that there were so many stages that nothing actually happened to the pupil as a consequence of their behaviour," the study said.

Mainstream SEN teachers said the main reason for behaviour becoming more challenging in recent years was poor parenting. A total of 37 per cent surveyed thought families now take less responsibility for their children.

Time delays between poor behaviour and punishments were also identified as a factor, as was lack of parental support for sanctions, including detentions and the setting of extra work.

But the study also highlights specific behavioural problems because of pupils' special needs. One problem is that traditional rules, rewards and sanctions will have a "limited impact" on the behaviour of pupils with SEN if they do not yet have good social skills or if they have disorders such as autism, the report said.

Richard Rose (pictured right), professor of special and inclusive education and director of the Centre for Special Needs Education and Research at Northampton University, said that children with SEN need to be taught good behaviour.

"Children who are just behaving badly need intervention. Other children need to learn what good behaviour means," he told TES. "They need to learn social skills as much as they do the academic curriculum. Of course you should expect them to behave well, but you must couple that with lessons on consequences of actions and the anxiety they can cause others."

David Bateson, chairman of the Federation of Leaders in Special Education and principal of Ash Field School and Assistive Technology Assessment Centre in Leicester, said it was hard for teachers to feel supported even if they worked in a well-led school.

"If you experience (poor behaviour) regularly it drains your resilience, and you are not going to feel supported even if you are," he said.

"It's indisputable that teachers are now working with many more children with extreme behaviours, and pupils are much more likely to have mental health issues."


The views of teachers interviewed by researchers:

"They are used to instant gratification - there is no fear of any punishments and they do not come from homes with employed parents or job aspirations."

(Secondary teacher)

"Year 7 is getting more belligerent - `I know my rights!' This stems from a home which says, `You can have whatever you want, you don't have to work for it."

(Secondary teacher)

"We have more incidents of pupils being defiant and abusive to adults . It's the `Am I bovvered?' attitude."

(Secondary teacher).

Original headline: SEN teachers are left to go it alone as behaviour worsens

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