Rosamund McNeil outlines key sources of professional support for teaching staff
Currently, up to 8,587 children and young people with SEN and disabilities are classed as “awaiting provision” for a school place and have no access to any type of education provision at all. This is a disgraceful situation and one which the Government should be ashamed of.
93 per cent of local authorities have lost out funding for SEN and disabilities since 2015 because of central government’s cuts to special needs provision. Campaigning by the School Cuts coalition and a range of parent groups won £250 million in high needs funding for 2018 to 2020, and in September the Chancellor announced that funding for SEN and disabilities will rise by £700 million. This still leaves schools £1 billion short of what is needed.
These cuts to SEN funding have severely hindered the work of schools, pupils, parents and local authorities, and their ability to create the most inclusive environment in which all children and young people can thrive.
Children with SEN need quicker assessments, timely access to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), and flexibility in how they access the curriculum. More widely, we need to see an end to the testing culture in schools, which impacts negatively on young people with SEN.
Every school wants to provide the strategies and support that work best for each individual pupil, but the real-terms funding crisis has had a devastating impact. In a recent survey of members in primary and secondary schools, 81 per cent told the National Education Union (NEU) that their school did not have enough staff to provide that service. In addition, 73 per cent confirmed that since 2017 there had been a drop in the number of teaching assistants, as a direct consequence of funding pressures.
Another casualty of the current school funding crisis is the reduction in training and professional development support and opportunities for teachers, particularly on SEN issues aligned with the loss of teaching assistants from many classes. The continuing professional support for teachers in SEN is increasingly important as, since 2015/16, the number of children with a statement or education, health and care (EHC) plan has risen from 240,000 to 320,000 – a 33 per cent increase.
Where can I get support?
There are many different sources of professional support available to teachers, much of which utilises shared expertise at little or no cost.
Contact your union and find out about their SEN training and conferences. Information should be on the CPD pages of their website. They may also provide specialist support and networks for SENCOs or staff working in special schools.
If you need advice and support relating to workload, your workplace rep or local union rep can support you.
SEN specialist organisations
Many professional organisations and third sector organisations offer advice on their websites and can also offer training for education professionals. It is worth looking at sharing training with other schools if buying in.
There are also likely to be colleagues in local special schools who have the experience and knowledge to provide training for mainstream school staff. Coordination that would once have been in the remit of the local authority could be undertaken by SENCO networks where they exist.
Peer coaching is a confidential process through which two or more professional colleagues work together to reflect on current practices; expand, refine, and build new skills; share ideas; teach one another; conduct classroom research; or solve problems in the workplace. It is also often called peer support, consulting colleagues or peer sharing and caring. For support with working with pupils with SEN, peer coaching can be a useful way of teachers sharing classroom management techniques with colleagues in a supportive and non-pressured way. It can also be helpful for teachers and support staff to peer coach in primary schools when a pupil with SEN moves from one year group to another – observing practice in each classroom and discussing the best transition and ongoing educational and social experience for the child.
A TeachMeet is an organised but informal meeting for teachers to share good practice, practical innovations and personal insights in teaching. They are organised locally and presentations are usually no longer than seven minutes, but can be shorter. For information about organising a meeting, search online for “TeachMeet” and your area.
In a 2018 survey conducted by the NEU, Nasen and Bath Spa University, SENCOs said that they hate not being able to offer all the support they believe students need because of time pressures and funding constraints. It was clear from the survey findings that SENCO workload is unmanageable, and pupils with SEN are suffering for it. Losing even more teaching assistants from classroom support is likely to lead to increases in the number of pupils who are unable to access mainstream education.
If schools are not funded properly so that all SENCOs have the time and resources they need, children and young people with SEN will not be able to reach their full potential. SENCOs should talk to their school union rep in the first instance if they are experiencing increased or excessive workload.
Initial teacher training
The development of the Early Career Framework (ECF) for new teachers provides a unique opportunity for a meaningful inclusion of teaching on SEN and the importance of creating an inclusive classroom environment as they access the entitlement to two years of additional support and training. The ECF early rollout is in September 2020 with national rollout expected in September 2021. Whether the final version does offer the knowledge and support that beginning teachers need to be confident in teaching all pupils in their classes, including those with SEN, remains to be seen – but many of us in the sector will continue to advocate for it.
About the author
Rosamund McNeil is Assistant General Secretary – Equality, Social Justice and International at the National Education Union (NEU).