SEN support in schools - teaching beyond exams

When we support SEN students in school we provide (or aim to provide) a mix of TA support, withdrawal interventions, differentiated teaching in the classroom and so on.  The aim of this is to help our SEN students access learning in class to pass exams or get better test scores.  This means we are brilliant educators and we can have a big pat on the back from Ofsted.  But does it?

Ask yourself two questions:

1.      How much of what you put in place supports their learning at home?

2.      How much of what you put in place will support their life after school?

Bet I know the answer – not much (if your answer is lots, well done, do give yourself a massive pat on the back from me).  The education system is so focused on results that we often forget about life preparation and this affects SEN student more than others.

When little Johnny has to read something, or complete something in the ‘real’ world will he be able to do it?  He had a TA to help him in his geography lesson to ensure he understood tectonic plates and ox-bow lakes (ahhh fond memories) but will he be able to read a job application or a medical form? Will he know how to do this without a TA?

Sarah has difficulty writing, but we don’t want to give her a laptop as she is slow typist so let’s have a TA scribe for her instead, that way she’s not disadvantaged.  When she leaves education, and has the most brilliant idea that will change the world, will she know how to write to people about it?  In all likelihood, no.  So humanity will die because Sarah wasn’t taught to type or use voice to test software.

OK it may seem like I am exaggerating, and I might be just a touch, but what if Stephen Hawking had only had a human TA to support him and hadn’t used all the other brilliant technology available to him?  How much would society have missed out on – LOTS. 

As educators, we need to start looking past the exams and getting the best results.  We need to ensure that we provide our SEN students with the best independent learning equipment and strategies so they can live beyond exams and be prepared for the real world.

Ironically, studies show that independent learning for SEN students leads to better results whilst they are still in school as well.   Independent learning also has a massive positive effect on self-esteem which again has a positive effect on learning so MASSIVE benefits for schools in the pursuit of the league table data.

But it’s not just about life after they leave school we should think about.  How much of the SEN support we put in place during the day is accessible or provided at home?  That fab piece of software in school – can they do it at home? Do they have a computer at home? Do they have internet access at home?  It’s surprising how many people don’t. 

Another thing I also hear a lot is ‘well they are quite slow at typing’. Ah right ok, how can they get better at typing? Practice?  Yes, they may have a condition which means their typing may not improve, or they are physically unable to type so let’s use voice to text software which is freely available on pretty much most computer software and phones.

On a side note – when training and discussing accessibility for children and parents, I ask how many schools know who has a computer at home and who has internet.  It’s scary how many schools don’t know. They assume everyone does nowadays but actually a lot of people don’t.  And you know the old joke about assuming things……..

Just to be clear, I am not advocating getting rid of TAs, far from it.  Correctly trained and used TAs are brilliant. However, in lessons they should never be recording information or writing for students. There is so much available to allow students to do this for themselves.

So, when we put in place all this support in school to be able learn about the Tudors (is there anyone who doesn’t know about the Tudors), will they be able to have that support at home?  And are we preparing them for life after school?   Let’s review our practice and move forwards. Stop disabling and start enabling our SEN students to live their life independently.