Among the recommendations made in the 1978 Warnock Report on special educational needs and disabilities was the notion that all initial teacher training courses should include a “special education element”.
Trainees were encouraged to “notice signs of special need” and how such needs might be assessed.
Now that the voice of disabled people and their advocates is strengthening, and in light of more recent equality legislation and guidance, it would seem appropriate to reconsider how trainees should be equipped to enable all children to achieve their best.
Implicit in part one of the Teachers’ Standards is the requirement for trainees to “inspire, motivate and challenge pupils” (Department for Education, 2011). This requires trainees to believe that children are capable of making progress. ITT courses should provide a safe and trusting environment in which trainees may explore their beliefs, share their concerns and examine their attitudes towards children and their learning, including those considered to have SEND. Trainees should also be encouraged to develop a pedagogical approach that demonstrates the belief that each child is an integral and valued member of the class who has a unique contribution to make.
Allowing space in ITT courses for trainees to establish inclusive values and attitudes can provide a strong foundation for them to act inclusively in future.
Of course, some knowledge about how to enable all children to make progress and achieve their best is vital for teachers, and ITT courses should play their part in equipping trainees appropriately. The specific knowledge that trainees need includes legislation and guidance, current discourses on SEND, research and practice knowledge.
Practice knowledge, including SEND provision, should be embedded within all areas of the curriculum and not seen exclusively as a specialist area. It should be part of the high-quality teaching that every child is entitled to receive. ITT courses should also equip the trainee with knowledge about how they can gain additional expertise and from whom.
All this demands that ITT providers themselves examine their values and attitudes towards all children and their learning, and to construct their courses accordingly. By embedding SEND provision and practice within all curriculum areas, the “special education element” becomes the ordinary. It becomes the responsibility of everyone, not just the specialist.
Dr Janet Goepel is a senior lecturer in early years and primary education at Sheffield Hallam University