This article discusses the GTC’s Making SENse of CPD resource, which includes a summary of research findings about the effectiveness of CPD for SEN, as well as the emerging themes in CPD for SEN

As reported in a recent edition of SENCO Update, the General Teaching Council for England (GTC) has developed a resource to support professional development for special educational needs of teachers in mainstream schools called Making SENse of CPD.

The resource draws on the work of schools that employ particularly successful strategies for SEN-related CPD and has the potential to be added to with further practice examples.

The resource has been developed as part of GTC work that aims to:

  • gain a better understanding of the professional development needs of teachers regarding special educational needs in mainstream schools
  • support mainstream schools to build capacity for relevant professional development
  • share experience and good practice in special educational needs.

The resource will be further extended with the publication, through the GTC’s Engage network, of an information bank aimed at early career teachers (see the panel opposite for a preview of this resource). This includes a specially created matrix linking the core standards to inclusion, SEN and disability which provides information and guidance for teachers. The resource itself will be available by the end of March.

Research findings

In addition to the practical materials, Making SENse of CPD includes a briefing paper that summarises findings about the effectiveness of SEN. These findings are outlined in the box below.

Evidence for the paper was collected through literature searches and school visits. The literature search was undertaken in three sweeps. The first used search terms including: SEN; special education and teaching; teacher effectiveness and special needs students; career development; teaching skills and special needs; special education and mainstreaming.

A second sweep used the search terms: access to education; conductive education; individualised methods; outreach programmes; specialists; special schools and inclusion.

The final search used medical databases to search for learning difficulties and causes; dyslexia and causes; dyspraxia and symptoms.

Other emerging issues

In addition to the issues reported under the main themes in the box below, three other concerns or issues emerged:

1. The major concern arising within the schools visited is the apparent increase in SEN presenting within the mainstream. This is attributed to the closure of special schools and whether a mainstream school has the ability and capacity to cater for a broader range of need. The schools identify an increase in mental health issues, more autism, speech and language difficulties, and more ‘unspecified global delay’.

2. Within the literature other issues emerged which are not reflected within the schools that were visited. For example, teachers in the mainstream are more concerned with children and young people with behavioural difficulties than those with physical or sensory impairments. Significant curriculum differentiation is necessary to meet the range of needs presented. Some teachers appear to have major difficulty in achieving this.

3. The potential impact of greater survival rates for pre-term births and foetal alcohol syndrome on the incidence and type of SEN is not widely recognised in schools but does feature in the literature.

These last three issues resonate with those reported in a number of recent research studies and reports.

SEN support for early career teachers

The GTC Engage Network has created an online SEN information file specifically for early career teachers. The aim is to help early career teachers relate their immediate context and practice to the national professional context. It draws teachers’ attention to the Core Professional Standards, relevant research that can support inclusive teaching and the Inclusion Development Programme from National Strategies. It will also include examples of inclusive practice from early career teachers around the country.

The information file gives ideas to help recently qualified teachers to develop their inclusive practice within the new core standards (introduced in September 2007). A summary of the key elements of each theme within the core standards is included with related questions that teachers have asked. Relevant information and guidance on how teachers can begin to address these questions is also offered. It may also help teachers to identify a specific area of development related to SEN, to clarify this and seek appropriate information and support.

Emerging themes in CPD for SEN

Creating and sustaining a positive vision and ethos of inclusion for all, including those with SEN and disabilities

  • In schools this is characterised by headteachers presenting a strong statement on the ethos of the school in terms of inclusion and having regard to the moral purpose of education. Evidence from the visits suggests that this ‘vision and ethos’ is realised through strong positive policies and practices, for example, the use of inclusive language in displays and documents, and evidence of distributed leadership and expertise across the whole staff in relation to SEN and disabilities.
  • Effective teaching and learning for all children and young people is seen as central to developing an inclusive school. A holistic approach, with clear communication between professionals, is used particularly for those with SEN and disabilities.
  • Similar themes emerge from the literature. For example, the significance of an inclusive school ethos is emphasised. Diversity is a fundamental determinant in planning for and delivering inclusion. Inclusion is hampered when rigid and inflexible systems for the deployment of staff, curriculum and timetabling were in use.
  • The literature states that inclusion requires a much deeper consideration of teachers’ roles, how collaboration and coordination within the school, and with other professionals and agencies, is implemented. This is particularly relevant within mainstream contexts.

Provision of effective, relevant, strategic and sustained professional learning and development for all staff working with children with SEN and disabilities

  • CPD for SEN is based on principles of effective CPD. The schools use a range of practices such as collaborative planning, observation, co-coaching, teacher enquiry and research. Training, professional learning and development is also inclusive of all staff.
  • A strong feature of these schools is the involvement of a wide range of staff, including teaching assistants (TAs), and the distribution of expertise across the workforce. Particular mention is made of the developing role of teaching assistants working in teams. They are well trained, supported and managed and hold relevant, specific expertise.
  • Further support for strategic approaches to CPD for SEN is achieved through effective and innovative strategies in using existing personnel and financial resources, as well as seeking out additional sources of support where possible. Multiple funding streams for different professionals exist but there is evidence that access to resources and professional expertise is still ‘tight’.
  • Successful strategies for information exchange within and between teams, both internal and external, are in use. Effective communication is, therefore, also found in these schools. All staff are informed and updated on all children’s needs. Particular needs are explained, strategies to meet these needs described and progress tracked.
  • There is an expectation that all staff have access to specialist knowledge and expertise (both internal and external). External expertise is valued highly. All schools mention local authority SEN advisers and advisory teams. Special schools that offer outreach support to mainstream schools were also greatly appreciated.
  • The teachers recognise that initial teacher training (ITT) programmes are crowded. They expect newly qualified teachers to have some experience of what an ‘inclusive school’ looks like in practice. Newly qualified teachers can then better understand their responsibilities to all children and young people, including those with special needs and disabilities.
  • However, for these teachers the skills, knowledge and expertise are best learned and developed ‘in context’ and ‘on the job’. Some suggested that newly qualified teachers should have knowledge of more common conditions, for example, autism. However, all staff must keep up to date with different conditions, as and when the need arises.
  • The literature argues that children and young people are bringing more pronounced emotional, social and behavioural difficulties into mainstream schools. Many teachers are concerned about this. All staff, including TAs, newly qualified and experienced teachers must develop their expertise to meet these challenges.
  • The ‘curriculum of CPD for SEN’ suggested in the literature for both ITT and CPD is therefore similar.
  • Teachers need to know about theoretical frameworks to enhance theory-practice links, reflective practice and enquiry; child development, learning theory and behaviour management. They also need effective support to deepen understanding of learning and behaviour difficulties and how they are linked, and help to resolve difficulties in practice. The literature also suggests that teachers should receive knowledge of specific conditions or groups from specialists, as and when it is needed.

Building the capacity and capability to offer a flexible, innovative and creative curriculum and pedagogy in response to specific identified needs of all children and young people.

  • Much of the CPD for SEN seems to be located in developing excellent teaching strategies for an inclusive classroom. Teachers who are confident and have agency are able to experiment and innovate and thus meet the needs of all children and young people more effectively. Different schemes are brought into schools to meet different needs. In the schools visited there were also examples of adaptive practice, and increased risk-taking by teachers and others. This was particularly strong at Key Stage 4.
  • The literature also provides evidence that creating an inclusive ethos is more likely where teachers understand and are empathetic to all children’s and young people’s needs, being able to see a learning task through the eyes of children and young people who have different learning needs.
  • Approaches to inclusion in the literature emphasise fluid pupil grouping, cooperative teaching and learning, individualised planning, collaborative problem-solving and differentiated approaches. Delivery of the curriculum is team-based, where others, including TAs, provided some teaching, guidance and instruction.

Find out more about the GTC’s work on CPD and SEN and the Making SENse resource file. The GTC welcomes further examples of practice and comments on the resource.