Starting out in SEN

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Schools, pupils and staff all miss out if NQTs are denied special school placements

Despite the widespread misconception that newly qualified teachers (NQTs) can’t do their induction year in an SEN school, many find that beginning their career in such a school can be a valuable experience. However, although NQTs can spend their first 12 months teaching in an SEN school – if they manage to secure a post – there is currently a lack of placement opportunities. Why is this, though, when NQTs can bring beneficial new ideas and initiatives to schools, as well as help build talent pipelines?

NQTs who make a conscious decision to seek out a placement in a special school often want fresh challenges, a more rewarding career or simply to make a difference. However, they often find that opportunities to enter an SEN establishment at junior level are few and far between.

According to Statutory Guidance on Induction for Newly Qualified Teachers in England, which was last updated in September 2012, NQTs can complete their induction in a special school as long as the headteacher is confident that the school can offer the breadth of experience required to meet the core standards – in some cases, this may also involve gaining additional, focused experience in a mainstream school. The previous guidelines did not allow inductions to be served in pupil referral units, which may explain the uncertainty surrounding entry level positions in special schools.

This misconception is compounded by the fact that some SEN schools may be unwilling to hire NQTs, in favour of experienced staff with a solid background in, for example, profound and multiple learning difficulties or autism. Some decision makers believe that novices will be ill-equipped to deal with the issues associated with teaching children with complex difficulties. Training and experience are crucial but, although most teacher training touches on issues surrounding SEN, further study in the area is often expensive.

NQTs can bring a fresh and dynamic approach to special schools.Passion for teaching

Many teachers move into SEN schools after gaining special needs experience throughout a mainstream teaching career, but ambitious NQTs who are willing to train can be just as valuable. After all, core skills such as patience, intuition and the ability to manage anxiety are often innate. Passionate NQTs can offer special schools new, fresh and dynamic approaches to alternative education, and more positive attitudes towards inclusion and integration. They often develop a view that SEN teaching is a natural part of their own role in education, rather than a specialism, and bring fresh enthusiasm to the role.

An induction year spent in a special school can also equip NQTs with valuable skills which can later be transferred to mainstream teaching, or built upon to further their career within SEN. These attributes include the ability to see a child as an individual rather than a diagnosis, and an increased flexibility in their approach to teaching.

In order to establish effective talent pipelines in special schools, headteachers need to consider the positive impact of bringing in NQTs, so that they are able to pass on valuable skills and practices to the next generation of SENCOs.

The provision of an induction tutor or mentor to support the NQT, as well as the time it takes to complete regular observation and progress reports, may seem like misplacement of resources, but investing in appropriate training, development, and support by assigning highly skilled practitioners to new recruits is a sure-fire way of retaining expertise within the profession.

We need to encourage special schools to consider the advantages of taking on NQTs if we are to ensure that the new breed of SEN teachers is employed through desire, and not simply through chance.

Further information

Baljinder Kuller is National SEN Development Manager at Capita Education Resourcing:
www.capitaresourcing.co.uk/education

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