Developing skills through the SEN curriculum

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The role of skills and aptitudes in the curriculum for children with SEN

Ask yourself: “what do you want as long term goals for any child or young person you work with?” The answer will probably include something along the lines of:

•    development as a fully rounded person, with the skills and aptitudes to make and sustain a range of relationships
•    achieving a sense of personal success
•    progressively acquiring the capacity to make choices so that they can have some measure of control and self determination
•    being happy and confident in their daily lives.

These goals surely apply to all of us, including those of us with SEN. They are also the overarching aims of the national curriculum, in which they are summarised as “successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens”.

The opportunities to learn, practice and develop these skills and aptitudes within the national curriculum are numerous; they form the building blocks of what children and young people learn and how they learn it. For all of us, developing skills in life enables us to progress and improve from whatever our individual starting point may be. Children, young people and adults with SEN are no different.

Children and young people with SEN may have very different needs, from mild to profound, and may have a wide range of conditions, including attention deficit disorder, autistic spectrum disorder, social, emotional and behavioural difficulties and dyslexia. Indeed, it may not even be helpful to talk in terms of categories, but instead to think of a continuum or combinations of need.

A range of skills and aptitudes is identified and embedded in the national curriculum, giving all children and young people from five years to post sixteen the opportunity to progressively learn and develop. For any child, at any stage on the SEN continuum, these skills describe the fundamental learning experiences that enable progress in every kind of learning, be they the acquisition of concepts and knowledge or the development of skills and aptitudes.

The review of the national curriculum at Key Stage 3, in 2007, placed even greater emphasis on skills and aptitudes, developing skills into a more comprehensive framework known as Personal Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS). This has supported teachers in all settings to integrate the teaching of skills into every subject. The more recent review, led by Sir Jim Rose, proposes at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 that essential skills for learning and life (which include literacy, numeracy and ICT as well as learning and thinking skills, personal and emotional skills and social skills) are placed at the heart of the renewed curriculum for primary stage children. The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum for children who are three to five years of age also embeds these types of skills throughout its six areas of learning.

For those children and young people with severe learning difficulties, acquiring these skills is a particular challenge, but progress in skill development can take many different forms:
•    emerging literacy skills might be evidenced when a child is able to gain meaning from symbols or facial expression, communicate pleasure or dislike in response to a stimulus, learn how to sign or operate a technological communication aid
•    number skills can be seen when a pattern of events is recognised and predicted, through matching and sorting activities, collecting data such as measuring one’s own growth, or catching the correct bus
•    technology can be harnessed to promote one’s own independence by developing the skills to operate a powered wheelchair or use a speech aid
•    working with others may be as basic as recognising when others like or dislike something, or recognising the difference between assemblies, parties and family meals
•    problem solving at an early stage can simply involve pushing away an unwanted object or using an adult to obtain an object, planning a simple journey or tidying away possessions or equipment.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) supports schools to develop the teaching and learning of skills and aptitudes inside and outside the classroom, before school, at the end of the school day, on trips and in a range of activities designed to engage and motivate. The outstanding work of many schools from across the country is celebrated in case studies of good practice which can been seen on the QCDA website.

In addition, the National Strategies’ Social, Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) programme offers a comprehensive approach for schools to develop strategies and materials to support children (and the adults who work with them) to practise and improve skills such as self-motivation, empathy, self awareness social skills and managing feelings.

The Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF) has recently published Achievement for All, which supports schools and local authorities to provide the very best opportunities for children and young people with SEN to fulfill their potential. It provides support and resources from which schools can develop sustainable local solutions to meet the needs of this group of children and young people.

For all learners, at all ages and at all stages, skills and aptitudes form the cornerstone of a rich, broad, balanced and relevant curriculum giving every child the best chance to be a successful learner, confident individual and responsible citizen.

Further information

Jayne Bennion worked for the former government agency the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency.

Article first published in SEN Magazine issue 43: November/December 2009.

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