Ever since the Carter Review of initial teacher training (ITT) in 2015 reminded us that “good teaching for special educational needs and disability (SEND) is good teaching for all children”, practitioners and policymakers have highlighted the variability in coverage of SEND in ITT in this country.
It is clear, however, that the need for thorough, sustainable SEND training is greater than ever. An alarming number of teachers feel unprepared or unsupported to teach pupils with SEND, which raises urgent questions about the suitability and accessibility of existing training and CPD. Typically, exit interviews and the newly qualified teacher (NQT) survey reveal that trainee confidence is weakest in terms of their ability to teach children with a range of needs.
You could argue that this is unsurprising; I would be suspicious of any experienced teacher who could honestly say they had high confidence in managing every possible need they might encounter, never mind trainee teachers and NQTs who are just embarking on their journeys. But it reinforces what we know about SEND training in ITT: it is highly inconsistent.
The issue has been a lack of expertise among ITT providers (school-centred ITT providers, School Direct lead schools and higher education institutions specialising in teacher training) to develop structured and sustainable programmes with a clear SEND input. What has been missing is an easy-to-use resource that is flexible for different providers, and which could fit in with their planning and accountability cycles.
The provision of meaningful SEND training for trainee teachers is something the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers takes very seriously, and that is why we championed the development of a practical resource to help ITT providers equip a new generation of teachers with the skills and knowledge to teach well for SEND; it is about giving them the "how to" and helping them explore wider principles with their trainees, with the understanding that learning is never complete.
Developing clarity of needs
This toolkit starts with an audit, which is useful in helping providers to identify what they "don’t know they don’t know". Our experience has been that there is huge support among providers for the idea of high-quality SEND training, and this toolkit helps with that process, giving a clear picture from which to develop their provision. ITT providers are used to this process of reviewing and adapting. Each year they gather exit data, performance data, outcomes, trajectories, feedback from school placements and feedback from NQTs, and ultimately use this information to review and adapt their provision.
The materials in the toolkit, and especially the audit, feed into this review process, where the measurable impact is recorded both in terms of the progress of trainees themselves (in this case in relation to their confidence and competence in teaching children with a range of needs), as well as the progress made by children in their care.
In summary, based on our experience, a robust SEND curriculum for teacher training should include:
The graduated approach: this is non-negotiable. Trainees need to be able to explain this clearly for the NQT interviews.
How to measure the impact of interventions: this is about how they use data. At initial training stage, it may be support staff and the SEND coordinator who provide data, but teachers need to know which questions to ask and how to interpret the answers.
The milestones in a child or young person’s development – and how to determine whether or not these are being reached.
The four broad areas of need and specific needs within each area: trainees can never fully know these, but a well-designed programme will give them the skills they need to research more as they progress in their career.
Subject knowledge (at secondary level) and different pedagogical approaches to SEND: this is about trainees developing their ability to spot when a pupil is underperforming and discern if this reflects a special educational need.
Partnership and multi-agency working: this means working collaboratively with children and young people, parents and families, support staff and external practitioners.
Moving forward, we are heartened by the Department for Education’s plans to ensure an entitlement to sustained CPD for all early career teachers. We believe that accredited training providers are perfectly placed to offer this support to early career teachers, building on the strong foundation of ITE. We hope that the newly revealed plans for the early career framework will provide scope for this toolkit to be used in the continuing development of SEND expertise.
Emma Hollis is executive director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers