Is More Training Needed for Teachers to Teach SEND Pupils?

Is More Training Needed for Teachers to Teach SEND Pupils? 

The National Deaf Children’s Society claims that most teachers don’t know how to teach deaf children. The findings of a survey it recently conducted showed that a third of the teachers participating in the study aren’t confident in teaching them. This raises the questions about whether there is a need for more training for teachers to enable them to confidently teach deaf children, and other SEND students, or whether there is a need for more specialised teachers in schools. 

ITV News reports: “New Whittington Primary School in Derbyshire, already have a dedicated Teacher of the Deaf. The school has seven deaf pupils, who receive support from a teaching assistant using sign language during lessons, as well as extra lessons.”

“They miss a lot of incidental things that we all take for granted, there are times when that classroom environment is bustling, too noisy…”

The head teacher, Emma Tooley, told ITV News why the extra attention is necessary: “They miss a lot of incidental things that we all take for granted,” she says. “There are times when that classroom environment is bustling, too noisy, and there are too many things that distract the children’s hearing that they do have.”

Not just SEND

However, Rob White, a spokesperson from the society stressed in an email to Teach-Now: “Not all deaf children are classified as SEND and not all children with SEND are deaf. All of our stats relate to deaf children and that’s obviously the area we’re experts in. all deaf children are different and need different levels and types of support.”

His colleague Emma Fraser, Teacher of the Deaf at the National Deaf Children’s Society, with 20 years of experience of teaching the deaf, nevertheless adds that there are around 45,000 deaf children in England. Around 33,000 are of school age. She points out that “78% of school-aged deaf children attend mainstream schools; 6% attend mainstream schools with resource provisions; 2% attend special schools for deaf children; and 14% attend special schools not specifically for deaf children.” Only 1% of deaf children are home educated. 

Teaching access

From her experience she finds that deafness has a significant impact on children’s ability to access teaching, learning and be successful at school. This is supported by the NDCS’s latest survey, which indicates that 68% of the surveyed teachers didn’t feel confident that they could teach a deaf child effectively. The vast majority of the teachers (96% of them) felt they would need ongoing support from someone with expert knowledge of how to teach deaf children. A matter that surely needs to be addressed is the fact that a third of the teachers are currently receiving no support from anyone. 

“Teachers can’t be experts in every disability, so it’s vital that specialist staff, such as Teachers of the Deaf, are made available to support them”

She adds: “Teachers can’t be experts in every disability, so it’s vital that specialist staff, such as Teachers of the Deaf, are made available to support them. However, Teachers of the Deaf have fallen by 17% since 2011.”

“If the Government in England introduced a £1.3m bursary, it would fund more than 150 new Teachers of the Deaf. This would replace almost all of those that were lost and mean more deaf children could get the support they need. Deaf awareness, and specifically help with teaching a deaf child, should also be included in Initial Teacher Training because it will provide some of the skills a teacher needs to teach a deaf child before they walk into the classroom.”

Fraser argues that the Government needs to announce both of these measures during the upcoming SEND review, claiming they would “make a massive difference to thousands of deaf children’s lives.”  While she underlines that deafness isn’t in itself a learning disability, being deaf can lead to children falling at school – including at GCSE level where they could drop an entire grade. “Despite the best efforts of teachers, too many deaf pupils are still struggling to access teaching and learning because they are not getting the specialist support they need”, she explains.

Feasibility of SEND teachers

Ashley Eastwood, Executive Leader at Learning in Harmony Trust responds to a question about the feasibility of having specialised SEND teachers supporting each SEND student while maintaining inclusiveness, or whether better teacher SEND training the answer: 

“There should be a two-pronged approach to ensuring each student has adequate support while being fully included in mainstream lessons. The first step is to embed into Initial Teacher Training (ITT) the idea that all teachers should see themselves as SEND teachers, even if they plan to teach in a mainstream setting. This is because all teachers will have pupils in their class who have SEND across a range of needs and abilities. Therefore, the content of their training needs to reflect this reality, by prioritising high-quality instruction and training on how to support SEND pupils.”

“The new training materials for Early Career Teachers (ECTs) currently has very little SEND-specific content”

“Secondly, there needs to be more specialist training routes for those looking to enhance their abilities as SEND teachers. Currently a large majority of specialist teachers are having to learn ‘on the job’ and so are entering into a role unprepared for offering the highest possible support. The new training materials for Early Career Teachers (ECTs) currently has very little SEND-specific content. This should include more SEND content to better prepare ECTs to meet the needs of SEND students.”

Gaps in SEND-related training

He concurs with Fraser that there are gaps in SEND-related training and training routes. However, he believes the solution may not just be found in providing direct additional funding to schools because it may not tackle the source of the issue. After all, SEND teachers already receive additional funding through SEND points. To address the problems teachers face, he argues that any additional funding should be deployed to update teacher training courses, or to allocate to schools for “the specific purpose of investing in their teachers to further develop their SEND support skills.”

Going beyond the call for additional training and funding, Eastwood says teachers need to develop the right mindset about teaching children and young people with SEND, or even those children who may be deaf while not quite fitting into the category. Awareness of children’s differing needs and abilities is therefore crucial within both schools and Trusts, and this includes embedding SEND awareness into their culture to overcome any misconceptions that might exist – with inclusivity being high priority. 

“When working with students with autism, it doesn’t matter what curriculum training you put in place if there is not a very high level of autism awareness and widespread understanding within the student’s educational setting.”

He explains: “When working with students with autism, it doesn’t matter what curriculum training you put in place if there is not a very high level of autism awareness and widespread understanding within the student’s educational setting.  Without that awareness and understanding, the provision simply will not be right for those young people and can significantly impact their development.”

To address this challenge, he calls for SEND awareness and training to be pushed up the priority list: 

“Having our own specialist classes in our mainstream schools, coupled with senior leadership teams that have the right philosophy when it comes to inclusion, are key ingredients that help, but you cannot underestimate the value of having a special school such as JFK as part of our family of schools because it’s their sharing of expertise that has helped us to be successful across our own Trust. We have noticed a substantial difference in the progress, enjoyment, and confidence of our SEND pupils as a result of being in an environment where their needs are understood.”

Deaf children: Mixing and learning

Returning to the conversation about how teachers can help deaf children to mix and learn well with hearing pupils, Fraser argues that good classroom management is key. Given the opportunity, she finds that deaf children can often learn alongside hearing children with the vast majority of them going to mainstream schools already. “However, deaf pupils struggle to learn in noisy environments”, she reveals before commenting: “So, for example, keeping background noise down, waiting for everyone to be quiet before talking, or asking classmates to speak one at a time can make a huge difference.”

“schools are working hard to ensure deaf children are included by bringing in new initiatives, such as British Sign Language classes and deaf awareness presentations, which are great for encouraging inclusiveness. “

Teachers and school leaders therefore need to offer a good listening environment, and effective communications with each deaf pupil to enable them to understand their lessons. “If pupils use hearing technology, like radio aids or hearing aids, teachers also need to be well versed in how it works”, she says. Deaf pupils – particularly those dependent on sign language or lip-reading, also need to have a good view of teachers’ faces to permit them to learn and to communicate effectively in the classroom. This means their seating positions are a crucial factor, and good lighting, in enabling dead children to learn, participate and communicate in each of their classes. To be fair schools are working hard to ensure deaf children are included by bringing in new initiatives, such as British Sign Language classes and deaf awareness presentations, which are great for encouraging inclusiveness. 

Best teaching strategies

The best teaching strategies for teaching deaf students depend on their different abilities. So, finding what works for each child, including those within SEND, is vital. The support provided for each child with subsequently be far-ranging and different from child-to-child. For example, teacher knowledge of hearing devices and other related hearing technologies, can ensure that ensure that a deaf child can hear in the classroom. Fraser says teachers need to know how to get the best from hearing technology and be aware that it does not mean a deaf child can hear perfectly. “When working with students with autism, it doesn’t matter what curriculum training you put in place if there is not a very high level of autism awareness and widespread understanding within the student’s educational setting.”

Visual clues and learning support enable many deaf pupils too. Visual information such as pictures, objects and writing down information will be beneficial. Fraser also warns that deaf children may find it more difficult to learn and remember new vocabulary. This can lead to confusion and misunderstandings, and so teachers must be able to identify this issue to work on teaching new and unfamiliar words and signs. Furthermore, like with any teaching, there is a need to check each pupil’s understanding of any new information by repeating it. If texts are long and complicated, they can be broken down into manageable chunks to assist deaf pupils in accessing spoken information.

“What matters is that teachers understand how to personalise their approach to the needs of individual students to make the learning and engagement meaningful.”

Deaf and more generally SEND pupils need support from specialist staff, such as Teachers of the Deaf, who can advise on how to educate a deaf child. From Eastwood’s perspective, with reference to children on a formal Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) pathway, and those with a profound and multiple learning disability (PMLD), the teaching strategies couldn’t be more different. He therefore comments: “What matters is that teachers understand how to personalise their approach to the needs of individual students to make the learning and engagement meaningful.”

SEND professional development

Fraser believes that mandatory teacher training, which is required by the UK government, should place a higher priority on SEND professional development courses and raising the profile of SEND. He would like to see trainee teachers being encouraged to go on different development courses to permit them to learn more about how to support and teach SEND students of all abilities within mainstream settings. It’s also vital for teacher to be offered opportunities to improve their own knowledge and skillsets around SEND, which would involve fully funded courses, and the ability to study and work around time constraints to allow them to be fully engaged with their training. Equally, this needs to occur at a leadership level to help schools embed a culture where SEND support is a high priority.

Fraser concludes that local authorities and schools need to make sure deaf children are getting the support they need, whatever that might be. She suggests that the whole system isn’t currently working, and that this should concern everyone involved in education.