The SEND Built-in not bolt-on conference was a chance to engage with some of the leading minds in SEND; not all, but it was a privilege to be party to a wide range of presentations and discussions. It was developed to share the thinking that had emerged from the earlier Government discussion groups about the need for SEND to be a greater part of Initial Teacher Education.
We had the “Every teacher is a teacher of SEND” statement, from Stephen Munday. I am waiting for a revision that says, “Every teacher is a teacher of children, some of whom have known difficulties, for which plans can be made initially, some of whom have issues, as yet to be identified, which may show short or long term needs, but which need to be identified and addressed within the capacity of, first, the teacher, and second within the school capacity, eventually, and in more difficult cases, involving external expertise.”
Equally, from Anita Devi, presenting on behalf of NASBTT, The National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers SEND toolkit, we had the SEND approach of assess, plan, do, review. Now, in seeking to take this for SEND, the process can ignore the fact that this approach underpins all teaching and learning, and, if it is seen as embedded in overall T&L, can be restated as refining assessment from interrogation, discussion and trying different approaches, which can be seen as the graduated approach. That a child has an observable need obliges the teacher to spot and deal with the need within their current skill base, referring to experienced colleagues as needed.
An earlier blog that sought to look at the journey from the start of trying to put things together towards a more holistic approach suggested that it was a staged personal development. In-school experience is a significant variable, which will vary according to the school and mentor development stage. ITE trainees, especially those on the shorter courses, have two main school experiences. For Primary practitioners, this will be in KS1 and 2, which might mean, for example, years 1 and 5.
Unless the trainees actively interrogate EYFS to year 6, looking at developments across the years, they may well find difficulty in seeing the needs of some higher or lower achievers in the context of individual needs to be addressed by adaptation of challenge. Equally, it can be easy to apply the bell curve mentality and assume that the lower achieving group has SEN and under-challenge. Bridie Raban, in the 1970s made the point that every class has a dynamic and it’s essential to really know the range of needs. It is really essential to know the children in the class.
As interlopers into the classroom, the status of the trainee can create some issues with classroom support and this is often one of the latter issues to be addressed. Trainees need to know that they are responsible for deployment and informing the TA about expectations within tasks. All trainees should teach the lower achievers, to ensure that they know their needs clearly, rather than relying on reported outcomes.
All of this feeds into teacher judgement. What is “good” for this class and this child? Understanding current and expected outcomes, and what this looks like, in reality, is incredibly supportive of detailed intervention and feedback to children. It can be instructive to look at a piece of work from earlier in the term to form a comparison, which the child can understand, as well as the teacher.
Refinement of judgement often comes through exposure to a variety of outcomes and needs that prompt adjustments to original plans, leading to further refinements of expectations and challenges; up and down.
The ability to record and track thinking and decisions with regard to child need can be the basis for some kind of case study, which, in turn, can be seen as a summative assessment at a specific point in time, summarising what is known about a child.
ITE institutions have a tremendous capacity to capture learning outcomes across the age ranges and to provide these as background portfolios of achievement, against which trainees can moderate their judgements, supported by conversations with their in-school mentors. Knowing when SEN “starts”, in relation to the class norms will determine decisions and actions. We are rarely experts in SEN even after we’ve “met” children displaying real needs that may differ from the textbook descriptions. It can sometimes be trial and error in the first instance, as the novice tries to get a handle on the underlying needs. The refinement is in the novice thinking, before it can be transmitted to the child.
Mentors have a significant role. They are, for the period of the school experience, the professional tutor to the trainee; a role model, confidante, guide, support, feedback provider and judge of qualities being shown. This role is easily underplayed and undervalued, especially of the mentor sees the opportunity, as sometimes happens, to take on other jobs outside their classroom. They need to be available to offer in-lesson prompts to better teacher behaviours.
Becoming a teacher is complex. It takes time, and needs significant opportunities to think and to talk about developing ideas, unpicking errors and gleaning the expertise of colleagues to enhance personal capacity. This latter is the most significant point, in that personal capacity is what takes successful trainees into their first jobs with a bit of spare capacity to deal with the inevitable hiccups that occur. Knowing what to do when faced with an issue, and having the ability to deal with the issue themselves, is likely to make or break the trainee or NQT when facing their class. A large part of being a teacher is self-confidence and the status accorded by others. You know them and they know where they stand.
There was a bit of separating out SEND into Teacher Standard 5. This could be a significant weakness, in that, TS5 only exists within a dynamic continuum of decision making, encapsulated in standards 24652, as below. SEND is not niche marketing; it is a part of the normality of school life. The expertise to deal with need can be graduated, and articulated as TIC, TAC, TOE; TEAM including the child, around the child, of experts.