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.

HOW CAN WE REMOVE BARRIERS TO LEARNING?

IDENTIFY SEN AND MAKE PROVISION TO MEET THESE 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!

HANDWRITING
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.

DIFFERENTIATION, MIXED ABILITY TEACHING AND LOWER ABILITY TEACHING GROUPS
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.

USE YOUR SPECIAL NEEDS BASE/QUIET STUDY AREA
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.

STAYING ON TASK AND REMAINING ENGAGED
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
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.

CONCLUSION
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.



Excellence for all – what should students learn?

I was asked to write a guest blog piece for the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust conference a few weeks ago – which turned into three separate posts. The first of these is ‘Excellence for all – what should students learn?:

We would all like our schools to aim to achieve excellence for all. However, when the children involved include those with special educational needs (SEN) or disabilities the goal of truly achieving ‘Excellence for all’ becomes much more difficult to achieve. I have two boys aged 12 and 14 who have special educational needs and who are being educated in mainstream school. They have always been mainstreamed, and for them, inclusion, with places in specialist settings co-located in mainstream schools has been their best route to success.

Roughly one in five students will have SEN at some time in their education. A little over 2% of all children in school will have a statement. Most children with SEN won’t have statements. However, Part 3 B ‘Special Educational Provision – Provision to meet needs and objectives’ – of my children’s statements has always referred to the need for the child to have ‘access to a broad, balanced, and differentiated curriculum, including the National Curriculum, with modifications which will ensure that tasks and activities are commensurate with (the child’s) level of attainment.’ This should be the aim for every child, whether schooling takes place in a mainstream or special education setting. Schools should also implement current and up to date policies relating to disability and equality. With all of these things in mind, children with SEN should be able to access the same curriculum, in as meaningful a way as possible, as other children in their school.

However, this is not the whole story. Children with SEN often have the need to learn additional things when they are at school, skills that will enable them to access the curriculum more effectively, and which will enable them to develop independence skills. In an ideal world, these children will have access to therapies such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, or to perhaps be able to benefit from the services of a physiotherapist as appropriate. Extra support such as specialist teaching support and teaching assistants are also necessary to help children with SEN develop good numeracy and literacy skills. If a child can at least read, they can begin to access most of the mainstream curriculum. Some children will benefit from prioritising social skills training, life skills training or similar.

In today’s schools learning does not cease at the end of the school day. Most schools run lunch time and after school activities that all children can access. Indeed, disability legislation states that all children should be able to take part in the life of their school. However, this is not always what happens in practice. After school clubs are as much a part of the life of the school as any other aspect of school life. Yet some children are excluded from after school activities simply because the schools do not have funding for after school TA support and their LEAs do not always allocate money to TA support for after school clubs. This is a grey area that I have found difficult to resolve. It is a great pity because children with SEN who have access to after school activities have better outcomes both socially and educationally.