Guerrillamum's Blog

How can we remove barriers to learning?

This is my third post for the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust blog, in which I considered how we can remove barriers to learning. It is worth noting that there can be many barriers to learning in the classroom such as social deprivation and behaviour. I was asked to consider this question from the perspective of children with special educational needs.


Teachers, if you have a child in your class who needs support for special educational needs (SEN), please say so! This does not always happen and the system for identifying a child with SEN is not always straightforward. Children can easily slip through the net. Many parents assume to their cost that no news is good news, even if they have some concerns about their child themselves. If their child’s teacher isn’t saying anything, then they assume all is well. It often isn’t, so please be open with parents if you think a child might have SEN!

A certain proportion of children will never develop functional handwriting. For these children it is important to look at other options for recording their work: for example, a Dictaphone, word recognition software on a laptop, a scribe or typing on a laptop. These children often have to learn complex skills such as typing and scribing skills in order to make use of alternative recording methods. They need plenty of time to work on these skills so they are ready for the demands of recording KS3 & KS4 work later on. Indeed, information technology (IT) is already part of a broad and balanced curriculum, and I believe that it would be hugely beneficial for all children to learn typing skills from an early age at school.

Effective differentiation can mean that a child who has special educational needs might not necessarily need to spend so much of their time at school in lower – achieving groups. There are many problems associated with being identified consistently with these groups. They are often associated with poor behaviour which can hamper the progress of those children who do wish to work. Highly skilled teachers who can differentiate effectively within mixed ability groups will achieve our aim for true equality of opportunity and excellence for all in our schools.

Sometimes children with SEN need to leave their classes either due to noise, stress or their learning needs. If this happens, learning must continue with the lesson simply being relocated to a quieter place.

Many children with SEN struggle to stay on task. TAs can act as a prompt. This is very different from having a ‘velcroed on’ TA that ‘does the work for them’. There is often a tendency for children who are struggling in class to sit at the back where they are at risk of staying disengaged. Place these children near the front, and ask them to contribute in ways you know they can, rather than asking them to showcase the things they find difficult.

Bullying can be a very damaging experience and can prevent learning. Children with SEN or a disability are much more likely to experience bullying – 60% of children with SEN and/or disabilities have been bullied. Schools must develop more effective anti-bullying policies and implement them. If schools get this right, the rewards are tremendous.

Children with SEN and disabilities and their families have the same hopes and dreams for the future as anyone else. With the right help in place, it becomes more possible for everyone to achieve excellence at school, and more possible for these children to be able to live independently as adults.

A difficult time…

Things have been a bit difficult in our house lately because Peter has been having a challenging time at school. Believe me, having written a book on parenting children with special educational needs is no guarantee at all that you will have all the answers when things unexpectedly fall apart at school. One of the other children with special educational needs has been bullying him, and after two and a half years of relative calm, and being in what he has considered to be a safe place, Peter has gone to pieces. I understand the difficulties for the school in managing the needs of all children involved, and also their obligation to continue to meet everybody’s needs. It must be much more difficult to manage bullying situations where the bully has special educational needs. I have had the somewhat humbling experience of finding it incredibly difficult to take my own advice in dealing with the school. I have got upset both with and in the company of teachers. I have had to bite my tongue and not tell Peter that what the other child really needs is a good thump! Me and the Guerrilla Dad have had a number of disagreements with the school over their handling of the problem.

Lets face it, I was never going to deal with it well if Peter ever was bullied again at school. But right now, at the beginning of year 10, and his GCSEs, with the new modular style of exam, where he is already beginning to do work that will count to his final exam results, we just can’t have this. The possiblity of him leaving school with a creditable number of GCSEs looked to be eminently feasible at the beginning of the term. Now it is looking much less likely. Peter is trying to take refuge in computer games. He is no longer on top of his game and sometimes has no idea when a test is coming up. He is emotionally a little boy again in many ways. It makes me so angry.

We have now reached an agreement with the school about how to manage the bullying, and I really hope things get sorted out quickly. I am watching to see if the school does the things they have agreed to do. One thing that has leaped out at us with absolute clarity during this time is that you can’t overstate the necessity to have the right physical and emotional learning environment for children with special educational needs at school. It has also not been much consolation to know that everything is going well for William at school – it has just made Peter’s situation look and feel so much worse.

I have turned to reading books to try and get some ideas for dealing with these things. There are some really good ones from Jessica Kingsley Publishing, and I have decided (with their agreement) to review a few on this blog. So watch this space, I will tell you which ones help me to make this situation better. The practice of analysing something written by someone else will also come in handy for when Sarah Teather’s Green Paper on special educational needs and disability is published. Lets hope she makes a better job of it than OFSTED did!

Onwards and upwards…. Ellen P

Toby you are so wrong! Bullying is not just in state schools
October 18, 2010, 11:57 am
Filed under: Education and the new government | Tags: , , ,

Yet another example of Toby Young twisting a story to meet his own ends. Bullying is not ‘an appalling indictment of the English state education system’. In fact if you look in the media you will see stories of bullying in private schools as well. One such private school that comes to mind had to have a change of Head when it was found that there was no effective policy in place to deal with bullying. Bullying can happen anywhere and private schools are certainly no better than state schools at its prevention. However, state schools are actually required to have an anti bullying policy in place, and I have yet to hear of a Head of a state school who had to leave their post simply because they did not have clear processes for dealing with bullying.

You disappoint me Toby; you have called for schools to reinstate classic literature in their curricula, being clearly well read yourself. Your vision for your Free School is more than a little reminiscent of ‘Biggles’ and ‘PG Wodehouse’. Surely you must have read ‘Tom Brown’s School Days’ too?