Back in the day starting your first teaching post could be brutal. There was no gentle introduction for us “probationers”, shadowing a colleague or a lighter workload as you might get in other professions. It was “this is your classroom, these are your 32 third year juniors, see you in July” … Well maybe that was just me – but we didn’t have interactive whiteboards, teaching assistants or PPA time. However, we also didn’t have OFSTED, SATs, league tables or children with SEND.

Most children with SEND were placed in special schools or specialist units co-located with, but separate from, mainstream schools. However, since the early 1990’s the number of children with SEND in mainstream classes has increased and the range of needs has become more complex. The SEND 0-25 Code of Practice (DfE 2014) states that “all teachers are teachers of children with SEND”.

Has Initial Teacher Training kept up? I asked a number of recently qualified teachers how well prepared they felt to support children with SEND in their class, and what or who helped them.

Sadly, despite the well acknowledged increase in SEND the overwhelming opinion was that NQTs did not feel confident in meeting the needs of some of the children in their classes, children with significant diagnoses such as ASD. However they have clearly received some good advice (or learnt the hard way).

So if you are an NOT this term here is some advice from a few of your recently qualified colleagues;

Get to know the child – this means talking to, playing with, working alongside them. Ask about what is important to them and what do they think their strengths are?

What makes a good day for them, what makes a bad day? Try and spend some time with them outside the classroom, maybe a lunch time or playtime or chatting at the end of the day.

Talk to parents or carers – they know their child better than anyone and will have all sorts of strategies to support their child. They may have had lots of expert advice which they will be happy to share. Time spent fostering a good relationship will be invaluable, you are in this together.

Talk to colleagues who have taught this child before or who have experience of some of the same difficulties. Listen carefully, be aware of any negativity (usually around challenging behaviour) but listen out for common triggers or sometimes subconscious support strategies (for example giving warning of changes of activity). Do not forget teachers or Early Years Practitioners from a child’s previous school or setting. Visit if you can as a picture paints a thousand words.

The final piece of advice that was shared rang particularly true for me, as I believe it is how I learnt much of what I needed to support children with SEND in my class and beyond:

Learn as much as you can from professionals visiting the child in school – SLTs, advisory teachers, occupational therapists and sensory impairment team teachers to name a few.

These people are always busy! So make the best use of their time. Try to get some time out of class to talk to them about the advice and strategies they are recommending (and let them know you have done this before the visit so that they can try to make time to talk to you), let them know what you will be doing with the child and the rest of the class so that they can plan their visit accordingly and make sure you have a space for them to work in. Be sure to ask questions and clarify advice and remember to ask how the child’s difficulties might impact on their learning in class and how you can minimise barriers.

I need to add my own piece of advice now and it is this – do not be afraid to start trying different approaches with a child, as soon as you are aware that they are not making progress or are struggling (within the limits of common sense of course). Be creative.

Good teaching for children with SEND is good teaching for all children.

Good Luck.

Go to The Link Online to read our interview with Claire.

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