For many education professionals, ‘labelling pupils’ is something to be avoided at all costs – but as Talit Khan notes, there are times when doing so can actually help…
Love them or loathe them, you’ll find ‘labels’ being used on a daily basis in every school. The issue to focus on, however, is whether we let those labels define who we are and what’s projected through them.
We shouldn’t be talking about removing, replacing or verifying labels, but rather how we can move forward and support pupils’ accomplishments within the current education system. Surely the ultimate goal is for every child to achieve more than they think they can?
‘SEN pupils’; ‘LAC child’; ‘high achievers’; ‘high ability’; ‘mixed ability’; ‘low ability’; ‘slow learners’ – just a few of the terms commonly employed in everyday ‘teacher speak.’ Rather than focusing on the labels themselves, however, we should be concentrating on the shift in mindset that needs to happen so that an all-inclusive education can be delivered.
The foundations of how we teach children shouldn’t be based on a grouping system, but on effective delivery of succinct information for the purpose of learning. Differentiation, for example, is a key aspect of teaching, but we don’t use a label for this.
So why do we find ourselves compelled to describe children via labelling in order to teach them? The only reasonable answer is that we believe it’s easier to define pupils by categorisation and capability.
If this becomes the focal point of our teaching, it diminishes the prospect of a SEND child being given the chance to reach their potential. Some labels are therefore not useful at all – in fact, they can be more problematic than we think.
In most of the schools I’ve worked with, unless a SEND-aware headteacher or inspiring teacher has made teaching and learning a focal point for all pupils, there’ll be a massive gap in the education of the most vulnerable children. If we hear that “John is dyslexic and Najma is on the spectrum,” does it really matter if that type of language and the terms ‘dyslexia’ and ‘autism’ are used to describe and support children with identified SEND? I’d argue that it doesn’t matter at all, just so long as the child and his or her parents are comfortable with it. It’s our understanding of what those ‘labels’ actually mean, and how we plan to use them in order to support the child that really matters.
An identified (named) specific learning difficulty can provide a child, their parents and teachers with a conclusive answer to many questions that might have arisen due to confusion and a lack understanding of the problems experienced by the child. Some labels can therefore be useful in explaining a child’s learning requirements and during teaching preparation.
Any terminology which proves to be beneficial for teaching and learning purposes ought to remain within our vocabulary. The suitability of a label to help support a child with SEND should be the deciding factor in whether we apply it. It shouldn’t be used to form an opinion on an individual, but rather to facilitate their learning.
If an individual acquires a label that identifies some form of SEND, it can further help that individual in terms of how resources are allocated to them. Statutory obligations towards children with SEND – or indeed a ‘label’ – may mean that they’re entitled to additional support and help in securing LA funding and services.
We need to stop using disadvantageous labels to administer ‘quick fixes.’ If a given label isn’t useful in adding value to upskill teachers or support staff, and doesn’t lead to improved learning for a child with SEND, then we can legitimately question its importance. If, however, it raises awareness and facilitates educational progress, we should keep it.
Talit Khan is an independent SEND consultant; for more information, visit advantagesend.com or follow @Talat1703
When we as teachers use the word ‘Inclusion’ what do we mean? Have we understood it’s meaning, in terms of policies and statutory documents, or are we actually trying to make sense of inclusion through practical applications and what we innately know will work for our pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Or is Inclusion a one (word) hit wonder that we have all adhered to, so that we don’t forget that the SEND children matter. However, in reality we don’t really know how or what it should look like, within the classroom.
The principles behind Inclusion, are all noteworthy and in essence, it’s a great way to ensure that our senior leaders and teaching staff, are all singing from the same hymn sheet, to manage the teaching and learning of SEND pupils. Except it would appear that on ground level, it’s mainly the teachers and teaching assistants (TAs) who are concerned about SEND and are functionally trying their very best to understand and promote the inclusion of SEND children in every aspect of the school curriculum. Yet, time and time again we are told to take a whole school approach towards the inclusion of SEND pupils. Therefore, how can we make certain that all our teachers (this includes senior leaders) are concerned with SEND and incorporate high quality teaching, that will facilitate an inclusive classroom setting?
The key emphasis must be, to provide an inclusive learning environment, where the pupils’ needs are met, without drawing attention to their difficulties in order to limit any feelings of embarrassment and frustration. But at the same time, making sure that, they are able to participate in whole class activities and praised for their contribution towards class discussions, subject specific topic work and any interactive group work with their peers. Essentially the aim should be to encourage a cohesive community, in which all pupils, regardless of their learning difficulties, feel comfortable to take part in-class activities.
In order to ensure that learning is effective and progressive for all pupils, including those with SEND, we need to address any barriers that may prevent this from happening.The analysis of data collected from systemic observation studies which consider the educational experiences of SEND pupils within the classroom in primary schools (UK), alongside recent secondary studies(formoreinfo;http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ber j.3181/abstracthttp://maximisingtas.co.uk/research/the-sense-study.php) do indicate that an increase of TA involvement with SEND has led to limited interaction between the teachers and peers. Surely, this has a significant impact, both on the day to day learning and experiences of the SEND pupil within the classroom.
A class teacher at primary level or a form/subject teacher at secondary school, both play a vital role in promoting an inclusive classroom environment. Their tactful understanding of the SEND child’s needs, as well as the manner in which they influence the dynamics of the classroom, are essential factors that can promote a positive learning environment for all SEND pupils. Essentially it is the teacher who inspires the child to overcome their fears and welcomes the contribution that they make to build a cohesive community between all pupils within the classroom. It cannot be left to the TA or the SENCO to manage this relationship between SEND pupil-teacher-peers, but they, along with senior leaders can raise the consistency of an all-inclusive learning environment throughout the school and across the whole staff.
Talat Khan holds a Master’s in Special and Inclusive Education, a post graduate diploma in SpLD, AMDBA and APC accreditation. This allows her to be at the forefront of delivering expert advice on SEND education. Learn more at http://www.advantagesend.com/about-us/
Talit Khan considers how we should identify dyslexia in pupils for whom established screening techniques might not be suitable…
How often do we come across deaf children who struggle to read and spell in our classrooms? How many of us then take the time to find out if they have a literacy difficulty such as dyslexia, or do we tend to dismiss any reading and comprehension difficulties they might have as due to their hearing impairment?
Is it possible to use similar screening techniques to identify if a deaf child has dyslexia, as a child that is able to hear clearly? Well, it appears so…
A cause for concern A recently concluded two-part study conducted by the Nuffield Foundation (see tinyurl.com/nuffield-dyslexia) found that, “Half of the 79 oral deaf children in the study (aged 10-11) were identified as having reading difficulties. In addition, a substantial group of oral deaf children with average reading skills are at risk of developing reading problems because of poor language.”
Children exhibiting a deficit in language skills and phonological awareness will typically have had a lack of exposure to a rich vocabulary environment, which can have an impact on their decoding and subsequent word reading skills. As SENCos and teachers, it essential for us to explore whether a deaf child with phonological concerns might fit a dyslexic profile. Why? Because we have to ensure that all pupils, regardless of whatever disabilities or difficulties they might have, are given the same opportunities for intervention support.
It may be difficult to match the typical age-related reading profile for a deaf child, but there’s no reason why we can’t use a typical dyslexic reading profile to identify whether there is cause for concern in relation to an oral deaf learner. Acknowledging that a child who is deaf and has good oral spoken language skills may have a tendency to make phonetic spelling errors, or present issues with alliteration tasks, should help to inform us about the specific support that he or she may require.
The strong likelihood of deaf children with weak reading skills developing further problems due to their language difficulties ought to be a real cause for concern. The earlier that intervention support for such individuals can be introduced, the more effective the monitoring of their progress will be.
Look beyond the standard
We need to ensure that all poor readers, regardless of their ability to hear or not, get to receive the same opportunities for support, so that any ‘reading gap,’ that might exist doesn’t widen and prevent a deaf child from catching up with his or her peers.
A 2009 report by Sir Jim Rose to the then Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (tinyurl.com/rose-report-09) stated that every child should have the opportunity to become successful at reading. This shouldn’t just apply to hearing children who have been identified with dyslexia, but those who are poor deaf readers too.
As educational practitioners, it’s up to us to ensure that an inclusive education is offered to all of our pupils – not just hearing pupils identified as having literacy difficulties via standardised assessments. We have the option of administering assessments such as the phonological assessment battery (PhAB), which can help to distinguish whether an oral deaf child has the same difficulties as a dyslexic learner. By offering intensive interventions to hearing and hearing-impaired pupils in broadly the same way (albeit with some administrative modifications), both groups could access to a broader understanding of the curriculum, which would ultimately facilitate their entry to a richer and more fulfilling life.
About the author
Talit Khan is an independent SEND consultant; for more information, visit advantagesend.com or follow @Talat1703
When I come across the terms ‘accountability’ and ‘responsibility’ regarding SEND pupils, I often wonder if, as teachers and senior leaders, we properly understand what they mean.
There is an overwhelming amount of information, in the SEN Code of Practice and elsewhere, regarding mainstream schools and the role they have to play in identifying and supporting pupils with SEND, much of which is then conveyed through schools’ SEND and inclusion policies. Yet there seems to me to be an avoidance of accountability for the progress and attainment of SEND pupils in schools, regardless of whether or not they have an Education, Health and Care Plan.
Why? Is it simply because we’re not clear as to who is ultimately responsible for SEND pupils in our classrooms? Or is it just easier to make staff who are already working closely with these pupils, such as TAs, accountable for their progression, thus enabling us to focus on other pupils who ‘really need our support’ – ie. those whose results will make a difference to our school data…?
With many SENCos now part of their schools’ senior leadership team, there seems to be a greater focus on the achievements of pupils with SEND and better understanding of how to identify SEND. There are, however, exceptions, with a number of SENCos still not recognised as senior leaders. A failure to grasp the importance of bringing these individuals on board to address what the SEN Code of Practice clearly outlines will give rise to a school setting that doesn’t fully appreciate or value its SEND pupils.
The upshot of this is that the SENCo is held accountable and responsible for the progression of every pupil with SEND who attends the school, which can in turn lead to further problems and considerable confusion.
The SENCo will be asked to report on the support systems in place for SEND pupils, and provide information on said pupils’ progression. To do this, the SENCo will typically communicate with teachers to address planning and provision concerns regarding their SEND pupils – yet it will often be a TA who is actually supporting the SEND pupils in question. If so, then in some cases accountability for the pupils’ attainment will rest with them, since they’re the ones administering the teaching and running the intervention sessions. Yet as practitioners, we know that it’s officially the teacher – be they a class or subject teacher – who is responsible for the teaching and learning outcomes of their pupils, including those with SEND.
‘Quality first’ teaching
How is it that so many schools are willling to hold TAs responsible for the learning outcomes of SEND pupils by teachers, SENCos and senior leaders? Surely we need to be aware of specifically who should be held accountable for what in terms of SEND pupils’progression and attainment?
On many occasions I have witnessed TAs being told that they need to receive specific SEND training, or asked to attend a course such as the TEACCH programme in order to enhance the outcomes of the pupils they support.
There’s an obvious irony here. We might understand the TA’s role as being there to ‘support’ SEND pupils, but we hold them responsible if a pupil has not made sufficient progress in their learning outcomes. Is it not the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that a pupil with SEND meets the success criteria previously established in their planning and provision mapping? The teacher must take ownership of the situation in relation to their SEND pupils, and see to it that he or she can access the best teaching practices, regardless of whatever individual help they might have received from support staff in achieving their set goals and targets.
It’s therefore vital that SENCos and senior leaders alike take time to address what the SEN Code of Practice states in terms of their responsibility towards pupils with SEND – and particularly how they should approach the task of ensuring that ‘quality first’ teaching in schools is upheld. Teachers, no matter what their particular perception of the job may be, are the ones who are ultimately accountable and responsible for all SEND learners.
About the author
Talit Khan is an independent SEND consultant; for more information, visit advantagesend.com
We attended the 2016 phonics conference recently. There was a good line up of qualified speakers who spoke about the impact of Phonics on attainment and improving learning. There were a variety of views represented in the audience comprising mainly of head teachers, primary school teachers, local authority advisors and a few SENCo’s. The majority agreed that phonics was essential to learning how to read and write, but there were dissenters.
An article in the Guardian, suggests that ‘those taught to read using other methods lagged behind at age seven, but they had caught up by age 11, suggesting that children who are not at a disadvantage will learn to read in any case.’
Key points from the conference:
- Phonics is integral to learning how to read and write.
- Phonics should be taught from an early age (no need to wait until the learner reaches reception).
- It’s not the programme of phonics that’s important, but the approach to teaching it.
- There should be a whole-school approach to teaching phonics.
- Phonics should not be limited to KS1 and continue to be taught throughout primary years (One to six).
- According to the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) the phonics screening check has established that teaching and learning phonics enhances a learner’s access to the broader curriculum.
- Speaking and listening skills are vital components when teaching phonics.
- There is a fundamental relationship between attainment and phonics as well as an association with improved learning (DfE, 2015).
Gordon Askew, a DfE phonics adviser, is interested in producing ‘real readers’, children who find reading fun. He believes phonics has a crucial part to play in reading and believes that the key to success is well taught systematic, synthetic phonics.
Per Askew’s research, there are misunderstandings in the system which stop phonics having the impact they should. For example, the teaching of phonics needs to be delivered within the complete context of reading. The simple view of reading (Gough and Tunmer, 1986) model and the Independent review of the reaching of early reading (Rose, 2006), which informs the new curriculum should be emphasized when practitioners deliver the teaching of phonics. The problem that we have is that not everyone who teaches phonics is aware of the ‘simple view of reading’ and its importance in establishing word recognition and comprehension skills.
It was reported that nationally there are far too many leaners leaving schools without being able to read. There is also a group of individuals who can read functionally, but do not read comfortably or easily and our position in terms of international rankings is a disappointment. Nevertheless, the teaching of phonics has improved, and according to Askew it should be the first strategy that is applied, especially when decoding unknown words. He believes there are no other reliable strategies such as using context, i.e. pictures, meaning, grammar and this is all guess work. Therefore, many learners find it very difficult to decipher words from context.
‘Children learn in different ways – different methods; no size fits all. Many children pick up reading relatively easily.’
Phonics is not a method of teaching reading. It is the core knowledge needed to read. We cannot leave the teaching of reading to chance. We need to teach the core knowledge – phonics. It is a system that works!
However, whilst it may give some learners with difficulties a reliable way to learn how to read, it doesn’t work for everyone and there are other methods that can be applied. There needs to be more emphasis on research into these alternative methods.
The most damaging myth
‘To develop comprehension through books they cannot read.’
We should not provide learners with non-decodable books in the early stages. We need to talk about books, stories, have discussions on articles and develop language comprehension by speaking and writing. Learners need to be able to lift the ‘word’ off the page. That’s when they will begin to access text within their present language comprehension.
Gillian Ball, who is the principal at Christchurch C of E primary school says, ‘it is your approach to teaching phonics that will impact, not the programme that you have used.’ The school has 83 per cent ethnic minority learners, of which 39 per cent have EAL and over 39 different languages, excluding English, are spoken by them. This school has achieved ‘outstanding’ in their phonics assessments.
How did they do it?
- Whole school approach – transferrable skills used in reading and writing.
- Training – all staff are trained in the tailored phonics programme.
- Monitoring – learning walks are conducted, observations are carried out, as are half termly assessments. SLT acts as quality assurance and feedback and support are given to struggling staff.
- Assessments – specific tests to assess phonics skills, administration of phonic screening check.
- Leaders – leaders are responsible for phonics and should be given a high profile.
- Parental involvement – parents are provided with phonics workshops.
- ‘All adults are leaders for learning. They share responsibility for progress and attainment.’
Phonics clearly has had an impact on learning and on closing the gap for attainment. However, other methods that are being used across schools should not be dismissed. Further research to determine their validity is needed as the phonics screening check does not necessarily prove that a child has reading fluency once they have passed it.