A Special Manifesto

With a General Election on the horizon and the main political parties competing to provide me with reasons not to vote for them, I thought I’d list 10 things they could focus on, relating to Special Education, that would capture my attention.

1. We will provide schools with a ‘Motor Control Premium’ to ensure that they are all able to afford to provide the most appropriate positioning equipment available to support pupils’ learning and physical development.

2. We will review the OfSTED practice of providing Special Schools with a grade 4 or a ‘*’ in the section on pupil attainment, therefore undermining the pupils’ achievements and the work of the school.

3. We will require all nationally organised structures within the ‘school led system’ to include proportionate representation of the Special Education sector.

4. We will ensure that Education ministers take a visible interest in the development and performance of Special Schools and reverse the recent trend in delegating this exclusively to Children and Families ministers.

5. We will establish a review into the effective evaluation of pupil progress in Special Schools in order to create a comparative framework which isn’t based poor quality data sets.

6. We will offer tax incentives to encourage a wide range of types and sizes of employers to employ people with learning disabilities and be supportive of individual need and capability, ensuring that supported apprenticeships lead to longer term employment opportunities.

7. We will establish to what extent there is an attainment gap in Special Schools based on pupils’ economic origin. If there is not then we will research what barriers pupils with learning disabilities do face as a result of coming from a low income background and empower schools to address them.

8. We will conduct a longitudinal evaluation of the extent to which Special schools have a sustained impact on their pupils, leading to the creation of a set of cross institutional and multi agency recommendations for maximising the application of pupil potential beyond school.

9. We will commission a meta analytical evaluation of the impact of Special schools, Alternative Provision, Resource Base provision and the co-location of Special Schools on inclusive opportunities, pupil outcomes and permanent exclusions.

10. We will……….

So what should number 10 be? Go on, you decide.

SEND: The Next Generation

Over the years I have gained a fair amount of experience of work based teacher education, having designed and delivered GTP in a Special school and School Direct across both Mainstream and Special schools. I’m currently working on a revised version of School Direct in order to align our programme with the administrative systems of a SCITT set up by one of the other Lead Schools in our Teaching School Alliance.

Coincidentally, this week I was informed of a project being funded by the NCTL to pilot approaches to SEND ITT, so I have been writing a bid to take part in this, which made me start thinking about what the common characteristics were of the programmes I have worked on. More broadly, what are the characteristics of SEND ITT that will ensure that Special schools are able to recruit new teachers with an appropriate level of knowledge and understanding?

Before I get on to that, one of the most important aspects of training teachers for working in Special schools, is ensuring that they get to spend some meaningful time actually in these schools. Many programmes have elective modules which offer a few days, but this doesn’t really scratch the surface in terms of developing an understanding of the role or of the children we work with.

Getting the balance right is a real challenge, particularly given that QTS enables you to teach in both Special and Mainstream settings. So far I have explored various combinations of day release plus a half term block and dual placement with reciprocal block placements. Both have advantages and disadvantages to them and I’m yet to be convinced that either is ideal. The challenge is ensuring that the trainee has enough time in a Special school to develop a relationship with the pupils and to acquire the requisite knowledge and understanding of the individual developmental needs of the children, whilst also ensuring that the ability to demonstrate competency against the standards for QTS is not compromised from a Mainstream perspective. Whilst I am quite clear that many of the teaching standards can be effectively evidenced within a Special school setting, there are some which are less easy to achieve, so the balance between the settings needs to be carefully considered.

In terms of the SEND training content, the areas which have come up repeatedly and which I feel can begin to create the core of a successful SEND programme are as follows:

Recognise the importance of treating all learners as individuals and not making judgements or generalisations based on medical, social or psychological labelling.

Understand that expectations need to be carefully matched to the individual and recognise that children learn best in an environment which caters for their individual learning needs.

Understand the purpose of an individual plan and know how to retrieve previous progression data,in order to ensure continuity for individual pupils in future planning.

Understand the importance of providing opportunities for both incremental and lateral progression.

Be familiar with a range of strategies for the effective differentiation of learning objectives.

Understand the importance of Early Learning Responses and how these impact on later learning and be aware of ways of teaching these skills.

Understand the importance of frequency, rehearsal and repetition in terms of both developmental progression and consolidation.

Understand how disruption to and/or delays in cognitive development can impact on the development of later skills.

Understand the importance of modifying and adapting resources in order to enable pupils to access the curriculum effectively.

Understand ways to support alternative and augmentative communication systems.

Be able to plan to meet the needs of children working outside of their chronological age range.

Understand the importance of tracking individuals across the breadth of the curriculum, ensuring that there is an appropriate balance between core subjects and additional learning needs.

Have an understanding of the importance of integrating movement and positioning work into planning.

Understand the need to plan for progression through both whole class mechanisms and individual observation and assessment.

Understand the need to be able to deconstruct learning objectives into individually achievable units, that require differentiated timescales, criteria for success and resources.

Understand that some pupils may demonstrate regression and understand the importance of periodical reassessment of pre-existing skills.  

Be able to integrate the requirements of an individual plan into group based activities.

Understand the value of inclusive opportunities both with mainstream peers and within the wider community.

Understand the factors which can affect the learning patterns of children with SEND.

Understand the importance of enabling pupils to take responsibility for their own behaviour rather than having it constantly managed by others.

Understand strategies and methodologies for the objective analysis of complex behaviours.

Understand the importance of consistent written behaviour strategies for individual pupils and understand the difference between an individual strategy and a whole school one and how one must support the other.

Be able to utilise a range of tools to communicate with families and can take into consideration families’ individual needs when doing so.

Understand the importance of evaluating the impact of support staff on the learning of the pupils.

Whilst our training expectations have evolved over the years, the content has continued to be derived from documentation such as the National Standards for SENCOS (TTA-1998) and the National Special Educational Needs Specialist Standards (TTA – 1999), both of which are represented in the above, the experience of colleagues and my own thoughts. To my knowledge there has been no recent national consideration of what constitutes effective training for those wanting to teach in Special schools, that is until now.

It is important to acknowledge that the above is a starting point, the requirement for the beginnings of career which if it is to be successful will require a commitment to ongoing scholarship and professional reflection. However there is also something else to consider if we are about to embark on an evaluation of SEND ITT and that is what do we need to know to be a teacher in a Special school. Is there a minimum requirement in terms of our core understanding as well as a focus on evidencing what we are doing? I was fortunate enough to hear @Kris_Boulton speak about this at the Sunday Times Education Festival and it is essentially because of what he said that I’ve started giving it some consideration. Kris has kindly posted the transcript of his presentation here:

http://tothereal.wordpress.com/2014/10/04/festival-of-education-2014/

Have a read, I wonder what would his notion of codification look like for those of us working in Special schools?

I think it might be important for us to find out.