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by Patrick McGrath, Education Technology Strategist, Texthelp
As we leave behind a year that redefined the parameters of the classroom, it’s important to take time to reflect.
It has been a challenging year for all of us. We’ve had to adapt our priorities, our focus on teaching and learning, and of course, our provision for our special education needs students.
But what does this mean in practice and how can we create inclusive learning experiences for all as we begin to move forward?
A recent roundtable discussion that I was involved with on behalf of Texthelp raised some interesting insights on what the future holds for SEN provision.
With a panel including Simon Tanner, Director of SEND at Bohunt Education Trust; Kath Lawson, Director of Inclusive Support at YES@AretéLearningTrust; and Charlie Love, Education Support Officer at Aberdeen City Council this was an opportunity to ask the experts.
In this article I’ll be sharing what I learned during the discussion, from adjusting to a new normal to using technology to underpin whole-school inclusion.
Results from a recent study by Texthelp and educational analyst ImpactEd, highlights the true scale of disruption that COVID-19 caused to education systems globally.
With research revealing that 61% of students in the UK felt their morale was lower since schools closed in March 2020. This highlights the challenges that teachers faced, supporting students with the change, anxiety and isolation, alongside keeping learning going.
But for students with additional needs, dealing with this drastic overnight change can be even more daunting.
It’s no surprise then, that during the roundtable our panel discussed strategies for managing mental health and wellbeing as part of effective SEND provision.
The overarching message was that communication is key – and little and often works best to avoid overloading the student and the teacher.
Asking them what support would help, sending work in small bites and working in partnership with other key members of staff and families, are all effective strategies that can help support SEN students in the here and now.
However as Victoria Schoenhofen (Specialist Support Teacher at South Lanarkshire Council) shared from her experience, engagement during this time has varied from student to student, she said:
“We’ve had some pupils who have actually found it easier to engage because it’s not been face to face and there’s not been any pressure on them. And some students have, as expected, completely disappeared off the radar.”
Demonstrating why it’s important to consider the needs of a diverse range of students and learning styles when selecting the tools and strategies that can help you navigate lockdown and beyond.
Beyond the pandemic, it’s unlikely that education will truly return to the way it was before. With our audience of teachers, SEN leaders and senior leaders keen to find out from our experts how we can incorporate what we have learned throughout 2020, into teaching moving forward.
We know that technology has seen considerable growth in usage over the period of remote learning, and it’s brought out many strengths in our students. It’s going to be important that we support and maintain this use going forward – embracing tools that have worked well, or that students have responded to.
CPD will be key to this as will learning from the community of educators what best practice looks like.
As Kath commented during the discussion: “It’s a journey, not an end point. But I think that some of the technology that we have, that perhaps hasn’t been used as effectively as it could have been, this has been where the opportunity lies.”
As we’ve identified the changing nature of education in 2020, coupled with the exponential rise of technology use, means that the definition of inclusion and how technology can support it must align.
In fact, schools should use technology to drive whole-school inclusion, to make learning more accessible for all students.
As Deborah Kennedy-Martinet (SENCo and Assistant Head at A’soud Global School) pointed out during the roundtable:
“I think we’ve seen an enormous shift for all levels of education. In post-primary for me, technology now means that all children have better accessibility to the curriculum. I think it’s been a total transformation.”
A key part in achieving this is encouraging a whole-school/all-teacher responsibility. Every teacher has to be a SEND teacher, the lock down has brought this home very clearly.
The Department for Education has driven the messages, as have SENDCos, and teachers are now seeing first hand the real need to put accessibility and individual support front and centre.
We’ve a lot of work ahead to do on this but as we reflect on remote learning, Senior Leadership Teams will have to understand the many dynamics that are outside of the
SEND departments control and remit.
This is about shared responsibility.
Watch the full roundtable discussion to get more insights from the panel on the future of SEN provision, by visiting text.help/teachsec-sen.
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