Guerrillamum's Blog


Book Review: Working with Asperger Syndrome in the Classroom – An Insider’s Guide By Gill D Ansell

Gill Ansell has over 14 years’ experience of working with children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders in special school and mainstream settings. She begins her book by explaining something about Autistic Spectrum Disorders and how these impact on children in the classroom. She describes her first job as a TA when she wasn’t sure what to do or what was expected of her with a refreshing candour. Now she is someone who has valid and relevant experience of working with children with AS and much to share with both parents and education professionals alike.

The book contains a wide range of strategies to use with children with AS and Gill explains in detail why they work so well. These include strategies for visual learners such as ‘The Good Book’, ‘The Feelings Book’ and ‘Oops! Cards’. There are also sections on small group work and working one to one, behaviour/anger management, and a range of strategies regarding the child’s physical working environment such as individual work stations. She talks about the stresses of break times and bullying and helping children deal with feelings and emotions.

There can be huge variations in the training and effectiveness of TAs. What is noteworthy about Gill is that her creative strategies are quite clearly aimed not just at emotionally supporting children in school but also at engaging the child in learning. She keeps going until she gets as close to this aim as possible in a bid to give the children better educational outcomes. Also many of her strategies are low cost which makes it much more likely that a school will take up suggestions from parents.

If a child’s needs are not being met at school it can be really difficult for parents to get across in meetings exactly how they would like the school to help their child. This book with its practical advice and its accessible explanations will offer lots of ideas to all parties taking part in discussions about how a school might best meet the special educational needs of children with AS in primary and secondary settings.

I have been involved with special needs education for 10 years now since my oldest son first displayed difficulties at school. I still found some new strategies in here that we can use, and I wish that this book had been available to me 10 years ago.

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Is the Coalition targeting SEN provision?

Question:  What is in just about every state primary school in Britain and is fundamental to improving education? Got it yet? It isn’t a high-tech gadget, a new learning system or syllabus but the Teaching Assistant. At the bottom of the Education pay scale, Teaching Assistants (TAs) are often mums who want a term time job so they can look after and be with their own children in the holidays. They may not be high-tech but they are excellent value for money.

Our two children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) have benefited hugely from some excellent work from their TAs. This has ranged from the coded reminder to go to the toilet, or the one to one support to help someone with poor spatial awareness to take on board the complexities of geometry.  They have turned failure into positive outcomes.  They have also helped our children deal with bullying and to integrate into their classes and make friends – please don’t tell me that most children are picked on at some time, and that this isn’t relevant to education.  No child can succeed whilst being bullied/ostracised or dealing with the emotions that this generates.  It is not positive and is in no way character building.

As well as these individualised tasks they support teachers in a whole class setting, give help to other children in the class and assist in enforcing standards of behaviour. When called upon, TAs with higher level training can be left in charge of classes and can deliver lessons on a limited basis.

The Education Minister has told us that he is keen to drive up standards in schools (for my thoughts on what he has done so far please see the previous blogs). If one accepts that TAs are a valuable tool for delivering better outcomes it is reasonable to think that the Minister would be looking to improve their training and status. Sadly this hasn’t happened and in fact the Government has removed the entire budget for higher level Teaching Assistant training (please see Phil Beale in The Guardian on this subject http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/aug/10/education-policies-misguided).

Whilst this has the prospect to minimise their effectiveness in a whole class setting it will be felt most by those children with Special Educational Needs who cannot do without their support. I am tired of hearing from the Government ‘we need successful outcomes for all children not just those with Special Needs’ because that’s something we all want. What is often not recognised is that some children need more help to get to those successful outcomes, and without specialist help from suitably trained TAs they may not get there.

I started this blog with a question and I am going to finish with some more questions which need asking. Is this stealthy move on TA training the thin end of the wedge of a policy to drastically reduce spending on SEN?  We have recently seen public sector workers and benefit claimants vilified in the Press by government ministers.  Is SEN the Educational equivalent of ‘generous public sector pensions’ or ‘benefits cheats’?  Has SEN become a target for Coalition cuts?

Let’s hope not for all our sakes!