When I was asked to write this column, the brief was to provide information for teachers on how to handle a situation in which you have a pupil struggling with their learning who you suspect may have special educational needs (SEN). The difficulty with addressing this is that it is simply not clear-cut; there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’approach. There is, however, a fundamental attitude shift and approach that can help teachers to handle all individual class cases.
One of the key things to remember when it comes to a school’s SEN policy is that it must support teachers to ensure they are responsible and accountable for the progress and development of all children in their classroom. Young people with SEN are not the sole domain of the SENCO; with one in five children identified as having SEN, the reality for many teachers will be around five to seven pupils per class group who may have SEN. Making sure that teachers have access to training, support from the school’s senior leadership team (SLT), including the SENCO, is crucial, as research on the Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) has shown that the more time children spend away from class teachers, the less independent they become and the less progress they make academically.
Without the commitment to high quality teaching, no amount of interventions will address the fundamental needs of pupils with SEN. Of course, this isn’t to say that teachers cannot use SENCOs to help provide support, as they are the key advocate and mentor for teachers to deliver this. Effective support for all pupils in school is about strengthening collaboration but still maintaining responsibility for the pupils and taking an adaptive approach to teaching. In-class support is also not the responsibility of teaching assistants (TAs). TAs operate under the effective direction of the teacher in class, and teachers need to ensure that they are deploying additional support appropriately and proportionately to pupil needs across the class with clear arrangements and expectations.
Teachers should use additional resources to address targeted support for pupils by focusing their time and efforts in better understanding the outcomes of that support; what progress has been made towards agreed outcomes, and how has the additional support enabled the pupil to achieve this as independently as possible? What is the pupil view on this, the view of the TA, the view of the teacher and maybe the pupil’s peers?
This reflective, constantly shifting approach is integral to good practice. There is no silver bullet here; ask any SENCO and he or she will tell you that there is no way to have all the skills necessary to meet x or y need. The one thing that is certain is that no two pupils are the same, even if their needs are identified as belonging to the same area of need. Once we realise this, the next steps become reassuringly clear.
A core part of the graduated approach to SEN discussed in previous columns is ‘assess, plan, do, review’. We need to constantly address a pupil’s needs before planning how to address those needs and then implementing this plan. This is a continuous cycle, which should be constantly under review with agreed dates and times to appraise outcomes regularly (every two to six weeks is good practice) so the teacher and SENCO can act swiftly to ‘tweak’ and adapt any arrangements accordingly.
Every child has a differing level of need, with some emerging at different times, whether they have been identified or not. It isn’t the role of the teacher to ‘diagnose’ specific issues in SEN – in fact the word ‘diagnose’ ought not be used in reference to SEN at all. Although one in five pupils will experience difficulties in their learning at some point, this does not mean that all those within this 20 per cent group of the school population will have SEN for life! Schools need to offer an inclusive, graduated approach, and that is where support from SENCOs and CPD events such as nasen Live come in.
Ultimately, we are all learning, just as pupils do, and CPD should be continuous for just this reason. Teaching is a journey without an end destination, and throughout our work supporting schools, teachers and SENCOs I’m still surprised, enlightened and educated on a daily