Recently there has been some discussion on SEND; special educational needs and disabilities. It is almost as if a trainee teacher has to emerge from their period of training fully equipped for every eventuality that they will encounter, at least in their early career. It is important to view ITE as just that, an initial period of training. This has to be continued through a teacher’s career, with independent self-developing behaviours supported by schools.
From the list above, apart from certain elements of working with parents and generic national Curriculum directed subject knowledge, there is every likelihood that other aspects will be different in systematic terms in every school. The variability of the training context is likely to result in very different experiences for trainees.
It is the fact that every school is subtly, or sometimes significantly, different that has caused me to reflect on the role of the school and the professional mentor as a major factor in a trainee’s success or otherwise.
Today’s mentor is more likely to be an in-house tutor than just an experienced teacher with the skills to model good practice to an observer, but selected by the head as “their turn” to have a student. Most ITE providers offer training to mentors, including to Masters’ level. They need to be able to coach the trainee in every aspect of development as a professional teacher, ensuring that every one of the teacher standards is embedded into the teacher-to-be in a form that enables them to reflect and refine their practice in ways that benefit the children.
Where trainees struggle, it is usually because the mentor, often a member of SLT, or with specific responsibilities in a school, is pulled to other roles during a school experience, so that the trainee receives too little modelling of practice, support and guidance as well as challenge and reflective dialogue. While it is a truism, regularly expressed by trainees, that they valued the time when the mentor left the room, the need for in-lesson and post-lesson coaching discussions cannot be over-stressed.
There is also the question of the general context. Schools volunteer to take trainees and, as long as they have no significant weaknesses, universities often then place a trainee. From time to time, this does not work, so a trainee is moved.
The school SENCo may, or may not, not be experienced, and have undergone SENCo training, so that the internal systems may not always be sufficiently mature to allow the trainee to anticipate significant support.
From the training provider, the ITE trainee receives a variation on the following thinking toolkit as a starting point.
1) An understanding of child development across the subject range and abilities within the school setting; Primary age 4-11. This is the bedrock of all decisions, impacting on all classroom practices. This is summarised in two blogs.
Build a Teacher; Structuralist to holistic
Teacher standard 2; progress and outcomes. Standard 4; planning. Standard 6; assessment. Standard 5; adaptation to evident need. The developmental continuum 24652 may well show up anomalies from specific children. These are the points for analysis and further refinement of challenge supporting investigation.
It is an area where significant collaborative work would be beneficial to teachers at every stage in their development. A very good understanding of the potential range of capabilities and an ability to frame expectations of the children in a specific year group or class is central to offering challenge and the potential for progress.
2) An understanding of approaches to behaviour management and an ability to accommodate to the contextual demands of that school’s specific approach.
Behaviour management and ITE
3) Understanding the SEND regulations, as per the 2014 framework.
The 2014 SEN framework
4) An understanding that some children in any classroom will display individual needs that are outside the general range of class needs, or perhaps specific to a subject or context.
Individual needs; fine tuning
5) They need to understand the need to keep careful records that may ultimately build into a case study that will add value to an application for additional support.
SEND Building an individual case study.
6) And all this within a team ethic that starts with teacher, parent and child, extends to the broader school expertise, then supplemented with external expertise. Understanding a graduated approach.
7) Having a set of descriptors of learning and social behaviours and outcomes that might, over time suggest a pattern of need that can ultimately be categorised by an external expert, following the creation of a case study.
As an experienced Link Tutor, I am always concerned, after a couple of weeks of the school experience to unpick how well the trainee knows the children, as a class and as individuals. A level of security suggests that the practice will progress positively, as the trainee is beginning to show holistic thinking. Those still seeking to put the structures together cause more concern.
Colleagues at Winchester University have developed a ten week module for SEND that is a significant part of year 3 of the undergraduate course. This covers the above and also specifics of different identified needs. This module occurs directly before the final school experience, during which the trainee has to create a case study of one child chose with the support of the mentor and SENCo.
Learning needs are explored and described using a variety of criteria; social backgrounds unpicked with staff (teacher, SENCo, ELSA-emotional literacy support assistant) and parents through interview; discussions with children, where appropriate, underpin descriptors. Trainees have to seek to understand the needs of one child in detail. At the same time, they need to be acutely aware of the range of other needs in the class. This is particularly the case when trainees choose to do their final school experience in a special school environment.
Issues will always arise and can happen to anyone: -
Teacher standards 8, 7&1
Poor understanding of systems; schools are rapidly becoming single entities. Transfer between schools or changing year group within a school can cause concern. Dialogue and mentoring may be needed in self-organisation based on school systems, or sharing of information between colleagues, to enable deeper understanding of a child’s personal needs.
Class behaviour; understanding the school system, interpreting it into the practice of the class, ensuring that it is followed efficiently, and followed through where this is necessary. Involving senior colleagues as needed. Running a good classroom is key to every aspect of learner success.
Professional Relationships; getting on with colleagues, at all levels, is sometimes taken for granted. It’s easy to take this to an extreme and cause a tension, which can easily become exaggerated. Sometimes needs a quiet word, or, in severe situations, SLT intervention. Parent relations is a skill that is refined through experience, but there can occasionally be parents whose approach can be more challenging. Understanding is a key element of professionalism.
Teacher standards 3 & 4
Being ordered and organised would seem to be needed as second nature in teachers, but cannot be taken for granted. Planning over different time-scales, resourcing appropriately, deploying available staff to predetermined need, are fundamental.
Subject knowledge appropriate to the needs of age and ability range of the children can be a variable, especially in Primary education, where the individual interest and expertise may vary considerably, but needs to be addressed.
Teacher standard 6&5
Responsive, analytical skill and the ability to adapt to evident need can be some of the last skills to be refined. It may well be evident between lessons, based on the relatively simple view of “They got it, or not; what’s next?” It is the in-lesson interactions, coaching, guidance and timely feedback, with, for some children a tweak down or up in the challenge to enable them to underscore some or additional progress.
Teacher standard 2
Progress and outcomes may be the last on this list, but it is the spine of every decision that a teacher makes. Going back to the 24652 dynamic, standard 2 is likely to encompass the teacher expectations, which, in turn, drives challenge, interaction and then expected outcome.
Getting teaching and learning right is a multi-layered and multifaceted reflective process. It is dynamic and ever-changing, permanently challenging.
Trainees need to start this process in training, then keep reflecting, with colleague dialogue and support, to refine their thinking, organisation and professional decision-making.