Key Skills Education is a specialist provider of Special Educational Need (SEN) experts into schools and education centres across London and the South East. It follows that as a company we endeavour to retain a clear understanding as to what constitutes best practice in the classroom, thus enabling us to pass this knowledge onto our teachers and support staff.
Just over one in five pupils in England are identified as having special educational needs. This amounts to 1.7 million school-aged children. Ofsted recently commissioned a review as to how well the legislative framework and arrangements served children and young people who had special educational needs and/or disabilities. It considered the early years, compulsory education, education from 16 to 19, and the contribution of social care and health services. The report was published 14 September 2010 and the full version can be viewed on the following link:
From the review many conclusions were made with regard to the term SEN being used too widely. Around half the schools visited used low achievement and relatively slow progress as the main method of identifying special educational need, yet in many cases it was found that this underachievement was attributable to poor teaching and low expectations of the pupils. SEN was being used as a reason for lower expectations and an excuse for poor outcomes. Incorrect identification of SEN was reducing the school’s ability to help those who did need a range of specialist support. Whilst the current system is working well in some places, inconsistencies in identification mean that children with similar needs are not being treated “equitably and appropriately”
Of interest to Key Skills Education is the conclusions made with regard to where the current system is working well, as this has set a milestone for best practice moving forward and how our teachers can help to ensure that the best outcomes are secured for all children in the education system. In particular the report highlighted the importance of SEN expertise, in what circumstances optimum learning occurred and the characteristics of the best lessons.
In just over half the providers visited, staff had good or outstanding expertise in special educational needs which meant that their assessment of needs was more secure. The best practice distinguished clearly between pupils who were underachieving because of weaknesses in provision and those whose particular special educational needs were hampering their learning.
Where the skills of all staff were at a high level, many of the pupils did not require additional or alternative provision. Continuing assessment of their needs ensured that intervention and support were provided without the pupils needing to be identified as having special educational needs.
In summary, it was found that no one model such as special schools, full inclusion in mainstream settings, or specialist units co-located with mainstream settings worked better than any other.
The best learning occurred in all types of provision when teachers had a thorough and detailed knowledge of the children and young people; a thorough knowledge and understanding of teaching and learning strategies and techniques and a sound understanding of child development and how different learning difficulties and disabilities influence this.
During the visits to providers, the lessons observed for varied in their quality. The characteristics of the best lessons were:
– Teachers’ thorough and detailed knowledge of the children and young people
– Teachers’ thorough knowledge and understanding of teaching strategies and techniques, including assessment for learning
– Teachers’ thorough knowledge about the subject or areas of learning being taught
– Teachers’ understanding of how learning difficulties can affect children and young people’s learning.
These are considered “the essential tools for good-quality teaching with any group of children or young people”.
Where children and young people’s learning was good or outstanding, there had been careful assessment. Teachers had used this to focus their teaching and to ensure that they tackled any gaps in children and young people’s earlier learning. Where the children and young people were learning faster or more slowly than originally expected, the best teachers seen were confident to adjust the lesson to take account of this.
A focus on what children and young people were learning, rather than on just keeping them busy, was also critical to success. This included giving children and young people time to think and work out problems for themselves. Where children and young people felt they had failed in their earlier learning, feedback from staff was particularly important. For example, in the outstanding lessons seen, careful, unequivocal feedback built on success and what pupils could do.
The most effective lessons had a clear structure that was explained well to the children and young people, so that they knew what they would be doing and what they were aiming to learn. Teachers knew how to adapt the structure to fit what the children and young people needed to learn.
Where support staff was provided in the classroom for individuals, this was sometimes a barrier to including them successfully and enabling them to participate. In too many examples seen during the review, when a child or young person was supported closely, the support staff focused on the completion of the task rather than on the actual learning. Adults intervened too quickly, so preventing children and young people from having time to think or to learn from their mistakes.
When children and young people learned best:
– They looked to the teacher for their main learning and to the support staff for support
– Teachers planned opportunities for pupils to collaborate, work things out for themselves and apply what they had learnt to different situations
– Teachers’ subject knowledge was good, as was their understanding of pupils’ needs and how to help them
– Lesson structures were clear and familiar but allowed for adaptation and flexibility
– All aspects of a lesson were well thought out and any adaptations needed were made without fuss to ensure that everyone in class had access
– Teachers presented information in different ways to ensure all children and young people understood
– Teachers adjusted the pace of the lesson to reflect how children and young people were learning
– The staff understood clearly the difference between ensuring that children and young people were learning and keeping them occupied
– Respect for individuals was reflected in high expectations for their achievement
– The effectiveness of specific types of support was understood and the right support was put in place at the right time.
The schools visited where the teachers and support staff had enough knowledge and understanding to meet the needs of the majority of pupils as a matter of course had fewer pupils who required additional intervention. There was therefore more time for specialist staff to assist teachers and help meet the needs of pupils with more complex difficulties from a base of very good teaching and learning.
In July 2010 the Government announced there will be a green paper on special educational needs and disability (SEND) in the autumn. The Green Paper reaffirms the Government’s commitment to improving the SEND system.
Following the publication of the Ofsted Report, on the 10th September Sarah Teather, the Minister of State for Children and Families, invited everyone with an interest in services for disabled young children and those with special educational needs (SEN) to submit their views on how to improve services. Views have been collected up until the 15th October, those received will be considered as part of developing proposals for a Green Paper on SEN and disability to be published this autumn.
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