Dr Helen Ross discusses the deficiencies in teacher training and considers what can be done about the situation.
In recent weeks, my email inbox has been pinging off the metaphorical wall, with notifications and reminders for me to sign, or follow or share a particular petition. The aims and spirit behind the petition are laudable: better training around special needs and disability for all those who work in schools. I wholly agree that we all need training, whether working front of house on reception, serving lunches or directly educating young people. Almost invariably, those working in schools interact with children and young people. However, that we need such a petition in 2021 is alarming. Has nothing changed since 1978 and the Warnock report?T
Teacher training and education frameworks
Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and training is undergoing a seismic shift at present. The Department for Education has suggested that all ITE providers should undergo an accreditation process, whether they are new to provision or have been offering teacher training for a substantial amount of time. There is an argument as to the driving forces behind this process: is it pragmatic, quality assurance or is it ideological censure? Whatever the reasons behind such a proposal, it is something that we as educators, supporting some of the most vulnerable learners in our schools, need to pay attention to.
Teachers have long-felt that there is inadequate training as part of ITE programmes, despite the explicit expectation that teachers must “be able to use and evaluate distinctive teaching approaches to engage and support” learners with SEND. Trainee teachers are also expected to adapt and to meet the needs of their learners. However, many teachers at all career-stages feel ill-equipped and insufficiently trained to do so.
Gaps in knowledge and CPD
In 2020, I was asked to undertake a review of support structures for young people with specific learning difficulties (SpLD), with specific focus on policy structures, parents and their role, and the professional support available to young people with specific learning difficulties. While I focussed on SpLD, much of what I highlighted could be applied to other areas of need.
Teachers do not feel that they have sufficient knowledge to be able to differentiate, or adapt their resources and lesson plans to meet the needs of young people with various needs. Teacher trainees do not receive consistent quality or duration of input in SEND provision. Ofsted acknowledged in 2020 that quality across different types of providers is inconsistent and despite their oversight of provision, Ofsted appears to have done little to mitigate this. They also note that some ITE providers do not have expertise in supporting learners with SEND available to support the trainee teachers as part of their ITE. This is alarming and sadly unsurprising. It seems we have been addressing the same arguments since I started teaching in 2007: better training, funding and resourcing to support young people with SEND. Sadly, when I started teaching, these battles had already been raging for many years. Nothing, it seems, appears to change.
What can we do about it?
In 2009, Rose argued that schools should have access to specialist teachers to support students’ literacy development. Those gaps in training continue, 10 years after Rose! I also recommended that schools have access to appropriately trained teachers and that all trainees should receive training on specific learning difficulties (this was the focus of that report). However, I also recommended that SENDCo training should incorporate specialism in one of the four overarching areas of need.
Systematically, lobbying and petitions are still needed, hence the ‘pinging’ in my inbox and the work I do within my voluntary roles. However, there are also things that individuals and schools can do within their own teaching practice to support learners with SEND.
• Dyslexia friendly lessons: these are useful for all learners through adaptation of presentation slides and lessons resources.
• Schools can activate ‘accessibility’ features in online packages such as Office 365 or on Google Docs etc.
• Teachers can make use of free resources on SEND as provided by MOOCs, Seneca, Microsoft Learning etc.
• Teachers and schools should continue to work with parents/carers to find what learners need, working on the small things that can be revolutionary in their impact: visual timetables, wriggle breaks, printing on coloured paper etc.
These are a few suggestions, but ultimately, we need fundamental structural change in ITE and ongoing training so that full consideration of special educational needs is given. Teachers at all stages of their careers, need comprehensive and ongoing CPD in how to meet learners’ needs so that they can be their best, to support learners to be their best.