Declining Invitations

It’s not often that I am asked my opinion about anything much.  This does not mean that am I not entirely free with my opinions with anyone who cares to listen, but there you are.  So it was with utter surprise that I received an email inviting me to a meeting at the Department for Education to discuss SEND and Inclusion in relation to Initial Teacher Training.  I don’t feel like an expert by any means; I’m not in a position of leadership in a school.  I don’t even have my own class at the moment.  But I do work with a lot of teachers, I have worked in a number of schools over the years and I most definitely have a vested interest.

Unfortunately for me I can’t go to the meeting – I seem to have been to London rather a lot lately – so I thought I would share my ideas here, for what they are worth.  If you have any you would like to add, please put them in the comments.


  1. What are the essentials that training teachers need to know or have experienced by the end of their training?


Looking at it from the point of view of both a teacher and a parent, I think that trainee teachers need to be told about the sort of special educational needs and disabilities they are likely to come across over their careers.  They need to know what the most common learning needs are and what the diagnoses mean.  The information given needs to be up-to-date and they need to be given time to consider the damage labels cause, in the limitations they put on children through the lowering of adult expectations.

Students and new teachers need to be given time to think about the social model of disability, that is, that a person is disabled not so much by who they are as by the society (or school) that surrounds them, and the concept of removing barriers.

I often wonder to myself whether the behaviour of children and how we adults feel about it isn’t one of the most difficult things to analyse dispassionately.  Believe it or not, it is only relatively recently that I have come across tools to do exactly this.  How do you help an included child to stay in class?  How do you help a young teacher, who may have very limited experience with children and young people, other than the time when they were little themselves, to find their way?

When working with children with SEND, teachers need to understand that they will be working with a whole load of other people, and they need to know how to go about doing this.  Do they know what their responsibilities are towards TAs, for instance?  Do they know how the working relationship is supposed to work?  Have they had training on how to deploy other adults in the classroom?  Are we fitting them out with an understanding of how to communicate, and how to find systems that will work and not overwhelm them with complexity?

Do new teachers know anything at all about the other agencies they may be working with, especially when they have a child with an EHCP?  Can we prepare them by teaching them who does what and where they work?  Teachers need to know that other professionals do not possess magic wands, so they need to know about the kind of advice they are likely to get and from who – and where to go for it when they need it.

It seems to me that class teachers need to understand their legal responsibilities as far as the Code of Practice is concerned.  What must they do?  How much do they need to understand?  Before they start teaching vulnerable children, they need to have practiced setting meaningful, SMART targets.  They need to know how to organise targets for the children in their class – how to make completing the paperwork meaningful rather than for the sake of it.  They need to know what the four categories of SEND are – and what inclusion actually is in terms of rights, rather than the warm glow it gives you to be able to say what a welcoming person you are.

There have been times in my mothering life when sending my Sam to school has been particularly painful.  There have been teachers, those with more experience of life – and school – who have been happy to open their doors, but, sadly, there have also been those who have not.  There have been times when the relationship between home and school has been characterised by conflict and misunderstanding.  This isn’t great for anyone, and new teachers need training on how to handle those times when it’s not easy, how to listen and understand that parental engagement with their child doesn’t always look like you think it might.

Teachers need to understand the journey that is child development – it shouldn’t be until they have their own children that they start to understand the various points that children may or may not have reached by the time they get to their class.  They need to feel it, rather than know it, that a child being born at the end of August does not mean that they have SEN of some form or another.  At the very least they need to know about early language, cognitive and physical development.

It doesn’t need to be massively detailed.  So much inflexible thinking happens when we think we know it all.  Teachers – young and old – need to know that there is always something new to be learned; that all children have it within themselves to surprise.  What they do need to feel is that they have enough of a foundation of knowledge to make a start with confidence.


  1. How can this best be provided?


I think that the issue of teacher training is a particularly tricky one.  When I trained, back in the long-distant past it was a B.Ed. or a PGCE.  You followed the course for the allotted time and off you went.  Now there seems to be a bajillion ‘routes into teaching’, and many of them are school-based on-the-job jobs.  Leaving whether or not I think this is a good idea to one side, I think that however the training of a teacher is managed, SEND must be high on the list of priorities.

Teachers, and here I don’t just mean baby ones but all of us, need to get out of the schools we work/train in and go and visit as many settings as we possibly can.  We need to see nurseries, and talk to the staff there about how they work.  We need to visit primaries and secondaries, colleges even.  We need to consider the points at which the children we teach leave us and always always work towards it.  We need to know where those children have come from.

Mainstream teachers need to spend time in great special schools – they need to visit places that have a vision for children and young people with SEND that isn’t about a life of adult day care, that works towards giving them the dignity of working as an adult, having relationships as an adult, living as an adult.

When I was a young teacher, I couldn’t find a permanent post, and so I spend over a year on supply. I taught in a range of different schools and across the primary age ranges.  I taught children on those days when you get a phone call first thing in the morning and make polite conversation with a head teacher while you are still in your pyjamas to those times when you are in for weeks and months at a time.  I couldn’t have asked for a better training.  During that year and a half I learned not only what to teach, but how.

And, as the years pass, we need to give our teachers continuing professional development and this needs to include SEND.  The law has changed – how many teachers actually know what this means for them?  If they work for an LA which has tried to keep things as close as possible to the old way of doing things, how are they to know?  The idea that SEND is an area for specialists, for special schools or SENCOs needs to be challenged.  Teaching children with SEND is for everyone.

Maybe the training for teachers needs to be longer.  Maybe we need to give them more time to get to grips with what is a complex and demanding job.  An academic year isn’t very long.


9 thoughts on “Declining Invitations

  1. – time spent in special schools should be quality – a week, rather than a day, and a chance to act as at the very least a teaching assistant, rather than just observing the students.
    Also, I feel that teachers need to be made more aware of how an SEN can affect the whole child – not just their ability to learn. For instance, that low muscle tone which makes sitting difficult and means the student will tire incredibly quickly.

      1. On my pgce we spent a day in a special school and probably about an hour of that in class. Didn’t really learn anything

  2. You raise so many good points here, and it’s a subject I’ve thought extensively about, as well, from my perspective of a teacher myself and as I watch my daughter in her last year of preparation for the classroom. I’m seeing that her teacher education is much better than mine was, but still there’s so much they’re not preparing new teachers for. In terms of special needs kids, I’m thankful that it’s a special interest of hers, that she’s particularly adept at working with kids of widely differing abilities and needs, and that she’s determined to focus on individualizing in her classroom. But I know that’s not the case for many, many student teachers.

    And…I, too, remember those mornings being called at 5:30 am and given details about a school to go to that day, while still groggy and in my pajamas. Lucky substitute teachers now, to have the internet instead of being jolted awake by a jangling phone!

    1. Ha! Very true. The number of times I have had to pretend that I am all professional and up and ready ‘just in case’!
      How does teacher training work in the States? We are in the middle of much upheaval and change over here.

      1. Wow, you asking that question made me realize that teacher training is all over the place. Each state has its own requirements for certification, but how you prepare for those requirements is entirely up to the university you attend. Of course, my experience is almost 30 years old, and I know it’s changed a bunch since then. Our daughter will be teaching high school (ages 14-18), in the area of English and writing. So her early years in college focused on a liberal arts education and tons of English (she has a double major – English and education). In her third year she added child psychology and special education (all teachers are required to take a special ed course, no matter where you live). This final year she’s in a classroom to “observe” this first semester (though she’s actually teaching, grading, and analysing data much of the time) as well as taking three education classes. Next semester she will have total control of the same classroom she’s observing in this semester (assuming her control freak cooperating teacher allows her to have the control she’s supposed to have). Unfortunately this student teaching year is left to the mercy of the effectiveness of the cooperating teacher. There is very little structure or communication between the cooperating schools/teachers and the university staff. So the requirements for her university are worlds away from what she’s allowed to do in the real world of the classroom she’s working in. And there’s no screening process for who’s allowed to be a cooperating teacher – I would say the woman she’s been assigned to is NOT a good role model, and certainly not a good person to guide a new teacher. Again, I’m just thankful our daughter is truly a born teacher as well as extremely intelligent and motivated, has natural empathy and concern for her students, and that she has very high standards for the best practices she wishes to employ in her work. And, as I said, every university is different, so who knows what her experience would have been elsewhere?

        Sorry for writing such a tome, but it really is something I’ve been thinking about a lot!

      2. Unfortunately this student teaching year is left to the mercy of the effectiveness of the cooperating teacher – this bit is so, so important. Interesting to see that teacher training is even more complex stateside (although you seem to have got a better model regarding send).

  3. It is important that all teachers receive a special education course, but that’s all theory. In practice, there is no follow-up. The course that education students take gives a basic overview of many different kids of exceptionalities but pretty much no teaching on how to accomodate those kids. That’s left up to the special ed teachers in each individual building, who are seriously overtaxed. In each building there’s rarely any time for contact between special ed teachers and the regular ed teachers who have special needs kids mainstreamed into their classrooms. Kids with very severe needs might have a paraeducator with them during mainstreaming (I think maybe you call them shadows?), but the training those paraeducators receive can be very sketchy. I often felt that the special ed kids who were mainstreamed into my classroom were getting shortchanged, though I did my best with what limited knowledge I had. For three years I worked as a paraeducator, so I saw that side of the story as well. Truly it’s not a good system for anyone.

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