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Covid-19 and education: How can parents foster whole family wellbeing as some children return to school – especially for youngsters with special needs?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital2 June 2020

Amelia Roberts

During periods of upheaval, it can be particularly challenging to meet the needs of the whole family. Families now are juggling the school partial reopening, meaning that some children may be going back, while brothers and sisters are not. Not only is this difficult for practical reasons (such as getting some children to school while caring for others at home), but perceptions of fairness may well escalate. It may be hard, for example, not to meet friends when your sister can, or go to school when your brother gets to stay at home.

Explaining the situation

Social stories can be a very useful way to explain changes in circumstance to children with special educational needs. Beaucroft Foundation School have a wide range of excellent examples. ‘Going to school part time’ uses common visual symbols to explain the changes and has an excellent example of a simple visual calendar to show when a
child is at home and when at school.

Supporting the transition back into school

Communication with the school is absolutely crucial at this time. You will need to know how social distancing and deep cleaning measures are being handled so that you can (more…)

When it comes to Ofsted’s judgments about school inclusion, context is everything

Blog Editor, IOE Digital14 June 2019

 Rob Webster.

Last week, Schools Week reported on an academy in Dorset that had controversially retained its ‘outstanding’ grade despite Ofsted inspectors’ notes revealing that ‘dozens of pupils leave each year’.

The inspection was triggered by concerns over ‘exceptional levels of pupil movement’, but to be clear, the regulator concluded there was “no hidden agenda” and “no sense of any inappropriate movement”.

The social media firestorm that predictably followed reflected the uncertainty that surrounds a signature feature of the new inspection framework, which comes into effect (more…)

Supply and demand: Looking to the past to meet the inclusive challenge ahead

Blog Editor, IOE Digital29 January 2019

Rob Webster.
It’s no secret pupil numbers are rising. By 2023, secondary mainstream schools will need to have found the space for an additional 376,000 young people. If current prevalence is any indication, we can expect at least 45,300 of these extra pupils to have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). A further 6,800 will have needs complex enough to qualify for an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
The geographic distribution of these young people will, of course, be uneven. But if it were even, it would mean each existing secondary mainstream school in England would need to accommodate 15 additional pupils with SEND, two of whom would have an EHCP. The populations of special schools and alternative provisions (AP)[1]are also set to boom, by 15% and 19% respectively. That’s a further 13,000 or so young people with SEND.
If you think the solution to the increase is, in part or in whole, to up the capacity of (more…)

Why haven’t we progressed further on supporting children’s speech and language needs?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital1 August 2018

Amelia Roberts.
Ten years on from the Bercow Review (2008) and we are still hearing that it is a ‘scandal’ that children are even now starting school with impoverished language skills. Education Secretary, Damian Hinds MP, spoke this week at the Resolution Foundation’s headquarters in Westminster.
He identified the gap in language abilities of children from lower socio-economic backgrounds as a major factor in the challenges towards creating greater social mobility.
So what exactly isn’t working?
Highlighting a report released (more…)

Bullying: What have longitudinal studies taught us?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital17 November 2015

Meghan Rainsberry
The Department for Education (DfE) announced yesterday that 30,000 fewer children in England are experiencing bullying today compared to 10 years ago. This is a welcome finding as anti-bullying charities, schools, local authorities and others gear up for this year’s Anti-Bullying Week (16-20 November).
But other evidence suggests that the problem persists for many minority groups, and that the scarring effects of childhood bullying last well into adult life.
Longitudinal studies follow people throughout their lives, collecting information on their health, wellbeing, education, employment, family life and social networks. They are a unique resource for understanding who is at risk of being bullied, and what long-term effects bullying can have on our lives. (more…)

The more things change…? Children with SEN and their classroom experiences over time

Blog Editor, IOE Digital8 January 2015

Rob Webster
Just before Christmas, Mencap – the UK’s leading charity for people with learning disabilities – reported results of a survey of parents’ perceptions of their children’s education. Responses from 908 parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) found that 65% thought their child receives a poorer education, compared with pupils without SEND. Also, 64% said their child had been taken out of class because of their learning disability.
The findings clearly prompt concern, but they also invite broader questions about how we corroborate the views of parents and others with what happens in schools. In this case, investigating the veracity of subjective views requires additional objective data concerning what actually goes on in classrooms where children with SEND are taught.
We can obtain such data through a technique called systematic observation (SO). SO was developed in the early-1970s after researchers realised that (more…)

How headteachers are maximising the impact of teaching assistants and getting results

Blog Editor, IOE Digital5 September 2014

Rob Webster
Recent Government data reveal the rise and rise of teaching assistants. Headcount figures show there are more TAs working in English state-funded primary schools than teachers: 257,300 vs. 242,300. In secondary schools, there are 70,700 TAs to 257,300 teachers.
While these numbers reflect the part-time nature of the role, they strengthen the case for professionalising these valued members of the school workforce.
This year, our SENJIT@IOE team worked with 26 schools in the inaugural Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants (MITA) programme, supporting them through a process of rethinking and reforming their use of TAs. MITA is based on the principles and processes set out in our book of the same name, which in turn is based on findings from an extensive research programme.
Through MITA, we present a case for more effective uses of TAs, which schools apply and develop in their own setting. The programme gives school leaders and SENCos dedicated opportunities to think, reflect, discuss and plan, with sessions at the IOE and consultancy visits from an expert MITA Facilitator from the SENJIT team.
Our evaluation of the two-term project, based on feedback from participating schools, found that despite starting from different points, all schools made progress towards understanding and addressing the complex issues of rethinking the TA role and raising their profile in school.
Participants told us one of MITA’s strengths is the way it is structured around a robust evidence-informed framework for decision-making and action, based on empirical research. The framework helped participants appreciate the need for the deep structural changes that the research has revealed is essential if TAs are to have a lasting and meaningful impact on pupil outcomes.
MITA helped school leaders think more broadly about the issues relating to TA deployment, preparedness and their interactions with pupils (the MITA trinity!). Whilst schools identify training for TAs as an area of attention, on its own, it is no sliver bullet. For example, schools recognised that the need for change in relation to improving provision for pupils with SEN extended beyond TAs to improving teachers’ practice.
Indeed, the new Special Educational Needs Code of Practice proved a powerful additional catalyst for change. This is no coincidence; one of MITA’s key aims is, as the Code supports, to encourage schools to develop a role for TAs that begins to break away from what is often called the ‘Velcro’ model of support for pupils with high-level SEN, and which our research has revealed to have unintended consequences.
Instead, MITA schools have been exploring the enormous potential of using TAs to help all pupils develop the essential skills underpinning learning, such as the ability to self-scaffold and ask themselves the questions that help them to get better at getting better at learning.
The broader point here is that understanding why pupils targeted for TA support are negatively affected by the very intervention designed to help them, and how to reverse this situation, is essential if school leaders are to ensure TAs’ contribution to school life seriously counts.
This conclusion is hardly unique. A raft of research attests to why headteachers must drive – not dodge – school workforce issues. So a particularly encouraging outcome of the MITA programme from our point of view (as researchers and course providers) is the way in which headteachers have engaged and committed to doing something positive and potentially transformative for their TA workforce.
The effort is paying off too, as schools began to see the benefits of addressing the key challenge of defining the role, purpose and contribution of TAs within their school.
Given the Government says it has “no plans or any powers” to address issues of TA employment, it is encouraging to see schools seizing the initiative and using the freedoms they have been given to set the agenda. It is still early days, but empowering headteachers in this way might potentially have an even greater payoff.
No jurisdiction in the world has gone as far as the UK in its use of classroom support staff. If we are to realise the Government’s aim of keeping pace with international education systems, TAs’ contribution will be essential. The prize awaiting the UK, then, is to become a world leader in this area.
MITA courses begin at the IOE on 17th November 2014 and 23rd January 2015. To register, email r.webster@ioe.ac.uk.
Visit www.maximisingTAs.co.uk or the SENJIT website. Follow us on Twitter @maximisingTAs.
 

Policy-makers cannot deal with the challenges facing schools unless they put equality at the heart of all they do

Blog Editor, IOE Digital2 September 2014

Gillian Klein
Chris Husbands observed in an IOE London blogpost that Michael Gove’s rhetoric was of “a failing school system with some bright lights”, while Ofsted’s evidence is “of a largely effective school system in which the great majority of schools are at least good”. Such tensions are frequently the meat of the Blog and other education commentary.
Policy-makers face a number of tough long-term challenges. Key among them are the role of schools in building community and social cohesion in an increasingly unequal society, and how to secure high levels of both excellence and equity.
Meanwhile, the new school year brings immediate challenges. These include the accountability of free schools and academies, relationships between academies and local authorities and the role of middle-tier agencies, the Department for Education’s tenuous hold on teacher supply, the morale and professional self-respect of teachers, and the reliability and independence of Ofsted.
If the new education secretary, Nicky Morgan, and other policy-makers, are to meet these challenges, they must take their legal and moral responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 seriously. These responsibilities are, emphatically, not an add-on ­– policy-makers cannot deal effectively with the challenges facing schools unless they begin with the Equality Act, and keep it at the very heart of all they do.
This argument is the basis for the special issue of the journal Race Equality Teaching published this month by IOE Press. The journal has focused for 30 years on racial inequality in educational provision but this issue, compiled by a specially convened editorial team led by Robin Richardson and Berenice Miles, also considers disability, gender, religion and belief, sexual identity and transgender issues. The articles are arranged under headings which correspond to the three needs named in Section 149 of the Equality Act: to eliminate discrimination, to advance equality of opportunity, to foster good relations. Put simply, these needs are about treating everyone the same, treating everyone differently if their differences are relevant, and helping people get on with each other.
The journal leads with an article by Sameena Choudry decrying the DFE’s failure to collect and publish relevant information as required by the Equality Act’s specific duties. She calls for the DFE to make available the data about differential outcomes relating to children’s achievement at school and thus their life-chances. Such data needs to be precise; vague categories such as ‘ethnic minority’, or ‘Asian’, or ‘Black African’, or ‘special educational needs’ are unhelpful and therefore unacceptable. Also unacceptable is the failure to reflect the significant differences between different English regions, the intersectionality of inequalities, and the impact of family income.
Choudry’s challenge to the DFE sets the context for the remaining articles, which offer informed critique of the current provision for children in education who have protected characteristics – and some inspirational examples of good practice. They include definitions of disability and special needs, a case-study of one school’s response to a student’s gender reassignment, the aspirations and needs of Pakistani Muslim children, the impact of gender stereotyping, and the long arm of Section 28 homophobia.
The introduction takes the form of an open letter to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. It makes the point at the core of this blog post: start with the Equality Act, and put it at the heart of all you do.
 
Gillian Klein, publisher of Trentham Books at the IOE Press, is the founding editor of Race Equality Teaching, formerly Multicultural Teaching.
The journal can be read by IOE staff on the Institute’s intranet, but paper copies of this special issue, and the next, can be purchased at cost – £5.00 each – if ordered before the journal goes to print. The cutoff date for this first issue is September 7, and details are available here.
 

Be careful what you wish for: parents, professionals and the new SEN system

Blog Editor, IOE Digital19 March 2014

 Rob Webster
The long-awaited Children and Families Bill has now achieved Royal Assent, paving the way for new reforms that will overhaul how the needs of children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) are assessed and met.
In September, a new accompanying Code of Practice comes into force, initiating a three-year process of replacing SEN Statements for those with the highest level of need with more comprehensive Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs).
Families deserve a responsive and efficient SEN system. The changes to statutory assessment (the process leading to an EHCP), which expressly places the child at the centre of consultations with local authorities (LAs), were prompted by, and are designed to address, long-standing concerns relating to parents’ expectations and confidence in the SEN system.
However, parents are still likely to enter the assessment process in the hope of securing one-to-one support from a teaching assistant (TA) – particularly when their child’s needs can be met in a mainstream school. Under the outgoing system, support is quantified in  TA hours. Many agree ‘TA hours’ are the accepted currency of Statements, and as things stand, are likely to feature in the new EHCPs.
With the best of intentions, schools have sustained arrangements heavily reliant on TAs in the name of inclusive practice. The new Code of Practice, however, suggests a move away from the widespread ‘default model’ of one-to-one TA support. It emphasises the significance of ‘high quality teaching’ and gives a coded warning about how ‘special education provision…is compromised by anything less’.
Behind this warning appear to be findings from the recent Making a Statement study (which I co-directed with Peter Blatchford) on the day-to-day teaching and support for pupils with high-level SEN. We tracked 48 Statemented pupils in mainstream primary schools and found they had a qualitatively different educational experience compared with their non-SEN peers, characterised by having fewer interactions with teachers and classmates, and almost constant and lower quality support from a TA.
Put together with results from our previous research, which found that pupils with high-level SEN receiving the most TA support made significantly less academic progress than similar pupils who received little or no TA support (even after controlling for SEN), we see a worrying trend: pupils with Statements are negatively affected by the very intervention intended to help them.
The new Code is encouraging, as it reinforces how every teacher is responsible and accountable for the development and progress of every pupil in their class. TAs have a very useful role to play in making this work in practice, but it also requires a fundamental rethink about how schools manage teaching and provision for vulnerable learners, and how they ‘do’ inclusion.
For me, more needs to be done to manage expectations when families – hoping for the magic bullet of TA hours – start the statutory assessment process. SENCos, educational psychologists and new SEN ‘champions’ (among others) have a crucial role to play here, as these are the people with whom families tend to deal with first when a request for assessment is sought.
Their work and training must reflect the research evidence that provides a clear warning of persisting with the dominant, TA-heavy model of provision, and (depending on the professional) provide alternative guidance in the form of appropriate and effective pedagogical techniques.
None of this is to say that parents should ‘get real’ and accept whatever cash-strapped LAs can afford; nor that most parents have unreasonable expectations of the SEN system. The key issue is that, from the very start, those working in the best interests of the child need to do more to help parents understand that the quality of support their child receives really is more important than the quantity, and propose arrangements that follow this principle.
Statutory assessment is a rigorous and evidence-based process. The new SEN reforms make it incumbent on educationalists to approach SEN provision in the same manner.
For more on the research, visit www.teachingassistantresearch.co.uk.

Addressing the bigger picture on teaching assistant interventions

Blog Editor, IOE Digital12 February 2014

Peter Blatchford
It is good to hear the positive results from new studies, funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, showing that interventions carried out by teaching assistants (TAs) with small groups helped improve children’s results in the 3Rs. In fact these results are consistent with earlier research, going back many years, which evaluated the use of TAs for specific interactions, usually in literacy.
These findings are welcome given the troubling results from the large scale Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) study, which I directed. We found clear evidence from a sophisticated longitudinal programme involving more than 8000 pupils that the more support pupils received from TAs over the school year the less progress they made. This was the case even when we controlled for ‘pupil factors’ such as children’s prior attainment and their level of special educational need (SEN).
I have often been asked how we can reconcile the two sets of seemingly contradictory results ­– i.e. the negative findings from DISS and the positive ones from specific interventions.
I think the explanation is clear. While the intervention studies relate to specific outcomes from a targeted programme in which TAs have been trained for the job, the DISS study was concerned with how TAs were used on a daily basis across the whole curriculum and school day.
It is no surprise that TAs, when appropriately trained, can produce positive effects, but the DISS study was also clear that for the most part TAs are not used in this way. We found that TAs were typically used in an informal remedial role with low attaining pupils and pupils with special educational needs. This support was an alternative to teacher input, not additional to it, and the pupils supported by TAs missed out on interactions with their teachers.
We also found that TAs were often under-prepared for their role – often going into lessons ‘blind’ – and had received little guidance or training. In more recent studies, my colleagues Rob Webster and Tony Russell and I have found that this deployment of TAs is still common. The problem, then, is not TAs as such, but ways in which TAs are used in schools.
Although the EEF funded research is welcome, there are a few well known problems with ‘pull-out’ interventions that need to be carefully considered when TAs are used to carry them out. If, as is the case in the EEF studies, interventions are assessed in terms of specific academic outcomes related to the literacy or numeracy intervention, they can be found to successful. But in our studies we have found that pupils are often withdrawn from the classroom for interventions and as a result become detached from the teacher, the classroom, their classmates and the curriculum. One therefore needs to account for the lost and disrupted coverage as well as the gains during the intervention.
A connected point concerns the extent to which what is learned during the intervention is connected back to the pupils’ broader experiences of the curriculum. We have found that interventions are often quite separate from classroom activities and there is relatively little communication or feedback between the TA and teacher afterwards. This meant it was often left to the pupils themselves to make any links with their mainstream curriculum coverage. Given that supported pupils were usually those with the most difficulties this was a huge challenge for them. The integration of the specific intervention and mainstream curriculum coverage is therefore vital.
But the main problem is that training TAs for specific interventions does not on its own provide an answer to the ineffective way in which they have been deployed in schools. Schools need to fundamentally rethink the way they use TAs on an everyday basis. Otherwise, their enormous potential will not be fully realised.
Our key message is this: TAs should be used to add value to teachers not replace them. Our book ‘Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants’ sets out strategies for schools and classroom and highlights three areas for development:.

  • We need to rethink the deployment of TAs so they are not given primary responsibility for pupils in most need. For instance, rotating groups can allow teachers to spend more time with such pupils.
  • We need to rethink the preparedness of TAs (and teachers) so they have more time to communicate and have more professional development, especially for pupils with SEN.
  • And we need to work on the way TAs talk to pupils, for example developing effective styles of questioning in support of pupil independent learning.

All of these are a challenge and all involve tough decisions, but we have found in our work with schools that huge progress is being made, and this contributes to school improvement more broadly.