Special Needs Pupils-High Expectations for All?

By Stockdale, Sean | NATE Classroom, Autumn 2010 | Go to article overview

Special Needs Pupils-High Expectations for All?


Stockdale, Sean, NATE Classroom


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For teachers, October sees the heady days of the new September intake fading into the distance as the hard work of a new academic year begins. If you are lucky enough to work in a school that has a strong transition programme in place, you will already have a wealth of information about the children that you teach, preferred learning styles, strengths and weaknesses etc; if not, you will have spent the last month gleaning the information you require. Whichever year group you teach, there will be a cohort of children that invariably will have caught your eye, who are 1 those with special educational needs (SEN).

With the abundance of headlines focussed on special schools, the role of the SENCO, and use of the term SEN, special needs children and the pedagogy behind their teaching has never had a higher profile. However, behind the headlines we .. need to remember that with over 20% of children having some form of special need, all teachers are teachers of pupils with special educational needs and it is important that all staff acknowledge SEN as a whole school responsibility.

At his point I would like to draw your attention to the ongoing Achievement for All project (AfA). It aims to improve achievement and progress for special needs children and identifies the need for a whole school approach; strategically led by the school leadership team. AfA cites OFSTED in providing evidence that:

'pupils with even the most severe and complex needs were able to make outstanding progress in all types of settings. High quality specialist teachers and a commitment by leaders to create opportunities to include all pupils were the keys to success.' (Ofsted 2006)

It does not seem too much of a leap to conclude that high quality teachers are born from high quality training and that children with special needs require skilled practitioners who understand how their needs can be met. As a literacy teacher you might receive training in your specialist subject, but nasen would argue that special needs training should be a fundamental part of all teachers' ongoing professional development. This could be a mixture of in-house, external training, visiting other settings or even on-line. If the SENCO is the only staff member receiving SEN training how can this knowledge be effectively transferred to you? How can one staff member possibly meet the needs of all the SEN children within a particular setting? Nasen encourages schools to take a longer term view by spreading the skills around the school team, if only to ensure that one staff member isn't constantly overwhelmed. Many teachers undertake the bulk of their training within their school, but just as we see outside experiences as crucial to our pupils' success, should we not provide staff with the same opportunities? A key feature of outstanding schools is that despite the number of professionals who come to visit them, they remain outward looking, placing acquiring new skills for all staff as a key element in their ongoing success.

The National year of Speech, Language and Communication

Having identified that special needs training should be a key element of your ongoing professional development, the next question is: where as a literacy teacher should you start? The connection between special needs and literacy teachers is highlighted in the large proportion of special needs children that have some form of speech language or communication needs (SLCN). The Communication Trust note that between 5 and 7% of children starting school have SLCN in the absence of any other difficulty, and they represent the most common need identified in statements. Given the large amount of press coverage you may be aware of the appointment of Jean Gross and the communication charities' impending National Year of Speech, Language Communication in 2011. The importance of meeting children's communication needs is highlighted in the statistics Jean cites, such as:

* vocabulary at the age of five is one of the most significant predictors of the qualifications pupils achieve when they leave school

* children whose speech, language and communication needs are not resolved by the age of five-and-a-half are almost certain to have lifelong literacy difficulties

* two-thirds of 7-14 year olds with serious behaviour problems have language impairment. …

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