TA, or not TA; part 2

So, there’s been some new research and it shows that TAs can add value, in terms of progress, for an individual or small group. But let’s not get carried away now, eh!?

To start with, this is not new information; didn’t we already know that a great TA can add value to the learning experience of some our most vulnerable students? There is, of course, such a thing as a great TA. One who has knowledge, expertise and experience, and supports in such a way that their student(s) develop independence, resilience and social skills. The problem is that this isn’t consistent, or even common, because TAs are not subject to the same baseline expectation or accountability as a teacher. The problem is that TAs are placed with our most vulnerable learners – the very children who will require their academic experience to be held to account to the highest degree if they are to be successful – and that this enables teachers who have not been given sufficient training or accountability for SEND at ITT/NQT to outsource responsibility, at least to an extent, for some of their students. The problem is that, if we attribute a value to pedagogical knowledge and training, then all learners should have equal and unbuffered access to it. The problem is at the societal and systemic level – our approach to meeting special educational needs in school reveals our attitude towards disability in society – not with individual TAs; the most effective are just undervalued and underpaid teachers, the least effective have not been given the training, expectation or pay to allow us to expect any different.

The reality is, however, that TA support is the way that students with additional needs are able to access a mainstream school right now, so any evidence that gives us strategies  to get the most out of that approach has got to be a good thing. For our lowest ability and most vulnerable children to be successful right now, it is crucial that the current system is used to its full potential… but that doesn’t mean that we accept this system as the best we can offer our students.

There’s some new research, but there are questions to be asked about it and how it fits into the bigger picture of SEND education and education as a whole, and whether it can enable us to move on from seeing these two things as separate entities.

Just how positive is this research?

Consider this quote from the article on the Education Endowment Foundation’s website:

The latest research, however, shows that when TAs are used in a focused way – to deliver structured, high-quality support to small groups or individual children – pupils make an additional two to four months progress.

Actually, across the two studies there were some students who made an additional six months progress… and that’s got to be a good thing (although it would be nice to see some equivalent data from a control group), but is it the best quality provision we can offer? Does it tell us what our vulnerable learners can achieve when they receive an equitable  – equal quality, and each child getting what they need – education alongside their more resilient peers? It might be a good way to maximise the impact of TAs, but that doesn’t mean that the use of TAs is the best option available.

How useful, reliable, and generalisable is this research?

The following information about the research is taken from the Guardian article written by Sally Weale and published on Friday 26th February 2016.

The first of the two studies looked at the impact of TAs teaching small groups of nursery and reception age children about topics such as time and what to wear, and isn’t very generalisable to my own mainstream secondary setting. The second study, however, is much more directly comparable:

In the second trial, a targeted reading support programme…,  TAs were used to improve the reading skills of struggling readers in year seven and eight in secondary schools, with one-to-one sessions focused on reading loud three times a week for 20 weeks [5 months].

Pupils made the equivalent of four months’ additional progress, but those who took part in a version with a greater focus on language comprehension made six months’ progress.

Again, any additional progress has got to be a good thing,but that doesn’t mean that it’s the best thing. At my own school, all students are required to carry a book at all times, which they can read in moments of potential downtime (i.e., waiting for their daily assembly, morning meeting, to start) as well as for pleasure at break times et cetera if they want. Additionally, students ‘drop everything and read’ for 30 minutes every day. This is done in groups of around 18 students, with their adviser (like a form tutor, and always a teacher), and also includes opportunities to read aloud, read 1:1 with the adviser, to be read to, do comprehension tasks, write reviews and other activities. It is non-segregatory – the least able student is subject to the same high expectations as the most able, and the most able have the same level of support and individualisation as the least able; what they need and when they need it – and what’s more, it isn’t a one off injection of support; a little boost to create a leap froward in what is likely to have been (and continue to be) a lifelong literacy need. Our approach instills an independence, autonomy and habit (and, hopefully, a love!) of reading that will have a long term and ongoing impact on their progress, even beyond school and into their adulthood. Our students make, on average, one month additional progress for each month they age, although there have been examples of students making 4+ years reading age progress in one school year.

Finally, it’s probably best to include this quote from the Guardian article as well:

The evaluation of the study expressed reservations about these findings, however, because the trial was smaller than expected and had to be phased because of delays recruiting schools. there were also concerns that almost 30% of pupils did not complete all of the tests at the end of the project.

Whilst TAs remain the go-to option for supporting children with additional needs in mainstream schools, and moving forward from that seems barely even visible on the horizon so, for the time being at least, it’s important that we get the best out of the approach that we can. I’m just not sure that this research is helpful in achieving educational equity for all children. All the time we continue to persuade ourselves that use of TAs is good enough for our most vulnerable learners we are also reassuring ourselves that a segregated approach is okay, that less progress is okay, that lower employment rates as adults are okay, and that children with additional needs are somehow different; they don’t need a teacher.

We already knew, didn’t we, that when a TA is used ‘in a focused way’, and when they’re ‘delivering structured, high-quality support’, they have more impact than TAs who are used in an unfocused and unstructured way to deliver low-quality support. The headline, ‘teaching assistants improve pupils’ results, studies show’, belies the small scale, questionable quality and fairly minimal impact of the studies but provides a further setback in achieving true equity in education for our most vulnerable students.

There is no such thing as SEND and non-SEND children, there are only children.

All children will be enabled to thrive and succeed when we stop seeing and providing for them by category and start meeting their needs as unique individuals who all deserve the same high expectations, high quality and rigorous accountability, and all deserve the same level of individualisation, nurture and support.

So, still ‘no TA’.

https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/news/teaching-assistants-improve-pupils-results-studies-show/

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/feb/26/teaching-assistants-improve-pupils-results-studies-show

 

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We All Will Learn

The use of double staffing to ensure a high-quality learning experience for all students

Double Staffing: the timetabling of two qualified, subject specialist teachers to a single class, giving them joint and equal responsibility for the students’ outcomes.

My article on meeting the needs of ALL students, including those with additional needs and disabilities, in a school with no teaching assistants or withdrawal interventions:
http://blogs.dixonsta.com/

(plus many more great articles about our unique Dixons Trinity Academy approach!)

Inclusion by @NDempseyDTA | Starter for Five

Echo Chamber Uncut

Name: Nicole Dempsey
Twitter name: @NDempseyDTA
Sector: Secondary
Subject taught (if applicable): Geography
Position: INCo
What is your advice about? Inclusion

1: Get to know the students with additional needs in your classes. Speak to them, the SENCo, their parents…

2: Take ownership of every child you teach. Don’t expect a TA or hope for a withdrawal intervention to affect your lesson.

3: Have high expectations for your additional needs students; the biggest barrier to their success is low expectation. The world isn’t ready for them, they need you behind them.

4: Be firm, but fair.

5:…

Continue reading at:

http://ift.tt/1XXnhQd

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SEND and Social Justice

I was recently asked by @SENcollusion to share my thoughts on the following questions/themes for a chapter she’s writing for an upcoming book;  the Handbook of Disabled Children’s Childhood Studies, edited by Katherine Runswick-Cole et al. Of course I was happy to oblige! I’m always happy to share my thoughts and concerns about the state of inclusion. The questions/themes posed, and my responses, are reproduced below. Thanks for thinking of me, @SENcollusion; I hope it was of some use 🙂

  • Why do SEND issues so rarely enter the mainstream education debate when so many pupils have identified SEND?
  • Commentary around SEND is usually narrative and rarely consists of political analysis of how these issues fit with the wider government agenda.
  • Disability rarely gets a mention in broader education policy, whereas race and gender tend to be included. Education secretaries and their shadows don’t seem to engage on the issue; why is disability sidelined and not mainstreamed?

For me, many of the barriers faced by those with disabilities – both in education and in society as a whole – stem from the same, chronically overlooked problem; the current educational inclusion paradigm is actually a form of internal segregation and does not represent social justice. I believe that the common artefacts of inclusion as we know it – TAs, withdrawal intervention, SENCo’s and SEN/inclusion departments, corridors, rooms etc. – all result in a segregation of space, service, expectation and experience. Ultimately, schools are designed to get the best out of and for their students; what does it mean for a child to sit even slightly outside of that design? How all of this came about seems obvious to me. The education system as we know it evolved without the need to consider the wide spectrum of abilities and disabilities we now have the opportunity to embrace. High infant mortality of babies born with additional needs, education being optional and elitist, and then the concept of the uneducable child… educational inclusion as we know it is a recent phenomenon; 1980’s+. Integration, as it was, and now ‘inclusion’, is actually a series of strategies, add-ons, annexes and afterthoughts that are in place to try and get SEND students into schools that were not designed for them. It is a step on the journey towards social justice for those with disabilities, that’s all. We seem to have hit a brick wall on our journey to achieve the real end result, though! It is this stagnation and failure to complete the journey that elicits many of the problems faced by children and adults with disabilities, and could begin to answer the questions you have raised. I will try to outline the main points, and links to your research, here:

  • Those with additional needs and/or disabilities are denied a high quality education. I recently read a statistic that only 6.6% of learning disabled adults are in employment, but 69% want to be. Anyone who thinks that only 6.6% of learning disabled adults are capable of working need to get out and meet a greater range of people. So what does this statistic mean? I’m sure that, if asked, more than 6.6% of schools would claim that their SEND provision is effective and successful, but clearly it is not preparing those young people to become successful adults. And how could it? If we value QTS why would it be acceptable for some students – our highest need students – to be taught by those without it? And TAs… unless the TAs going to be with them in the job interview, or on the station platform when the train’s cancelled, that can only ever be short term solution.
  • What does the current ‘internal-segregation-as-inclusion’ paradigm tell SEND students about themselves? What does it teach a child about their place in society if they always sit slightly outside of the systems? Especially if ‘their space’ is inferior in quality, such as learning spaces away from the knowledge hubs and unqualified, non-specialist staff. And especially if that segregation instils an ‘us and them’ or even culture of fear between the SEND and non-SEND students, such as inclusion areas (oh, the irony) and ‘safe spaces’ for vulnerable students.
  • By segregating students with additional needs and/or disabilities, what are we teaching our non-SEND students? What are we telling them is the right way to support diversity and vulnerability in our communities? That it is someone else’s problem? And, surely, we are denying them the opportunity to value and learn about diversity and what it can bring to the community. These students will go on to be the potential employers of ability diversity.

In combination, these unintentional by-products of our current approach to inclusion perpetuate the unequal society paradigm that exists way beyond childhood and education. We inadvertently teach our SEND students that they are ‘other’ and should expect less. What’s more, we deny them the tools to fight that situation. We teach our non-SEND students that disability is someone else’s problem, we deny them the opportunity to experience the joy of diversity (disability inequality is an injustice for all of us) and we make it look like this approach is a benevolence; a kindness… something that should make them feel good about themselves. Let me explain that last point a little more thoroughly…

I believe that a big contribution to our reluctance to move on from this step on the journey towards justice is that we have somehow persuaded ourselves that this approach is a good thing. Like having an inclusion department with a load of TAs, withdrawal interventions and escape from the mainstream is a benevolence. Like we are doing those with disabilities a favour by putting a ramp up to a side entrance so they can get in to our able spaces. It’s patronising. The school with the biggest SEND departments is the least inclusive, not most. The building with the most big yellow wheelchair silhouettes slapped all over everything should not be celebrated for all their high profile segregation. The most socially just space is the one with no inclusion or access strategies in place, but where people with all levels of physical and/or learning ability can access it anyway.

I should probably get back to the questions you actually asked.

Why does SEND have such a low profile in educational discourse, political debate and in the more general drive for a fairer, more just society? In my opinion, it is because we teach each upcoming generation – inadvertently – that segregation of SEND is not just acceptable but a cause for celebration and self-congratulation, and we deny our children the information and experiences that would equip them to fight this approach. Each generation become adults thinking about SEND issues as someone else’s problem, or (as a person with a disability), believing that they should be grateful for the add-ons and afterthoughts they get… and without the quality education that would facilitate change anyway.

Women and non-white ethnic groups have also been denied access to a proper education, have had their adversaries miseducated to their detriment, and have had their voices stifled, even criminalised, in their fight for justice, this is true. It cannot, though, be denied that a bigger proportion of the group that are our focus here have additional cognitive and communication challenges that further disadvantage them. In order for those with disabilities to move forward on their journey towards justice we will rely more heavily on changing the hearts and minds of the ‘able’ community; to be able to make a distinction between benevolent segregation with the label of inclusion and real equity and justice for everyone in society. The power to achieve this lies within education.

And I firmly believe that it can be done! I work in a mainstream secondary school in a challenging and diverse inner city area. We have no TAs, never withdraw from lessons, and have no SEND/inclusion department or area. Our SEND register and disadvantaged students match the progress of their peers in all subjects and in all year groups (we have y7-10 – start up free school – but have all assessments externally moderated). In addition, SEND and vulnerable students are proportionally represented in attendance, behaviour and rewards data. I’m not saying it’s easy, it is not! The challenges are myriad, not least the issue of SEND’s low profile at ITT. But also, it is not optional. Justice for vulnerable people in society is a right and responsibility for all of us.

The reasons our schools don’t need teaching assistants.

Never one to pass up on the opportunity to defend my position, here are my thoughts and my counter-argument to this post from the www.educationforeverybody.co.uk website and Twitter account.

Firstly, I can’t seem to find an ‘about’ page or similar, manifesto or mission statement, on the website but, based on the title, I’m pretty sure we are fighting on the same side of the same battle here. And I agree with so much of what is written in the article – there is a problem in the education system and something needs to be done about it. The solution, however, is not teaching assistants… and here’s why.

I too wonder if parents of children with additional needs stop and think about who is supporting their child in the classroom. I wonder if they think about why their child – the child that needs more in order to be successful – is placed increasingly with the least qualified members of staff. This approach, surely, is counter-intuitive. If those children for whom learning is most difficult, and those for whom effective classroom management is most crucial, do not require the input of those who are pedagogically trained, then I guess no child does.

From reading the article I’m left unsure as to whether it appertains specifically to either secondary or primary, mainstream or special, but actually, I don’t think it makes much difference. My own assertion that TA’s are not the answer comes, inevitably, from my own standpoint in a mainstream secondary school. The concept, however, carries to other areas within education. For my students – a diverse and complex comprehensive inner city intake – there are students who require the socio-emotional support of a mentor, and students with physical and sensory needs who may require practical assistance, but only pedagogically trained subject specialist teachers teach. I do realise that early years and special education settings have increased care and supervision requirements and employing people to these roles is crucial… but still, only qualified teachers should teach.

This is a gripe against received wisdoms, easy options and the current inclusion paradigm. It isn’t a personal vendetta against teaching assistants. The very nature of the role is likely to attract people who genuinely care and want to make a difference. What’s more, there are many teaching assistants whose skills and hard work genuinely add value to their students’ education. These TA’s are basically underpaid and, often, undervalued teachers. With limited opportunity and incentive to filter applicants by qualification or proven skill, finding these effective examples of TA’s is mainly down to pot luck. It’s not a chance I want to take with my most vulnerable learners.

I might protest the use of teaching assistants less vehemently if it wasn’t for the lack of evidence that the system churns out successful learning disabled adults. With only 6.6% of learning disabled adults in education, but a reported 65% desiring to be so, I find it hard not to look to the current common approach to learning disability support in mainstream schools – the risk of the use of TA’s to foster velcroing, learnt dependency and, ultimately, the buffering of the student’s access to qualified teachers – as at least one source of blame for this lack of success. Another guilty party could be the inflexible and closed-minded businesses and organisations that could be offering employment opportunities. Maybe because they’re run by people who were educated to believe that those with additional needs would be taken off and looked after elsewhere.

“The [TA’s] work as a crutch for a system that is crippling under… [several examples]”

I couldn’t agree more. But surely this isn’t an argument to keep this broken, propped up system? Surely this is an indication that we need to develop an education system that doesn’t need propping up? A system where there are enough teachers per school to fully meet the needs of the students, where those staff are trained to meet a diverse range of needs, and schools that are designed to keep of their student safe whilst encouraging increasing levels of independence? I’m not saying that achieving this would be easy, but who goes into teaching because they think it will be easy? Ultimately, achieving a high quality education system, that meets the needs of all students equally, is not optional; this is what we should be working towards. Surely ‘education for everybody’ means an equal quality – equally high quality – education for every child and, to that end, the least able/most vulnerable student should be with the most qualified/experienced  member of staff. In fact, all of our little learners deserve equal access to qualified, subject specialist staff.

Removing teaching assistants from schools is not like removing nurses from hospitals because unlike TA’s, who commonly ‘act up’ to the teacher role, nurses stick to the tasks for which they are trained; they don’t perform surgery when there’s a shortage of doctors.

A sad reality, though, is that many parents of children with additional needs cannot imagine their vulnerable little one learning and being safe without the support of their TA and, worse still, they’re probably right; how many schools would be able to achieve true equality for their additional educational needs and disabled students? It is time to start looking at alternative, more equitable, systems and thinking about how we can fix the aspects of the system that are failing our vulnerable learners. And I know that my school isn’t the only school that’s operating a different approach; I dare say there are a range of different options that are better than the one that’s currently prevailing. But teaching assistants are not the answer.

A good SENCo works their way out of a job: Annual Review

It has, this month, been one whole year since my first ever blog post and declaration that I wholeheartedly disapprove of the existence of my own job, and would be working to render my own role in the school unnecessary and, hopefully – eventually, non-existent. It seems like a good time to consider what progress has been made so far. So, to start with, a little recap; what, exactly, is my problem with the SENCo? Well, as an interim measure, nothing really. Within the current social and political context, confined by the opportunities and limitations of the education system as it stands, and working collaboratively to meet the expectations of children and the families of children with additional educational needs and disabilities, the SENCo role is a crucial one. Children with additional educational needs and disabilities have achieved the entitlement to receive a high quality and inclusive education and it is the SENCo – along with other stakeholders – who is at the forefront of actually building that entitlement into a reality. But, just as the presence of a builder still hanging around, beavering away, after the building has been completed would either be unnecessary or an indication that the structure is not stable, the SENCo should not need to be there once true inclusion has been achieved, and we need to work towards that goal. The presence of a SENCo represents the need for children with additional educational needs and disabilities to have an advocate in order to ensure that their needs are being met; a truly inclusive school would meet the needs of all of its students on the same basis. The modern education system evolved before the rights of people with physical and learning disabilities did and, as a result, evolved without the need to meet the needs of children with additional educational needs. That, alongside the impact of Ofsted and league tables, has meant that our enlightenment and realisation that all children should be entitled to a high quality and inclusive education has left us with a bit of a conundrum; inclusion is the umbrella term for all the ways we have come up with to get children to fit into a system that was not designed for them. For true inclusion – equality in education – to be achieved, we need a system that was designed with all in mind;  a school designed to meet the needs of the least able and most vulnerable would eliminate the need for inclusion, enable the students who are simply coping to thrive, and these – along with the students who were thriving anyway – to be the architects of a society that values diversity and does not accept side entrances, inferior and intermittent services, low expectations and so on as ‘enough’ for people with disabilities.  Not only does the current system foster… no, force… the internal-segregation-as-inclusion paradigm that we have come to accept, it actively celebrates it. Having a room in your school where the lowest ability and most vulnerable students are taught literacy and numeracy by non-specialist and/or unqualified members of staff, and where those students can come to hide from the perils of the school corridors and communal spaces, is not equality; it is denying those students access to their entitlement. Their entitlement to a high quality education. To be a valued part of their community. To feel like a contributor. The least able child should be with the most qualified member of staff. The whole school should be a safe space for vulnerable children because all children have the potential to be vulnerable, simply by virtue of being children.

Have we made any progress towards achieving this goal? Yes, of course! We are a school without a SEND department (or any alternative name such a department might be given)… we have no SEND area or corridor, no inclusion rooms, withdrawal interventions or teaching assistants… where the students on the SEND register match, and often exceed, the progress made by their peers. As, or even more, importantly; we have no safe spaces for vulnerable students and we do not have students who need to be escorted around the building by a member of staff. All of our students move around the building safely, as is their right. And, before you ask, yes; we have a diverse and wide ability range intake of students. Our SEND Support and EHCP/Statement numbers match national averages and our ‘fair banding’ admissions policy ensures a broad ability base. We have students who would have a TA if they went to another school, students with physical, sensory, and/or medical needs, students who had been excluded from primary school due to their challenging behaviour… they are all here like we knew they would be; we were thinking about them from the start.

All of our students’ learning needs are met within the academic departments. Literacy interventions are run by the English department and numeracy interventions by the maths department, either within timetabled maths lessons or before or after school; we don’t withdraw students from other areas of their timetable. Intervention and support, including when it is on a 1:1 basis, is delivered by subject specialist, qualified teachers. We use ‘double staffing’ of our lowest ability group in each year to facilitate this in English, maths, science, humanities and MFL.

All of our students’ non-academic needs – pastoral, health and wellbeing, safeguarding, physical and sensory needs, socio-emotional development, mental health, outside agency involvement, behaviour, and probably a load more stuff I have forgotten – are managed by one department and, because all of our students are climbing their own personal mountain in order to succeed at university or a real alternative, thrive in a top job and have a great life, we call it Mountain Rescue. Mountain Rescue consists of the Senior Vice Principal, the year heads, me, and a team of mentors and key workers and we… well, we do whatever it takes for as long as it takes, when they need it and because they need it, in order to support their journey up the mountain. Any student can go to Mountain Rescue for any reason and, because of our team approach, we can quickly share information and put provision in place to meet their unique needs, not because they are SEND or LAC or PP or any other sub-category of child that might be in use; just because they need it.

IMG_0204

As is good and expected practice for an Annual Review, I should probably set some SMART targets. By October half term I hope to have developed and completed a set of useful and easy to use documentation to support, quality assure, and facilitate feedback for the support provided by Mountain Rescue. By Christmas I want to have identified and documented all the different models of effective use of double staffing that are being used in the academic departments. And, longer term, I would like the Mountain Rescue team to include therapists and other professionals such as and Educational Psychologist, life coach, Speech and Language Therapist, and nurse. In the meantime though, I am happy for things to continue to develop as they are – a school without ‘inclusion’ – and just be happy that I still have a job to go to!