SEN training down to schools

5th September 2008 at 01:00
PGCE courses do not devote enough time to teaching pupils with learning difficulties and disabilities, says Ofsted

New teachers are not being properly trained to meet the needs of children with learning difficulties and disabilities, says Ofsted.

Teacher-training courses are failing to dedicate enough time to the skills needed to help these pupils. Instead, responsibility for training teachers about children with learning difficulties and disabilities is being passed on to schools, Ofsted found.

As a result, too many teachers are receiving patchy training and delivering substandard lessons, the report warned.

In two out of three lessons taught by new and recently qualified teachers, provision for children with learning difficulties or disabilities was satisfactory or inadequate.

Ofsted tracked the progress of teachers, from their recruitment to training courses through to the end of their induction year, visiting 16 training providers and 70 schools.

They found that relying on schools to provide training disadvantaged the trainees.

"They gained experience in the areas of specific concern to the schools in which they were working, but did not receive the wider coverage of learning difficulties and disabilities necessary to fulfil all the professional standards for the award of qualified teacher status," the report said. "This left them ill-prepared for meeting the needs of pupils with a wide spectrum of learning difficulties."

Providers of postgraduate certificate in education courses struggled most to find time to prepare trainees, the inspectors found.

Overall standards of training were "rarely inadequate, but too much was satisfactory rather than good", according to the report.

Inspectors also identified a "major weakness" in the monitoring of new teachers as they moved into their first jobs. The responsibility for assessing the support they received shifted from the training provider to the school and local authority with "variable success".

Less than half of the schools visited provided a good induction into teaching pupils with learning difficulties and disabilities, Ofsted said, and there was a "close relationship" between this induction and the progress made by pupils.

The findings follow a government proposal that all undergraduate trainees should take an SEN module and have more placement opportunities at special schools.

Lord Adonis, the junior schools minister, also announced that all new special educational needs co-ordinators (sencos) would have to complete training courses. From this month, sencos must be qualified teachers to address what Lord Adonis described as "long-standing concerns" over training.

IN AT THE DEEP END

Teaching children with special educational needs (SEN) for the first time can be a shock for trainee teachers, according to Melanie Barrow, headteacher of Stradbroke Primary School in Eye, Suffolk.

Mrs Barrow, who became a head earlier this year at the age of just 28, decided to improve her knowledge by completing a masters course in SEN during her first year of teaching.

It was difficult to balance with the responsibilities of her new job, but she was driven to continue because she could see it made a difference to her pupils.

"I really enjoyed doing my PGCE and teaching placements, but there wasn't enough focus on SEN," said Mrs Barrow.

"All trainee teachers should be given a more in-depth knowledge of the different kinds of SEN because you can get a very different experience from school to school. It can come as a shock in your first placement when you are thrown in at the deep end.

"A lot of the trainee teachers on my course made that comment."

Mrs Barrow said it was difficult to develop a quick understanding of the different types of SEN pupils encountered by teachers.

Knowing the right approaches to helping children with different needs could affect your chances of passing your PGCE and having a successful first year of teaching, Mrs Barrow said.

"In my first job, the school had a lot of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I had only encountered autism before, so I had to learn new strategies straight away.

"I was lucky because my colleagues would help me, but there was nothing from my PGCE that I could draw on."

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