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SPOTLIGHT ON SEND Back to school with a bang!


In her regular column for Education Today this month, independent Specialist Teacher and Assessor JOANNE GLADDERS discusses playing catch up as the new half term begins.


What a half term! As I write this, I reflect on what has been achieved over the last half term. I don’t know about you, but I feel as though I have worked at 100mph! One of the key reasons for this, for


me, is catching up following the lockdowns. Now young people have returned to school following a period of normality during the summer term, it has been a case of trying to meet the needs of young people who are displaying difficulties in different areas. This translated into the following:


• Full diagnostic assessment for a specific learning difficulty; • Learning assessments to determine specific difficulties in either learning or in the cognitive profile.


For both of these, the key questions to be answered are: • Are the difficulties being displayed a result of missed learning through the lockdowns and home learning?


• Are the difficulties being displayed a result of disrupted learning through missed learning as a result of time in isolation?


In addition, many parents have become more aware of the potential


difficulties their child faces as a result of home learning. They have seen first hand how their child responds to learning; in many instances spending valuable 1:1 time with them. This has caused an influx of parents airing concerns about their child’s learning and also of them requesting further investigation. In some instances, parents have contacted external agencies to request full diagnostic assessments for dyslexia, convinced that this is what the difficulty is. On the other side, many schools are also picking up on heightened


difficulties exhibited by the pupils after sustained schooling following the disruptions. A significant proportion of our learners have not had a full year in school since they started in Reception or Year 7. For these young people it is particularly difficult to unpick whether they actually have a specific learning difficulty or if it is a result of what they have been through over the last few years. Why do I share this with you? In some instances where parents have


requested a full diagnostic assessment through an external agency rather than through the school, it is because they do not have the wider picture of their child’s learning. They are focussed on the behaviours they have witnessed and discussed with their child and not pieced this information together with that of the school. From a school perspective, teachers are worried that they are missing an important part of the puzzle and are conscious that the young person in their care could fall through the net and do not want this to be the case. Throughout the professional discussions that I have had with teachers


and SENCOs in schools it is very apparent that they are more tuned in to potential difficulties than they give themselves credit for. They have just needed to ensure that they piece all the available information together to build the wider picture. Consider the two questions that I consider for each of your learners


that you have concern about or whose parents have raised concerns. Piece together the bigger picture, put in a plan with clear, measurable targets and then make time to review and reconsider the key questions again.


Why is school a sanctuary for so many


children? This month, regular contributor HANNAH RIX, SEND English teacher and co- founder of Readingmate Ltd, reflects on the impact of the pandemic on SEND pupils and the wider school community.


Throughout my 8 years of teaching, I’ve heard my fair share of ‘can’t wait for the school holidays to come!’ However, after the last 18 months, I think teachers, parents and (dare I say it) even students, now have a newfound appreciation for their schools. This week I was having a conversation with a student who was


unable to attend a weekly counselling session because of the fuel shortage. This particular student has been working extremely hard on their emotional regulation and has made significant progress with it. They look forward to, and rely on, these sessions to keep on track. This scenario is just one example of how the last 18 months has


impacted children with SEN significantly. From postponed appointments, delayed procedures, cancelled holidays and limitations on respite, these children and their families need schools more than ever. Whilst SEN teachers are not medical professionals, we are trained


to administer medication, record seizures and support feeding and care. We’re not qualified psychologists but we’re experts in our students. We know what causes them stress, anxiety and more importantly joy. Routine and consistency are two huge components to supporting


children with SEN. Every single school, be it SEN or otherwise, functions at its best when these two things are maintained. Not only do many of these students need to eat, drink and sleep at the same time every day but they also need the elements of those activities to remain the same too. For example, one student may have tuna sandwiches for lunch and tomato soup for dinner. Every day. They’re never rotated or switched around. It’s the same brand of soup and bread, the same quantities of food and even the ways in which it’s eaten is repeated (in the same bowl and crusts always cut off). I wonder if all those people who bought 12 cans of soup (when they had full cupboards already) back in March 2020, clearing the shelves of bread, and insisting the schools were closed, thought about these children? As an SEN teacher, my school wasn’t closed for long during


lockdown (thankfully). When we were forced to shut, every member of staff spent their time dropping off food parcels, walking frames, slings, toiletries and even providing respite when families were at breaking point. This was a time of emergency for our families. But for the students


it was a time of despair and uncertainty unlike anything I’ve witnessed before. Having spoken to many colleagues from both SEN schools and


otherwise, I’ve realised that this sense of despair was felt across all schools. I believe this is because schools now function as so much more


than a place to learn. Schools up and down the country are, for many children and their families, a place of refuge, stability, familiarity, kindness, support, advice, stimulation and in some cases, even safety. Pre-pandemic, I had always been proud of my job, proud to have


the opportunity to work with and learn from my students. That pride has since rocketed and continues to daily.


Kate Sarginson is on maternity leave.


November 2021


www.education-today.co.uk 19


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