At the same time, in the Guardian, the Ofsted annual report showed that children in disadvantaged areas and from other heritages were outperforming English learners. I know that these children do not have special educational needs in the strict sense, but they do have individual needs, and that, to me is where the secret of success might lie. It is more a case of knowing the children’s needs well, fine tuning challenge and expectation and supporting appropriately; otherwise known as personalisation, the opposite of much current education discourse. This approach also support children whose learning outcomes exceed their peers and whose needs are also not always met. This is a consequence of “teaching to the middle”. Challenge at the different ends is often less appropriate.
Also at the same time, various reports have suggested that children with special educational needs are largely working with teaching assistants and making less progress. The children with the greatest needs often work with the least qualified person, although I do know many Teaching Assistants whose specialist skills are greater than the classteachers, so not a completely black and white position.
I am beginning to consider that, with teaching and learning sometimes seeming to be in danger of describing itself in ever-narrower terms, more teacher-centred, the learner is being required to fit the system, rather than the system being designed to fit the learner. Should they not do so, they are in danger of being failed by the system that is supposed to secure the best possible outcomes.
What we are really talking about is the sharp end of teaching and learning, dealing with learners whose individual needs are quite specific and may, for some time be undiagnosed, although they should be capable of description. This latter point is the reason I developed the crib sheet at the header of this post; seeking to support the clear description of learning needs that might help the school SENCo to fine tune support, or to engage the necessary external expertise to offer insights into the specific needs being displayed.
I have to reflect that the current incarnation of the National Curriculum, although designed to raise standards, especially in Primary education, if interpreted as a delivery model, could put these children at greater disadvantage, if they don’t “get it”. In other words, they are not keeping up with their peers. The situation is compounded, in my opinion, with a lack of clarity in assessment systems, which may well add another layer of confusion, in that, in the absence of a definite framework against which judgements are made, any aspect of subjectivity in teacher responses could exacerbate the feelings of failure from the learner finding learning a challenge.
If children’s work books are organised as portfolios too, they provide the narrative for discussion, and decision making, especially when compared to the school outcomes. Schools need to create the basis for fine-tuned decisions, especially where they affect potentially vulnerable learners, for whom a small group will have significant, long term needs to be addressed.
Those children in the 70-90% group will become a significant target group for some schools in such a scenario. Equally, however the notion of progress will also become significant, for all schools, as they will be asked to be able to show progress across all ability groups over time.
What would I do?
- Ensure that teachers know the needs of their children really well and plan to teach the groups with the greatest needs, at critical points. TAs can then be deployed to the needs of other groups.
- Ensure that all communication across the school was of the highest quality, including with parents, whose backgrounds and needs need also to be taken into account.
- Develop a school portfolio, based on a series of whole school writing projects, linking with other schools if possible, to moderate internally and seek external feedback. http://chrischiversthinks.weebly.com/blog-thinking-aloud/school-portfolios-support-assessment
- If teachers are insecure about teaching children with significant individual needs at either end of the learning spectrum, they should seek support from colleagues in other year groups, to extend their expertise.
- Look at internal systems, especially reading approaches, to explore whether they support learners, or whether the learners have to fit the prescribed system.
- Develop a more open approach to writing, based on an individual portfolio approach, as detailed here. http://chrischiversthinks.weebly.com/blog-thinking-aloud/pupil-portfolios-public-progress
- In Primary, have one writing book, whatever the subject, to create a clear focus for each piece of writing. This would enhance writing across the curriculum and allow other subjects to provide the stimulus, the context and the vocabulary for writing. http://chrischiversthinks.weebly.com/blog-thinking-aloud/writing-process-tweak-your-books
- Learning Objectives to be seen as the title for the lesson.
- Success Criteria to be the sub headings and a stepped guide to a successful outcome.
- Individuals to have flip out personalised learning foci, so that they can support in-lesson discussions of learning. They also provide the basis for marking to the individual need. http://chrischiversthinks.weebly.com/blog-thinking-aloud/marking-keep-it-simple
- Keep a track of individual progress, with some vulnerable individuals being subject to more of a case-study approach. http://chrischiversthinks.weebly.com/blog-thinking-aloud/send-building-an-individual-case-study