How can teachers support SEN pupils in the school system?

Stephen Spriggs offers an outline of how to engender greater integration and success for children with special educational needs and disabilities

Teaching is a noble profession, one born from the goodwill and desire to pass on information to the next generation. For any classroom there will undoubtedly be a number of students with additional support needs, either due to behavioural issues, medical requirements, mental health or home problems. For teachers to fully succeed and see their whole classroom prosper, these students will undeniably require additional support, possibly extending to parental sides too. Whereas tutoring materials as a basis is a good start for syllabus planning, it’s tricky when it comes to individual needs. After all, there are no two children the same in the room, why should we expect them to simply fall in line with whatever method of teaching is currently in vogue?

Despite best efforts, there will never be enough specialist training for teachers and assistants to fully understand and support these SEN children. There are so many factors that play into their life, both inside and outside the school grounds. The latest Government report into SEN students in January found the percentage of pupils with specialist needs increased to 14.6%, most of these (24%) had moderate learning difficulties, slightly ahead of the second most-common needs involving speech, language and communication (22.8%). Of those with an EHC plan, Autistic Spectrum Disorder was the most common with 28.2%.

Ever-increasing budget cuts to schools have only exacerbated problems with individual student support, while at one stage we would witness multiple assistants alongside students; dwindling cashflow has taken its toll. Stuck with larger classes, fewer hours, less staff and frozen pay packets, it’s a tough life for schools right now, but in spite of all this, the profession remains not only vital to our future as a country but visible and alluring for individuals wishing to make a difference. 

There are a number of actionable methods resulting in greater integration and academic success for these students in question. Simple things like the class environment can have a significant impact on how the student feels within the learning setting. Clearing cluttered workspaces, providing bright wall spaces and plenty of natural light will not only provide a cleaner work space but also help clear the minds of the students in the room by eliminating possible distractions and letting nature into the room.

Stephen Spriggs

Additionally, consistently involving parents with schoolwork/scheduling can create a harmonious system whereby the child isn’t going through too much change over the course of a term which can upset the balance. Rather than switching subjects abruptly, having parents or guardians introduce new topics at home will make life at the school easier without much work needed by either party. The success of this comes down to effective communication between everyone involved with the child, as well as some forward planning by the teachers and SENCo if present.

Though it may be tough, another key method of teaching students with SEN what is and isn’t acceptable within the classroom environment is giving them the silent treatment (within acceptable reason) in the face of attention-seeking behaviour. Depending on the circumstances and other students in the room, disengaging with troublesome individuals ‘acting out’ until they calm and explaining exactly what was wrong with their actions can help those who haven’t had this guidance pick up on more social cues perhaps missed.

It can be difficult, particularly should your classroom be without an assistant, to know how best to handle a student requiring additional attention or changes to your teaching routine but much like any student each individual in the room has their own ticks and buttons to reach their potential. Being aware of any specific requirements or triggers will make a big difference, if the student studies under more than one teacher, sharing knowledge with one another will make life easier for all. Your work is to take a student from strength to strength; making small adjustments will ultimately help with the entire class not just those with special educational needs. 

Stephen Spriggs is Managing Director at William Clarence Education