Despite teachers’ dedication and professionalism, provision for young people with SEND is disjointed and inconsistent. How can anyone really make a difference?
It hasn’t been a good couple of months for the special educational needs and disability (SEND) system in England. Research from a range of organisations has concluded that provision for young people with SEND is depressing, disjointed and inconsistent – and too often leads to examples of unfair admissions practice, off-rolling and inappropriate exclusions.
Once again, teachers are at the coalface. They are all too aware of their legal obligation to ensure all children are educated together, have access to the full curriculum and can take an active role in all aspects of school life, but you probably wonder how on earth they’re going to pull that off on top of everything else.
It’s worth trying to remember that it’s not just about money. We would all benefit from a culture where it is absolutely understood that everyone in school will work towards giving every child the best start in life.
How can you create an inclusive classroom?
First of all, remember that this might not be your area of expertise. Fortunately, you should be able to get hold of people who can help. Teaching assistants, counsellors, educational psychologists and speech and language specialists will all be able to give advice – and interpret the language associated with SEND. Their expertise may also help remind you that a diagnosis is only a starting point, and that labels should not have a limiting impact on a child’s experience at school.
Take charge of the things you have power over. For many teachers, their classroom is their kingdom. Have a think about your environment. Visual stimuli can be great in a classroom, but how do they affect children with ADHD or autism? Could you improve their experience by reducing visual clutter or toning things down?
Some aspects of everyday life may be hidden triggers for children with SEND – especially those who experience sensory overload. How is the temperature in your classroom? What about white noise, or other auditory distractions such as a ticking clock or noisy equipment – even a flickering light could cause unnecessary stress.
Another subject close to the hearts of many classroom teachers is the seating plan. Where will you place the student with dyslexia or the one who suffers from visual stress? These young people would certainly be better off in seats closer to the board, whereas it makes sense to put those with access issues in positions near to the door.
Help from on high
The inclusive imperative exists, and has been enshrined in law: the 2014 Children and Families Act states that all young people should be helped to develop the skills they need to succeed, not just at school but as adults with full lives. In May this year, Ofsted strengthened this commitment with a new inspection framework designed to alter the emphasis from data to substance and to raise the profile of SEND provision.
In last month’s spending review HM Treasury stated its intention to turn the pages on austerity and begin a new decade of renewal. The Chancellor acknowledged that children with SEND have suffered as schools had to tighten their belts, and teaching assistants and support staff were cut to the bone. And this at a time when councils are dealing with more children than ever with a the most challenging range complex needs ever.
We all know that teachers are still at the front line, and very much accountable in the classroom. Now that austerity is over, we’re all keen to see positive change, and to see the effects of Ofsted’s change in focus.
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