I am perplexed.
Perhaps slightly naïve/idealistic in my thinking but I believe the solutions to many “issues” in education can be solved quite simply.
As a mother of two children, with varying degrees of ASN and also as an educator, the issues surrounding ASN are close to my heart. Having worked in education for a number of years and now as a student undergoing ITE I have seen “the good , the bad and the ugly”. And quite frankly, I agree, we are not doing enough to support our most vulnerable children.
The new report by Enable (I highly recommend reading)highlights the issues surrounding ASN but in reality the issues are explicitly linked with education as a whole, and I believe the solution is one that can be solved if we look at the bigger picture.
98% of the current workforce say that ITE does not provide adequate training to prepare for teaching children with ASN.
Firstly, we have to consider that it is a 98% of respondent’s and not actually 98% of the entire workforce that is represented, so whilst I do believe this is an issue we have to consider that these are representative views. Secondly, from experience, I know that across the 3 years I have spent in ITE we have been given inputs on ASN and we are fortunate enough to have lecturers who do signpost in generic lectures the importance of inclusion. It is also pertinent to highlight here that there is a whole separate degree specifically for ASN and as such how can we be expected to learn all there is to know whilst on a general ITE course.
The issue I have is that ASN pupils need supported. A recent survey by NASWUT highlighted the fact that support staff numbers have declined dramatically over the last decade and with class sizes increasing and support staff declining ( these are people who are generally far better equipped to support ASN pupils) is it any wonder then that our most vulnerable pupils are suffering?
Be under no illusions however because it is not just the pupils who suffer. Due to cuts in support staff teachers have additional pressures of workload along with no support for pupils. All children have the right to an education and we, the teachers, should fulfil that obligation. However, it is no mean feat with a class of 30, no support and a third of your class having varying degrees of ASN!
I would be delighted if Universities offered more inputs on additional support needs but I would also be delighted if there were more inputs on language development, mathematical understanding, social studies… There are several areas that I would love to see explored in more detail but we also have to remember that universities are facing cuts too… with teaching time cut, when exactly are these additional inputs supposed to take place?
A lot of the learning a teacher develops comes from being on the job and learning alongside the pupils. Each and every child is individual with varying degrees of need and what works once may not work with others. As educators we are also learners and should actively be seeking opportunities for growth throughout our careers.
I remember quite vividly my first job in nursery and being disappointed with the lack of support for ASN pupils, despite being “taught” that there was a wealth of support available. Waiting lists for Speech and language were over a year and scheduling an educational psychologist was like finding a four leaf clover. There is support available but with cuts across all sectors and not just education its clear to see the domino effect. Its the children who inevitably suffer the biggest disadvantage. So who is to blame? Should there be blame? I don’t believe so.
If we look at the attainment issue in Scotland today and the amount of money poured into the attainment challenge, I believe that that money could have been better spent looking at the bigger picture in education and not narrowly focussing on just attainment. It is quite simple really to raise attainment children need to have competent good quality teachers offering a wealth of experiences in a contextualised manner… something that CfE is capable of doing if there were the support for teachers.
We know that children from the most deprived areas/ backgrounds are falling behind their peers but can we be sure its because of the deprivation? There is a wealth of information pointing the finger in that direction but recent research has also shown that children who foster a growth mindset show no difference in attainment in relation to socio economic status! However it is not always easy when you have worked a 40+ hour week with no support in place to remember that we too need to have a growth mindset and we also need to have respite. Teaching is not an easy job and with added pressures of having no support and sometimes half the class with degrees of ASN its easy to forget to praise every 5 seconds to your 30 children. Teachers are only human.
So the key theme, at the moment in education is raising attainment.
Using the attainment money to employ more support staff and more teachers. (not cutting numbers!)
- this will reduce stress and lead to (hopefully) staff retention
- possibly encourage more people into the profession
Reduce class sizes to take account of the needs of ALL learners
- smaller classes offer opportunity for more targeted support
- leads to less stress and a happier workforce
Where appropriate, offer split places with a specialist school
- students benefit from mainstream with the social aspects an important factor
- intensified support with specialist staff
Bring in more specialist teachers of the arts
- this will allow for more targeted teaching and richer opportunities for all learners.
Offer more CPD opportunities using inset days
Offer Students undergoing ITE the opportunity to take an extra module specifically on ASN OR
Offer ITE degrees with a specialism in ASN.
In doing the above we ensure that quality experiences are had by ALL children and I believe that this would greatly improve the attainment of all children.
In Summary it boils down to money and the most appropriate way to spend it.