The Teacher Handbook: SEND ”An Essential Companion for all Teachers”
Part 2 of a 2-part SAfE blog from Kenny Wheeler
A synopsis of the handbook chapters
Whole School SEND have created a fabulous resource to support all teachers to consider, understand and better meet the needs of learners within the school setting. The handbook is intended to support staff in primary, secondary and specialist settings from teaching assistants to headteachers and CEOs.
The Teacher Handbook: SEND can be downloaded from the SendGateway. The handbook covers a range of topics. Within each section there are useful hyperlinks that can take the reader off to key sources on information and research that helps develop a broader understanding of each key topic.
Section 1 looks at the overall context of teaching from the essential role that teachers play to the legislation in which we operate and to Ofsted and the role they play within the education sector.
There is a focus on intersectionality which looks at the cumulative effect of multiple vulnerabilities that some learners have and how they combine to impact on the learner accessing, engaging and participating in education as part of the school community. In identifying vulnerabilities school staff can be proactive in addressing them so that individuals do not fall behind academically, socially or behaviourally. This really addresses co-occurring difficulties and the fact we do not deal with issues in isolation but that we focus on the whole learner and seek to support them and not any disorders in isolation. To this end safeguarding is also covered in this section as disabled learners and those with SEND are more likely to experience abuse and bullying.
Language used by teachers is also covered in this opening section. The focus is on valuing individuals and being aware that some language used can be judgemental and devaluing. There is a risk of focusing on negatives so the section explores how colleagues can support one another to be positive when considering how to engage individuals.
Knowing the learner
Section 2 looks at what we understand about child development, how individuals develop as a result of interacting with others and their environment. There is also coverage of cognitive science so that teachers consider cognitive and thinking skills and how these affect how a learner may engage with what is being taught. There are distinct sections for schema, working memory, cognitive load theory, attention and processing and mastery learning to highlight the different aspects of cognitive and thinking skills.
The section finishes off with pupil voice and the importance of working with families as they provide a rich source of evidence and information that help us better understand an individual and their own unique context. Again, there is a focus on the language we use coupled with the approaches we may take when we may have a concern about an individual. Case studies also feature in order to highlight SEND from a parental perspective and lived experience.
Planning inclusive lessons
Section 3 considers inclusive pedagogy and how it is a pre-requisite for quality first teaching. It acknowledges that learners present with a range of needs but that teachers are the key to them making progress. Considering inclusive pedagogy and what it means for whole class teaching can help ensure that all learners needs are considered and that SEND is not seen as outliers who need to be taught differently.
Inclusive approaches considers the language we use when we talk about learners with SEND. It reflects on labels such as low attainer or dyslexic and instead challenges us to consider strengths, difficulties, barriers, motivators and how an individual learns best.
Inclusive lessons also focuses on the use of teaching assistants to make sure that they are able to play an effective role in supporting learning within the classroom. There are some creative approaches that teachers can use when planning activities to help ensure that all pupils get access to both the TA and the teacher during the lesson. There is also a consideration for the approaches TAs can adopt in order to build independence over time so that learners develop confidence in their own ability to tackle work in lessons.
Finally, the section finishes with a focus on remote education and the considerations teachers should take account of when planning for work to be completed at home. This includes having an awareness of the home environment which might impact on how and when a learner can undertake remote education.
Creating an inclusive environment
Section 4 looks at the environment in which learners are expected to engage with learning and make progress. Effectively it considers barriers to learning and the reasonable adjustments that can be made. The classroom environment has physical considerations but also emotional elements relating to how individuals may feel contained or restricted. Room layout, displays and grouping are all covered in this section with considerations extending to the stimulation of different senses which can impact on learning such as light, noise, touch, taste and smell. Guidance on what can be done to reduce sensory overload is also covered in great detail.
Transition is also addressed in this section with a focus on key transition points in a learner’s education. Transition is key to ensuring that progress made to date can continue and be built upon rather than risking regression because leaners are not prepared for the next stage of their educational journey. This section also looks at transitions that happen on a daily basis with considerations of how schools can be proactive in supporting learners cope with changes during the normal school day.
Section 5 focuses in on subjects taught in primary and secondary settings. Each subject has guidance on planning inclusive lessons, creating an inclusive environment, curriculum considerations and strategies to scaffold learning. Subjects are broken down by phase so primary maths differs from secondary maths. Primary guidance also covers phonics, reading and writing, it may be helpful for secondary colleagues to look at this guidance if they have learners who experience literacy difficulties.
It is worth noting that there is no guidance for humanities in the handbook, so teachers of these subjects may want to look at what is covered in other subjects and consider the applicability of the guidance for geography or history for example.
Section 6 focuses in on the graduated approach and what it might look like within schools. There are examples of signs that might indicate unmet special educational needs along with guidance on how information and evidence can be gathered by teachers. The teacher’s role in identification details what adjustments can be made to practices, noting the difference they make. This section encourages teachers to reflect on the range of high-quality inclusive teaching strategies that have been used and whether others could be helpful before considering whether a learner has a special educational need.
Again, there is a focus on trying to better understand the holistic individual and the impact that multiple vulnerabilities might be having on the learner accessing the curriculum. Indeed, some of the barriers may not be cognitive but could be environmental which when addressed might help support access and engagement. There are primary and secondary case studies to explore different scenarios which share the actions schools have undertaken in order to address concerns.
Finally, the section ends with a focus on The Engagement Model which became statutory in September 2021. This engagement model replaces P scales 1 – 4 for pupils in key stage 1 and 2 who are working below the standard of national curriculum assessments and not engaged in subject-specific study. The model has 5 areas of engagement:
Broadly speaking the 5 areas help teachers to assess how well their learners are being engaged in developing new skills, knowledge and concepts in the school’s curriculum. The model also helps teachers to assess development across the four areas of need outlined in the SEND Code of Practice (cognition and learning, communication and interaction, social emotional and mental health and sensory and/or physical needs).
The role of the SENCo is also covered giving guidance on how teachers can work with the school SENCo in order to discuss concerns, explore potential strategies and carry out observations or additional assessments in order to better understand what underlying issues may exist. This then extends into the involvement of external agencies and professionals and the role they will play in supporting learners.
Strategies to scaffold learning
Section 7 focuses in on the four broad areas of need outlined in the SEND Code of Practice (2015) these being:
Cognition and learning
Communication and interaction
Sensory and/or physical needs
Social, emotional and mental health
Each area has a broad focus on relationship, environment, strategies and assessment. There is then a more detailed focus on specific difficulties or needs in order to give a clear insight as to what each one is, what learners may experience and what strategies might be helpful. All these strategies would constitute high-quality inclusive teaching approaches.
The section concludes with neuro-diversity and co-occurrence. This looks to better understand and identify barriers to engagement from an individual’s perspective and seek out solutions to address these in order to enable learners to better engage and participate in the school community. Co-occurrence highlights that a learner may well have two or more difficulties which occur simultaneously and thus impact on how they function and access education. The key message is to celebrate differences and the strengths they bring an individual rather than seeing them as something that needs to be cured.
Section 8 concludes the handbook with a focus on teacher wellbeing. Now, more than ever this needs to be a key consideration as we not only deal with the challenges at work but also those in the wider society some of which have been exacerbated greatly by covid and the pandemic.
There are several suggestions as to how teacher wellbeing can be promoted within the workplace. Many of these are at the gift of the individual to influence how they are feeling and how they communicate and deal with their feelings. This extends to considering how distributed leadership can support wellbeing by sharing responsibilities and involving others when supporting learners with SEND. It explores how teachers can work with TAs, the SENCo, pastoral leads, colleagues the learner and their family to explore ways forward and possible strategies and plans for support. We are not alone in a setting, so we do not need to shoulder sole responsibility when working and supporting our learners.
There is a case study from a teacher who has SEND and details the challenges that they have experienced throughout their career and what they have done in order to manage (or not). The teacher reflects that strengths have been found in weakness and that overall, experiencing difficulties has made them more empathic when it comes to appreciating that not everyone learns in the same way.
Finally, the handbook finishes with ideas on how the working environment can be adapted in order to support wellbeing, these range from adjusting the classroom layout, reducing clutter to having comforts / items that evoke positive thoughts. This then leads on to the possibility of supervision and whether having access to supervision will be beneficial for overall wellbeing by sharing anxieties that may be caused for example when learners do not make progress.