8 December 2010
Many issues relating to special educational needs (SEN) provision were debated at GL Assessment’s Education Question Hour at the recent Specialist Schools and Academies Trust National Conference. Entitled “The right support for the right child: reviewing SEN provision”, the debate saw panellists discuss a range of issues - from meeting the needs of pupils with SEN, teacher training and assessment to Government policy and funding.
Panellists Professor Barry Carpenter, Pat Glass MP, Dr Janice Gorlach, Lorraine Petersen OBE and Dr Sue Stothard offered a range of views but they all agreed on one issue: the need for better, more adequate teacher training in the face of the current, rapidly-changing world of SEN.
A changing population
Professor Barry Carpenter, SSAT Associate Director of SEN, thinks it’s timely to revisit what we mean by special educational needs. “Sarah Teather is very clear that the Green Paper is designed to improve outcomes for children with SEN. But who are these children? The children with special educational needs today are not the same as those in the 1990s. We have a significantly changing and shifting population.”
“The Department for Education’s own figures show an increase of 29.7% of children with profound and multiple learning difficulties admitted to the school system between 2004 and 2009. That’s a lot of children. Many of these children will be a new phenomenon to the school system and the process of personalising their learning will be a new one to colleagues in the system, too.”
To cite just one example, Barry’s research has found that Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is the largest non-genetic cause of learning disability in the UK and he believes it could affect as many as 1 in 100 children. “This number is as high as the number of children with autistic spectrum disorder, but we don’t have a pedagogy in place to support these children in the same way as we do with children with autism.”
He added, “In the area of complex learning needs and disabilities, we have a challenge as the knowledge base is not as strong as it needs to be. This is not a criticism of the workforce – it’s just that the needs of the children have changed significantly over recent years. We need to get the knowledge base out there and then dig deeper into profiling those learning needs because we are going to need strategies to support these children.”
With these shifts in mind, Dr Janice Gorlach, Vice Principal of Carmel Roman Catholic College in Darlington, believes that it’s vital that special schools and mainstream schools maintain a very close relationship. “At Carmel, the core principle that we value greatly is that if a child is in a school where a child is valued, where they’re cared for, where there’s a very deep belief that every child should have every opportunity, we don’t see why any child should fail to thrive.”
She added, “Children with SEN are a valued and important part of society and it’s vital that they feel a part of that society and have access to being with children in that society. [It’s important that] children who don’t have SEN have access to, relate to, belong with and learn together with children who do have SEN at a severe level or any other level. The children who have SEN and the children who don’t have SEN must value each other.”
Effective teacher training
Lorraine Petersen, CEO of nasen, believes that the seismic shift in the population requires more effective teacher training. “One of the huge issues for us today is that the group of children we have in our schools is very different to the group of children we had 10 to 15 years ago. We have teachers in our schools who were trained 30 years ago under a very different regime and I firmly believe we don’t include enough [guidance on teaching children with SEN] in our initial teacher training to begin with.”
Lorraine was keen to emphasise that we have a number of very effective, experienced SENCOs in our schools today, however she was concerned that over half are due to retire in the next five years. “We also have the problem that the role of the SENCO has never really been seen as a career pathway. I passionately believe that if we have well-trained, effective, senior SENCOs in all our schools, we could start to look at cost-effective ways to meet all the needs of all the children in our schools, especially children with SEN.”
Role of local authorities
Asked about the future role of local authorities in SEN provision, Pat Glass, Labour Member of Parliament for North West Durham, thought that the role they should play and the role they would play are very different.
“Local authorities can’t do anything on their own. It’s like a three-legged stool – it’s got to be about working with parents and working with schools. A good local authority is clear about auditing the need that they have and the need that is likely to come along in the future. It’s about making sure we have the training in place to meet those needs and sometimes, that means planning years ahead. So, you look at how many teachers you have, how many children you are likely to have, and you make sure that training is put in place now.”
She adds, “It’s clear from the White Paper that the local authority will have a role in the future. It will become a parent champion, it will hold the ring on admissions and it will have a role in school improvement. But given that I’m told my local authority is losing up to 40% of its funding over the next four years, I have concerns.”
Improving diagnostic assessment
Sarah Teather has promised to ‘improve diagnostic assessment for schoolchildren’ – but how should this happen?
Dr Sue Stothard, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of York, believes that there is a tendency to look at the label of ‘SEN’ rather than at the children themselves. “We need to look at the children and their profile of strengths and weaknesses”, specifically through diagnostic assessments at key points in a child’s school career, such as in Year 7 and Year 9.
Dr Stothard also cited anecdotal evidence that schools can have low expectations of children with SEN. “There’s a fear of not wanting children with special educational needs to be given work that they may find difficult in case they feel like a failure. That’s very important but equally, if you are not trying to stretch the children or don’t challenge them, they are not going to make the adequate amount of progress. It’s about striking the right balance.”
- Ends -
For photography of the event or to hear a recording of the debate, please contact:
Danielle Morgan, Communications Manager, Granada Learning Group:
Tel: 020 8996 3632
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