In Defence of the Dark Art #Edfest Part 3

Debate, chaired by Laura McInerney (newspaper editor) between David Didau (author) and Dylan Wiliam (educational researcher).


What if everything you knew about education was wrong?


I stood and listened to the debate (by the time I found it the last seat had been snaffled) and it was very interesting, and chimed very much with my experience (learning styles help you to examine how you teach, what works in education is very complex and context specific etc).  But I left with something unsaid.

When you have children with Special Educational Needs in your class you need to differentiate the work – however you choose to do this.  It doesn’t have to been about separate worksheets.  It could be about the level of support you give them, or the kind of counting apparatus they use.  If we don’t do this, then those children on the outside edges, at either end of the scale, they don’t necessarily learn.  (Or, they don’t learn as well as they could.)

We are more alike than different, yes, but that doesn’t mean we pay no attention to the differences.  In a sense, the differences are what make us who we are.  Of course they matter.   In a book about teaching, next time, please write more than five pages about Special Educational Needs.


I wish I had managed to come up with a question, if only I was brave enough to wave my hand more assertively, because every teacher is a teacher of special needs.



11 thoughts on “In Defence of the Dark Art #Edfest Part 3

  1. Too right.

    I think it’s useful to remember that SEN is a focus on what a child *needs* to properly access education. Often the answer can be hard to find, but we shouldn’t excuse ourselves from looking for how to differentiate and pass the problem back to the child, just because it is tricky. I’m troubled by the notion (which seems to be gaining ground) that SEN is some kind of ‘excuse’ for the child.

    I was working with some NQTs yesterday, and one had a child who got really agitated, upset and disruptive when he sat on the carpet, but was fine everywhere else. We bounced around lots of ideas that might help him, and then someone suggested that it might be the physical sensation of the rug itself that was the issue. It seemed so obvious, but also so easy to overlook, that everyone in the room went ‘oh yes!’ The teacher hadn’t thought of this possibility, but it sounded like it might be the root cause of the problem. Figuring out how to solve every child’s ‘needs’ so that they can access learning is at the heart of good education.

    1. Exactly. Sadly, in SEN (if I can call it that) there is a long tradition of passing the lack of progress off into someone or something else, which makes me jump about – and is one of the underpinning principles of the Code of Practice. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people are going to be a bit slow in catching on – or they will (which is even more saddening in my view) use the current debate about inclusion and making it work, to say that anyone with different learning needs should be in a special school.
      I shall keep banging on about it anyway. 😉

  2. Excellent point. No two children are alike, and no two children have the exact same needs. It’s the strongest argument I can think of for the need for MUCH smaller class sizes. Bless you for fighting this fight. It sucked the life out of me and I had to stop teaching. -Amy

    1. Ah, well, we shall see how long I can keep going! Do you have those charter schools that are making waves over here by you? I’m not very keen on the sound of those…

      1. We do. They get a lot of hype as if they’re going to solve all the problems of public education, and then they almost always crash and burn. Our biggest problem in our state is that the governor and legislature have chosen to defund the schools in order to elminate taxes on the wealthy (who, of course, support their re-election). That’s not an exaggeration – it’s a scandal that is in the news daily. And partly behind that move is what is obvioulsy a religous-right wish to do away with public schools. During every congressional session bills are advanced that would encourage people to pull their kids out of government schools in favor of private schools or home schooling. And in every session more and more money is taken away from those government schools. That’s our local tragedy, and there are many other types of educational tragedies playing out in pretty much every state.

      2. Yes, it is truly shocking. It’s a movement that’s powered by very wealthy and powerful people behind the scenes nationally, and which our state government has sold out to.

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