NatSIP - Challenges in supporting CPD for low incidence special needs
Within the SEND Code of Practice there is full recognition of the need for a specialist curriculum for certain categories of children and young people. Sensory Impairment (SI) is one of those categories and children and young people (CYP) with hearing, multi-sensory and vision impairment can be found amongst learners in all types of education provision. You will find the great majority of them in mainstream classes.
If you have one of these young people in your class, where do you turn to ensure that you are best equipped to respond to their needs?
Research and practice over many decades has acknowledged that SI learners require a specific pedagogy in order to access the curriculum successfully (see Lewis and Norwich 2007*). Best practice results from support from specialist teachers qualified in sensory impairment as they offer training, CPD and individual teaching in schools and other settings. Until recently this specialist SI support has been widely available to schools from LA SI services free of charge, but recent NatSIP research across the sector has found that this picture is changing in some LAs. Specialist support services are particularly vulnerable to funding pressures within the LA which may limit their capacity to deliver a comprehensive service. Whilst the number of pupils with SI in schools has increased, there are now fewer teachers with the specialist qualifications (mandatory for HI, MSI and VI) in the system. Employment of Teachers of the Deaf has fallen by 2% since 2017 and by 14% since 2011 (CRIDE). Between 2017 and 2018 over one third of LAs reported a decrease in QTVIs (qualified teachers of CYP with VI).
There are increasing expectations that teachers in mainstream and generic special schools, and SENCos, will be able to support pupils with a wide and increasing variety of SEND in their school population. Does the maxim ‘every teacher is a teacher of SEN’ really work for CYP with low incidence disability unless there is comprehensive and specialist external support? It is undeniable that the roles of all the professionals involved - specialist teacher, SENCo and frontline staff are all being challenged.
How can we respond to the CPD needs of schools with the support available from specialist SI teachers? The very low incidence and consequent low prevalence in individual schools makes it not only difficult but also uneconomic for schools routinely to develop significant levels of expertise in this area. This means that there is little incentive to develop specific CPD opportunities, and schools have to rely on the specialist expertise of the SI professionals. Specialist support is certainly available (from SI services and a few private sources) but our research found that schools had competing demands and could afford neither the time nor money to focus on low incidence needs. Schools need to appreciate the impact of SI on all aspects of development to know what they should be looking for and what is the most appropriate response - otherwise these vulnerable children and young people will not get the support they need.
SENCOs play a crucial role in co-ordinating and facilitating support for teachers working with CYP with SI in their schools. However, we have significant evidence from the training NatSIP has delivered that there is an urgent need for increased focus on SI within the NASENCo training module. We have seen that, once alerted to its availability, SENCos welcome more support in this area. SENCos, in our surveys, would like to see an increase in SI training during initial teacher training as well as more post-qualification CPD. Given the low incidence nature of SI, it is questionable how likely this is to be provided.
NatSIP research shows that support and training for teachers working with CYP with SI are certainly available. However, schools are unlikely to be able to access this where there is competing pressure on time and resources or an insufficient understanding of the impact of SI on CYP achievement and outcomes.
Our research showed that SENCos are under constant pressure in schools. They seek to understand what is needed for pupils and staff but they can never be a substitute for additionally qualified specialist SI teachers. It is essential, however, to understand that the development of CPD in schools and other settings to support teachers working with CYP with complex and low incidence SI is not intended to replicate specialist expertise. Rather it is intended to equip the workforce with enough understanding and knowledge to be able to make the best use of SI specialist and advisory teachers, through working together in partnership. The SI teacher should be seen as a collaborator in teaching and a catalyst to support the overall co-ordination of support as well as providing specialist input and pedagogy. Furthermore, clear training standards are required for SI support staff (TAs, CSWs, Intervenors, Habilitation workers, etc) which need to be overseen by the SENCo.
NatSIP has developed a suite of resources, support and training which builds on the insights from our research about what schools need. All resources are available on our website: www.natsip.org.uk
- a Sensory Learning Hub which points to tried and tested resources: https://www.natsip.org.uk/sensory-learning-hub
- a ‘Getting Started’ pack which includes ten top tips to ensure that those working with CYP with SI can be up and running straight away: https://www.natsip.org.uk/getting-started
- a SENCo training offer from NatSIP which brings bespoke training to schools and links in with the local specialist SI service. Contact the NatSIP facilitator: firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
These are just a few of NatSIP’s resources and training offers developed to make life easier for busy staff in schools. NatSIP’s most important role is to help direct you to the local Sensory Impairment service so that SI specialists will be able to step in to offer solutions to the questions that you didn’t even know you had!
*Lewis, A, and Norwich, B (2007). “How specialised is teaching children with disabilities and difficulties?” Journal of Curriculum Studies, 2007, Vol. 39, No. 2, 127–150.