Tags: NQT | SEN – Special Educational Needs | SENCO

Linda Evans considers the implications for SENCOs in helping trainee and newly qualified teachers (NQTs) to develop effective strategies for meeting pupils’ individual needs.

There is widespread acknowledgement that new teachers would benefit from more input during initial training and induction, to prepare them for teaching pupils with the range of SEN and disabilities present in today’s mainstream classrooms.

The Training and Development Agency (TDA) is currently taking measures to address this issue. There will always be some issues/strategies/resources particular to each individual setting, however, and the SENCO has an important role to play in offering explicit information, guidance and support to inexperienced colleagues. A useful starting point might be to ask them to complete a self-evaluation (SEN audit) form, as provided on p10, which could then guide your input.

Understanding the definition of SEN The ‘SEN’ acronym has come to mean ‘all things to all men’, so a good place to start may be with the official definition of special needs and the categories specified in the Code of Practice. Many schools have developed their own terminology for pupils who have additional needs and this will have to be clearly explained to new staff.

  • Have you provided a glossary of acronyms and specialist terminology for all new staff ?

Attitudes to pupils with SEN The attitudes of staff with regard to teaching children with special needs are the single, most important factor in making good provision. Where teachers are sensitive to individual needs, accept diversity and take on board the responsibility for ensuring that every child achieves, they will succeed in creating a supportive and inclusive learning environment. It is important that NQTs understand the ethos of the school with regard to inclusion, as well as the government’s stance, and accept the responsibility for every child in their class making appropriate progress.

Some Inset providers find it useful to stage simulation activities with trainee teachers to help them develop a better understanding of the difficulties some pupils experience. These might include:

  • Writing with the ‘wrong hand’; wearing thick gloves (to write, or to set up a practical investigation); copying unfamiliar symbols from the board – in a limited time.
  • Wearing smeared goggles and reading aloud from a book with very small print.
  • Wearing ear plugs/headphones while listening to and completing a spelling test.

It can be difficult for inexperienced teachers to know how much to expect from children with SEN and SENCOs can be of valuable assistance here. Having low expectations and ‘feeling sorry’ for a child is not the answer, but neither, usually is a belief that if ‘he just tried harder’, he could achieve as much as everyone else. Individual education plans (IEPs) can be helpful in guiding a teacher’s expectations. Every teacher should be aware of current targets for children they teach – and how they can contribute to the child’s success in meeting those targets. This will become second nature for teachers in primary schools who will usually work alongside the SENCO in drawing up an IEP, but may seem less obvious for subject teachers in secondary schools.

  • Have you explained how IEPs are drawn up and used in your school? Can you provide NQTs and trainees with opportunities to observe children with special needs, and see how they respond to effective teaching, both in whole class, and small group/individual situations?

Knowledge of particular needs Detailed knowledge of syndromes and conditions will be acquired over time, as and when teachers come into contact with particular children, but an awareness of the more common, ‘high incidence’ needs will enable NQTs to support children’s learning regardless of which ‘label’ is appropriate. It is always a mistake, however, to ‘put children in boxes’ – instead, encourage teachers to look at what pupils can do, what they find difficult and try out as many different strategies as possible to help them achieve success (remembering to ask the pupils themselves – they often know exactly what they need).

  • Have you provided practical information on, for example, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, global learning difficulties, glue ear, speech and language difficulties?

Creating an inclusive learning environment This is about more than the physical environment, although consideration of furniture and furnishings, wall displays, storage of equipment, etc, can have an important bearing on how comfortable children are in a classroom, and how well they ‘perform’. New teachers will find that the creation of a truly inclusive learning environment involves reassuring pupils that:

  • they are allowed to ‘get it wrong’ sometimes
  • they can take risks
  • they can ask for help (and receive it)
  • they will be commended for effort as well as achievement
  • different types of ability are valued
  • different learning styles are acknowledged and catered for.

In general, what is good practice for teaching pupils with SEN is good for all children, but there will be times when specific action is required to ensure access to learning for some pupils. The SENCO can be supportive in ensuring that NQTs and trainee teachers understand how to differentiate effectively.

  • Can you help NQTs to develop a range of differentiation strategies?
  • Have you ensured that NQTs are familiar with P levels and understand how to use them in planning for pupils with more significant difficulties?

Access to information and support As SENCO, you will usually be the first point of contact for trainee and newly qualified teachers seeking more information. Colleagues from the learning support service, speech and language therapy and educational psychology department may also be able to help.

  • Have you collected together useful books, website addresses and other resources and made them accessible to colleagues? The opportunity to talk over concerns and ideas with colleagues is an important part of developing understanding and skills; can you dedicate some time on a regular basis, for working with trainee and newly qualified teachers?

SEN information sheet for NQTs

Definition of SEN
Children have special educational needs if they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for them. ‘Special educational provision’ is additional to, or different from, the educational provision made generally for children of the same age in local schools. In the majority of cases, the provision is made within a child’s local mainstream school. Special schools provide for children with more complex and severe needs.

The Code of Practice for Special Educational Needs (DfES 2001) states that children with SEN should:

  • have their needs met, normally in a mainstream school or setting.
  • be offered full access to a broad, balanced and relevant education, (including an appropriate curriculum for the foundation stage, and the national curriculum).

It also states that parents have a vital role to play in supporting their child’s education, and the views of the child should be sought and taken into account. (See CoP 4:27 for early years, 5:50 for primary and 6:58 for secondary guidance.)

It sets out a continuum of intervention: School/early years action: a child is identified as needing extra support and this is provided within the school. School/early years action plus: after a period of extra support, the school seeks advice/support from external agencies such as the learning support service, a speech and language therapist or behaviour support team. An individual education plan (IEP) is formulated.

In a minority of cases, pupils are assessed by a multi-disciplinary team on behalf of the local education authority, whose officers then decide whether or not to issue a statement of SEN. This is a legally binding document which details the child’s needs and specifies the resources to be provided. It is reviewed at least once a year.

Do you know how to differentiate by:

  • Reviewing the readability of texts used in the classroom and employing strategies to support weak readers
  • Enlarging print and/or using coloured paper or overlays
  • Making adaptations to equipment and/or providing special equipment
  • Using visual props and/or symbols to support understanding
  • Providing writing frames to support recording
  • Introducing alternative means of recording – e.g. audio tapes, voice recognition software, diagrammatic/ mind map recording, digital photographs of completed work, investigations in progress
  • Using touch screens, switches and large-format keyboards
  • Using software such as Clicker (Crick Software) to support writing
  • Adapting tasks or providing alternative activities – breaking down new learning into small chunks
  • Using a multi-sensory approach
  • Providing and managing support from adults or peers
  • Allowing extra time for completion of tasks and/or providing opportunities for preparation time, perhaps with the help of a teaching assistant (remembering that children with special needs often have to make a lot more effort than other children to understand a new concept, complete a task, concentrate on what is being said)

Learning styles Visual- auditory-kinaesthetic (VAK) By using multi-sensory teaching approaches and encouraging pupils to employ a wide range of learning styles, teachers can maximise learning potential.

Visual: symbol support, classroom display, posters, pictures, video, mindmaps, diagrams, graphs, pictograms, highlighting text, using colour, illustrations, interactive whiteboards, computer software.

Auditory: listening to teacher/classmates/ tapes/audio output from computer, group discussion, debate, talking partners, interviewing, oral feedback using background music.

Kinaesthetic: touching, making, manipulating, building, modelling, conducting practical investigations, preparing food.

It is important to review newly learned material and provide plenty of opportunity to consolidate new skills when working with children who have learning difficulties.

Individual education plans
An IEP describes actions to be taken, over and above the day-to-day differentiation in the class, in order to enable a child to make progress. [Group education plans (GEPs) are drawn up where several children in the class have common targets for which common strategies are appropriate.] The best IEPs are planning, teaching and reviewing tools which include two or three SMART targets (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timed). There should be details of strategies for meeting these, clear success criteria and a review date. An IEP or GEP should therefore always state what is to be done, when it will happen and be reviewed and who will be involved.



Useful books

  • Booth,T and Ainscow, M (2002) Index for Inclusion Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education
  • Cheminais, R (2004) How to Create the Inclusive Classroom David Fulton Publishers
  • East,V and Evans,L (2001) At a Glance: A Quick Guide to Children’s Special Needs Continuum
  • McNamara, Sylvia & Moreton, Gill (1997) Understanding Differentiation David Fulton Publishers
  • QCA (2002) Including All Learners Qualifications and Curriculum Authority
  • Spooner, Wendy (tbp 2006) The SEN Handbook for Trainee Teachers, NQTs and Assistants David Fulton Publishers

This article first appeared in SENCO Update – Nov 2005

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