The teaching calendar is chock full of awareness days and celebration days, which, at times, can feel a bit of a bind; especially when they require a special assembly, a new display board and/or dressing up in a costume/wig/facepaint (thankfully, we leave the baking to the hapless parents, up to their eyeballs in eggs and four deep into the evening).
These days might all seem like overkill, but there are a few on the way that have a distinctive SEND flavour and which really do deserve to be recognised. And that doesn’t have to mean extra work/costumes/cakes.
The first and most important to me personally, because my son carries the condition, is the 21 March: World Down’s Syndrome Day. It’s held on a date that represents the third 21st chromosome (the medical name is Trisomy 21), and the world is encouraged to wear odd socks on the occasion and the world is encouraged to wear odd socks on the occasion because, in photographs, the chromosomes look a bit like socks.
Next, we have April, which is otherwise known as National Autism Awareness Month (and also contains Undiagnosed Children’s Day on 28 April – a day to recognise the fact that there are children in our communities with conditions so rare that they haven’t got names and can’t be diagnosed), followed by World Cerebral Palsy Day, Dyspraxia Awareness Week and Dyslexia Awareness Week in October.
SEND needs awareness days
Now, while I agree with my friend who told me that, for her, every day was an odd sock day (although I think she was commenting on her domestic state rather than awareness of the genetic disorder, per se), I also think that a bit of awareness-raising for busy teachers who cannot be expected to hold all the specialist knowledge in their brains is no bad thing.
Of course, I can’t tell you everything of significance about the learning profile for a youngster with Down’s syndrome here (and even if I could, I would also have to tell you that for every child who fits the mould you would be bound to come across another who didn’t), so instead, I will pose some questions that you could ask yourself on any SEND awareness day.
- Are you aware of the specific learning requirements of the children and young people in your class? (Have you read their paperwork and, if you found that you didn’t know what some of it meant, do you know who to ask?)
- Do you feel confident to teach learners with SEND in your class?
- Does your school offer the kind of curriculum that allows SEND learners to demonstrate their knowledge and skills, or do you expect all learners to go through the same kind of lessons and sit the same kind of exams?
- Do you think that the children with extra or different learning requirements belong in your class, or in your school, even? In an educational landscape dominated by discussions around segregated settings for the “bright”, what are your opinions on segregation for SEND?
And most importantly, if you teach a child like mine in any kind of school ─ be it special, mainstream or alternative ─ do you understand why they are there?
Nancy Gedge is a consultant teacher for the Driver Youth Trust, which works with schools and teachers on SEND. She is the TES SEND specialist and author of Inclusion for Primary School Teachers and tweets @nancygedge