Key Drivers of Optimal Special Education Needs Provision: An English Study

Key Drivers of Optimal Special Education Needs Provision: An English Study Background: The aim of this paper is to argue that there are a number of key drivers for Special Educational Needs (SEN) provision that have to be met by Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs) and teaching professionals so as to ensure optimal provision and inclusion for children with SEN in mainstream primary schools. Although the research has been carried out in England, there is a significant European Dimension to the issue, as a similar role to that of SENCOs in respect of SEN management already exists in countries such as Finland and Ireland, and is being considered in Italy. Methods: This paper focuses on the data gathered for the purpose of the author's doctoral research in England, through questionnaires and interviews with SENCOs, head teachers and teachers. Thematic analysis was used to explore key drivers of SEN provision by practitioners who support children with SEN. Coresponding address: Saneeya QURESHI Institute for Social Innovation and Impact Directorate of Research, Impact and Enterprise The University of Northampton Thornby 1, Park Campus, Northampton, NN2 7AL, UK E-mail: : , , , , , . . : , . : , , , , , Results: Data illustrate that the key drivers of SEN provision include time; teacher openness to change; target setting; evidence of tried interventions; empowerment; decision-making and approachability. The implementation of such drivers depend largely on practitioner skills and competencies. Conclusion: The main conclusion within this paper is to develop points of reference for planning and practice, with illustrations of optimal provision by all practitioners who work with children with SEN. Keywords: Special Education Needs; SEN; inclusion; mainstream; primary school; UK () , (1). 1994 , ( ) (2­4). ,, " (5) , , (6). 1994 . , -. , . , , Introduction A SENCO in England coordinates services around children with Special Educational Needs (SEN), and helps teachers to develop and implement appropriate planning, provision and resources for children with SEN in mainstream schools (1). Since the role was introduced in 1994, it has evolved as various policies continually redefined SEN (Special Educational Needs) provisions in England (2­ 4). The issue is timely now that the current legislation in England has put in place "radical reforms" (5) of the current system for identifying, assessing and supporting children and young people who have SEN, which undoubtedly impacts the SENCO-teacher dynamic (6). The requirement for English schools to appoint a SENCO to coordinate the provision of various initiatives around children with SEN has existed since 1994. Initially, the role was taken on by parent volunteers. However, recent recognition of SENCOs' professionalization and them being central to supporting children's inclusion is augmented by Government regulations prescribing the qualifications and experience of SENCOs. Consequently, all SENCOs must now be qualified teachers, and (7). , (8,9), , (10). , ,, ". , , . Brusling Pepin (11:.198) : ,, , (, , , , , , ); , (, , , , , , , , , , ) , , ( )." , , . have undertaken a one-year mandatory SEN Coordination course (7). A role similar to that of a SENCO exists in some other European countries such as Sweden and Ireland (8, 9), whilst in other European countries, such as Italy, an introduction of the SENCO role is currently under discussion (10). In the US, the SENCO role is one that is adopted by a professional known as a `Consultant Teacher'. In this context, this article discusses the drivers of SEN provision that both teachers and SENCOs alike are responsible for, and how these drivers are of interest to practitioners and academics around Europe and the world with regard to evidence-based practice when it comes to supporting the needs of children with SEN. European context Brusling and Pepin (11: p.198) categorised the approaches to inclusion in European countries into three distinct strands: "the one-track approach, in which inclusion is geared towards the inclusion of almost all pupils (Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Sweden, Iceland, Norway and Cyprus); multitrack approach, which offers a variety of services between the mainstream educational system and the special needs educational system (Denmark, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Austria, Finland, the United Kingdom (UK), Latvia, Liechtenstein, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia); and the two-track approach, with two distinct systems, one mainstream and one consisting of special schools and special classes (Switzerland and Belgium)." This paper shall discuss aspects of the multitrack approach as it is pertinent to the United Kingdom, with particular emphasis on the role of the SENCOs and the impact that they have on the practices of their teaching colleagues in terms of imparting provisions to children with SEN in mainstream primary schools. , , (12). , Deluca Stillings (13: .372) : ,, , , 2002, ." , . 2012 2014. , (14) , (15). , (12­14). . , . This research is also particularly relevant in a European context in view of the present moves towards inclusion for children with SEN, also the call for teachers to be more proactive in addressing social inclusion and tackling underachievement and early school leaving (12). Indeed, Deluca and Stillings (13: p.372) also affirmed that: "The signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, actions on behalf of the European Parliament, the contents of the Lisbon Strategy of 2000, and the recent reauthorisations of the US Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) all indicate a strong and growing concern that the international community adhere to both the principles and practice of equality of educational opportunity." Focus of inquiry In this paper, the main research question is whether or not SENCOs enhance teachers' abilities to become effective teachers of children with SEN, and what the necessary drivers are to achieve this. This study was undertaken between 2012 and 2014. Moreover, the issue is timely now that the enacted legislation in the UK, `The Children and Families Act' (14) lays out landmark reforms to SEN provision, which are further underpinned by a new SEN Code of Practice (15). This research project is therefore constructed at a time of major overhaul of the principal guidance for the inclusion for children with SEN in mainstream schools, as is similarly reflected in European context (12­ 14). Mainstream schools in England and Europe are similar to those scholastic institutions that are known as general education schools in the United States. These types of schools implement inclusion by educating pupils who have SEN alongside their peers who do not have SEN, besides which a child with SEN may then be given additional support if so required inside and outside of the classroom. SENCOs in England have been documented as ,, " , (16). ,, " (17: .116): ,, , " (4: .58). , , , (18­20). Rosen-Webb (21:.160) ,," , Pearson . (22: .54) ,," : . `agents of change' in relation to schools' visions and values, and as primary advocates for the needs and rights of children with SEN in mainstream schools (16). Their role can be defined as having transitioned from "a dying breed" (17: p.116), to one of empowerment: "SENCOs play a pivotal role, coordinating provision across the school and linking class and subject teachers with SEN specialists to improve the quality of teaching and learning" (4: p.58). However, simultaneously there is evidence that whilst the SENCO's current role is evolving into one that has a greater degree of recognition by teachers and other members of school staff; and is more empowered at a practical as well as management level, there is also an increasing array of complexities associated with the role (18­20). Rosen-Webb (21: p.160) alluded to the "muddying" of the role of the SENCO; whilst Pearson et al. (22: p.54) foresaw a vision of "intensification" of the role: more paperwork for less impact. . . 223 ,, ", , . , ,, " 12 2009 (22). 2011 . Methods The focus of the research is on the qualitative data obtained from surveys and interviews with participants with regard to the research question mentioned earlier. The study consisted of two phases. The first involved a survey of a purposive sample of 223 primary school SENCOs from the `National Award for SEN Coordination' Course, based at the University of Northampton, UK. The current course, the `National Award for SEN Coordination', is a mandatory professional development for all new to role SENCOs and those who have been working in the SENCO role for less than 12 months prior to September 2009 (22). The legislative intention was that by 2011, all SENCOs would be a qualified teacher or the head teacher. Legislative guidelines did, however, also suggest that aspects of the role could still be supported by (18, 22). 42 . 18 18 . ,," (23), . . Silverman (24: .226). , , . (25), (24) , . (26) . . non-teaching staff (18, 22). The questionnaire, to which 42 SENCOs responded, gained a deeper insight into SENCOs' perceptions of their roles in relation to teachers, and formed a basis for in-depth interview questions. The second phase consisted of semi-structured interviews of 18 SENCOs and 18 teachers and head teachers, in addition to document scrutiny of school SEN policies and related documentation. The selection of the research cohort occurred as a result of `purposive' sampling (23), taking into account that these SENCOs were currently working in the SENCO role. The theoretical framework of this study exists within a thematic approach to the research data analysis. Silverman alludes to this framework through the analysis of data in which participants were assumed to actively create meaning as they presented different aspects of themselves in varying contexts (24: p.226). Consequently, in view of these factors, the information derived from the research data findings of this project are presented in textual The form categorised thematically. triangulation of data (25), aimed at ensuring the verification and validity of data (24) was accomplished through a three-pronged methodological approach including questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and document scrutiny. The research was conducted in accordance with an Ethical Code which was informed by the British Educational Research Association guidelines (26) as well as the University's research committee. All participation was voluntary and informed consent was sought from each participant. , , 18 Results and discussion Data illustrate that SENCOs have a complex role, impacting upon teachers' practices by utilising a wide range of skills, knowledge and expertise across different contexts and social . . , . ,, ". : · : , , (27) , : ,, , ... , ... ( )." [17] : ,, , , , ." [8] , interactions. This is influenced by whether or not they are members of their School Leadership Teams. Further, SENCOs' time management is a constant concern in balancing competing priorities and demands, which include liaising with and arranging external support resources. There is evidence that the degree to which SENCOs have a positive impact on teachers' inclusive skills varies, as the SENCO-teacher dynamic is influenced by a number of factors, which I have termed as `key drivers of SEN provision in England'. These include: · Time to execute roles: Having mutually-convenient meetings on a regular basis, or essentially, just the time for discussions, is a significant driver that was illustrated not only by the published case study testimony of a practising SENCO (27) who referred to time as being a SENCO's most valuable asset, but also in this participant's comment when asked what aspects of the role would maximise the impact of the SENCOs advice on her abilities to impart optimal provision: "Half a day every other week is not enough... As the SENCO is so busy that we can't correspond at the same time, so I don't have a chance to sit with her and have a hand over... (regarding children with SEN)." [SENCO17] This matter of time was further illustrated in another participant's comment when asked what aspects of the role would affect her abilities to have an optimal impact on teachers' practices: "I think the biggest problem for SENCOs is time, because if they haven't got time to sort things, it's ineffective, so time is massive." [Teacher8] The comments above illustrate the increasing challenge of time, which is also addressed in prior research which indicated who contended (27, 28). : , Derrington (29), , . Cowne ,, ." (28: . 67). , , Cowne : ,,.... () , , , ... , ¢ , . , ." [10] , : ,, , ... , ... ( ) , . · that it is essential to examine whether SENCOs are actually receiving enough noncontact time, or whether they are possibly not utilising such time efficiently (27, 28). · Teacher attitudes towards inclusion: In terms of teacher openness to change as a key driver of how teaching professionals and SENCOs' can ensure that children with SEN make progress, Derrington (29), initially highlighted the growing body of evidence at the time that depicted varying attitudes towards inclusion, with specific emphasis on the progress of children with SEN. This was further elaborated by Cowne who discussed the key role at that time, of SENCOs, to "encourage changes in staff attitudes by offering strategies and information as well as playing their part in improving the strategic management of resources." (28: p.67). However, the issues around this are not as simplistically solved, as implied by Cowne, as evidenced by the testimony of one SENCO who said: ".... (some) teachers have a very fixed attitude about what is right and wrong, and the difficulty they face is changing their practice to adapt to those children, but the other thing is... I hear examples of teachers language, that there is still the attitude that there's something wrong with the child with SEN, so that deficient theory, physical deficient theory, I hear it in staff meetings all the time, they're never going to do that, they are never going to achieve this and so on." [SENCO10] The matter was further evidenced by the testimony of another SENCO who said: "I think sometimes people have their own beliefs and thoughts about how children will progress and what they need, or what is wrong with them... We've got quite experienced staff who are more experienced than me in teaching... (and who) don't always listen but that does happen very rarely. I think I just keep , , , ." [ 8] . : Ellis . (30). Berry (31: .38), ,, ." , , : ,, () , ... ... ( ) ." [ 6] : ,,... ... ... () ... , . . , . . , ... , - , ." [ 6] going really and keep plugging away, that's my nature, is to eventually wear them down and I'll get there." [SENCO8] The argument therefore, that is made in view of the quotes above, is that the ability of SENCOs to motivate teaching professionals is impacted by the professionals' own beliefs and fixed attitudes about how children progress. · Collaborative target setting: The issue about teachers' involvement in the process of identification and the subsequent production of meaningful outcomes for teachers was reported by Ellis et al. (30). This was further substantiated by Berry (31: p.38) who stated that "data on student progress is only useful if it drives the actions you take." A number of SENCOs (32), and teachers, including those who participated in this study supported this assertion, one of who said: "Setting targets is something that she (SENCO) is particularly good at, because...sometimes it's hard to actually come up with measurable targets... (so) she's had significant impact on my teaching." [Teacher6] Supported by an eloquently described example from another teacher who said: "...I had one child a few years ago who had... lots of behavioural problems... (the SENCO) had lots of input on that... we had meetings and she came up with suggestions and also targets. It helps with a child like that if you've got specific targets that are measurable. We put that child on a behaviour chart, and she was very involved in that. We worked on that together, and that did have quite an impact. I could actually teach him after that because the impact was so great... This year I have had some difficult children, and I'm using what I learnt from that, to put into practice my own way of sort of targets now, because I've learnt from having that support from her." [Teacher 6] The quotes above epitomises the direct impact that SENCOs have in current school contexts , (16). . : Tissot (17, . 35). , : ,,() ( ) , ." [ 7] , ,, ": ,, : , . , . ? ? , ." [ 15] , , ,, ", . · : Griffiths Dubsky (33), · through their skills of SEN knowledge dissemination, as also evidenced in prior research (16). This paper argues thus, is that there are marked changes that are brought about in teachers' practices which reflect the SENCOs' abilities to ensure optimal provision for children with SEN. · Developing effective interventions: Tissot inferred that SENCOs have a responsibility to work comprehensively with their teaching colleagues so as to ensure the optimal provision of differentiated teaching approaches (17, p.35). To this end, one SENCO stated that her role is essentially about: "...(the) need to make sure that that's (appropriate SEN provision) put into place, and then to identify that there is an issue and what the issue is to get appropriate support." [SENCO7] Whereas another teacher stated what she considered to be optimal skills dissemination by what she termed as "a good SENCO": "A good SENCO would be there if you went to her as a class teacher and said, `Right, I've got child X in my class, they're not progressing. We've tried this programme, we've tried that programme. Will you come and have a look at some of his work? Will you come and have a look at him in class?' And the good SENCO would come and do that and perhaps point the teacher in another direction." [Teacher 15] Thus, as reflected from the participants' quotes, there is a quagmire in which SENCOs are looked to as the "founts of all knowledge", simultaneously facing challenges in collating information and making specific decisions about the transfer of knowledge to teachers. Empowerment of teachers by SENCOs: The knowledge aspect with regard to SENCOs' own perceptions of their roles is explored in research conducted by Griffiths and Dubsky (33), who alluded to a developing . , : ,,... () , , ... ." [ 7] , : ,, () ... () , . , , 3 , , ; , . , ." [ 2] . Kearns (34: .138), strategic vision that is embodied within the SENCO role. The over-arching aspect of empowerment of teachers by SENCOs through training in the context of the extent that SENCOs can motivate teachers to take the initiative in managing the needs of children with SEN was elucidated by one teacher who said that: "... (the SENCO) empowered me as a teacher by allowing me opportunities to experiment with my teaching using strategies that she showed me, and that itself has gained me the knowledge and confidence... working with low ability children." [Teacher7] Another noteworthy quote which summarised the views of a number of teachers in terms of the significance of SENCOs' training and subsequent cascading down of the knowledge and associated impact on the teachers' own abilities is: "For me it (empowerment) would be implementing some of the strategies that have been deployed by some of the TAs... our SENCO (has) been on courses, but then those courses aren't then being passed down or cascaded down to the children. I find that frustrating because she's held up with paperwork, she works 3 days a week, so she's pushing through all her paperwork so she doesn't have time to work with a group; but no one else has been trained on that specific package that's meant to be delivered to the children, so I find that very frustrating. And so I question whether the SENCO is the right person to go on the training, if they're not going to facilitate it." [Teacher2] The issue of the extent to which SENCOs are able to empower teachers in relation to their professional development activities is impacted to an extent by the teachers' desires are conflicting with the SENCO's need to motivate them to take responsibility. This issue was raised by Kearns (34: p.138), in his delineation of the SENCO as an Arbiter, , , Rosen-Webb (21: .166) ,,- ,, ", ,, ". : . , , , . , . Tissot (18: .35) Kearns (34), ,,", ,,, ." , : ,,... () , ... () £ , , , ... ( ) ..." [ 6] · seeking to boost the confidence of teachers, and Rosen-Webb's (21: p.166) subsequent contention of the SENCO's role as being one of "a teacher-leader practitioner with good analytic skills who can balance `on the job' activity, strategic thinking and planning proactivity and `fire- fighting' reactivity." Transparency in decision-making corroborated by approachability: Decision-making by SENCOs and dissemination of information is another key driver which directly impacts SEN provision. As the author travelled to the places of work to interview SENCOs, teachers and head teachers, observing them in situ at their respective schools during the course of the research project also gave credence to the view that decision-making and approachability via formal and informal channels of communication on the part of the SENCO is a key driver for optimal SEN provision. Indeed, SENCOs must constantly strive to think out of the box in terms of finding ways and means to achieve this. Tissot (18: p.35) alluded to this, as did Kearns (34), in his contention that SENCOs function as `Arbiters,' "negotiating, rationalising and monitoring the use of SEN resources in their schools." This general finding is reflected in a participant teacher's assertion that: "... (the SENCO) goes into other schools and observe that child and make the decision along with the Head Teachers as to whether we can meet that child's needs... she's (the SENCO is) very happy to be approached, you know if it's something that's important and it needs to be addressed, then we can do it in an informal way, but there are formal ways... (such as) referral forms..." [Teacher 6] A similar contention was elucidated by one teacher in her testimonial about the SENCOs' , : ,, , , , , . , ... , ; , ." [ 18] (33). , , , (35), ,, , " (36: .85). decision-making power, and how approachability also impacts the resultant impact on optimal SEN provision: "In the past, whenever I've had a concern, I've always sought their (the SENCO's) advice, and they've sort of recommended a programme or a different way of applying your teaching strategy, or whatever, so it has had an impact. As a class teacher I am prepared to have a go... and talk about amongst colleagues, not necessarily the SENCO; but I think when there's a glaring gap in somebody's learning, or you're concerned that they're falling behind, I would call in for the SENCO." [Teacher 18] The contention above therefore, illustrates the wider issue of impact, which is affected by how SENCOs and teachers alike relate to their respective professional identities (33). To summarise this section therefore, it is relevant to acknowledge therefore, that although SENCOs have a crucial role in the implementation of SEN provisions, (35), the optimal implementation of such provisions "depend largely on teachers having the knowledge, skills and competencies necessary to make it work" (36: p.85). , , . : ,, "; ; ,," , ,," . . Burton Goodman (37), Mackenzie (38) Qureshi (39) Conclusion and Implications Findings therefore, as illustrated in the earlier section, indicate that SENCOs have a complex role. Key themes that have been developed include: SENCOs' professional identity as `agents of change'; the difficulties of ensuring the balance between teachers' over-reliance and under-utilisation of SENCOs' remit; and the nature of interventions and provisions made for children with SEN in terms of the `usual' support, versus that which is `over and above' normal practice. Indeed, the outcomes of this research project accord with previous studies that suggest particular challenges for SENCOs and teachers in the provision of inclusive education. Burton and Goodman (37), Mackenzie (38) and Qureshi (39) alluded to the complex interaction between SENCOs and their , . , , , , . , . , , . ,, " 2020 (11, 40). , (60%) (41). teaching colleagues that provides schools and teachers with a powerful focus for action as regards consistency in the identification of SEN, whilst concurrently manoeuvring aspects of the school environment to influence the interaction positively to bring about improvements in learning outcomes for pupils. It is intended that research outcomes will inform the nature of support mechanisms for SENCOs, teachers and head teachers, through the identification of factors that influence their own motivation, professional- and selfdevelopment, as well as that of their colleagues. It is also intended that SEN practitioners will be able to utilise the findings to facilitate more effective provisions which will better meet the needs of children with SEN. Furthermore, a broader European audience can consider how the key findings are being manifest in a pan-European context, with reference to their own educational settings. Research outcomes can aid the development of specific competencies needed to develop optimal inclusive settings in accordance with the priority of `Raising Achievement for all Learners' as set out in the Education and Training 2020 (ET 2020) Framework at a European level (11, 40). A prime example of the significance of optimally-driven SEN support is illustrated by the success of Finland in reducing its number of poor readers, which was attributed to the fact that majority (60%) of teachers in Finland consulted a specialist at their school on a regular basis (41). . , , , . , , 26 Limitations of the study It is important whilst reviewing the process, to acknowledge that there are some limitations associated with various aspects of research. The limitations that stood out as regards this research project into the impact of SENCOs on teachers' abilities to address the needs of children with SEN, were that, in view of the limited sample size, the applicability to a more holistic point of view, or defining conclusion is reduced. In terms of the research cohort, as has already been acknowledged, SENCO participants were all those who were enrolled on the UK ,, ". 1,5 . , . , , . `National Award for SEN Coordination' course. The weighted average number of years of experience of this research participant cohort was approximately 1.5 years. Therefore, it is significant to point out that the data derived from this project needs to be understood in that context. Indeed, it is also acknowledged that results may be different if the same questionnaire and interview process is applied to SENCOs who have been in the role for more extended periods of time, and therefore, have more of a breadth of experiences upon which to call. , , , ,," . (22), , , . ( ). : ,, , ..." [ 17] : ,,... ; . , ­ ­ , ." [ 7] Recommendation for further study An aspect of possible future research relates to that of SENCO training, particularly in a European context as the role is in the process of being introduced, so a reflection upon the English experience of the "professionalization" of the SENCO role might be worthwhile further investigation. This is predominantly in the wake of the changes to English legislation (22), whereby all SENCOs are required by law to be qualified teachers, so as to be able to complete the mandatory qualification for the role. This is in view of the differing opinions that were aired by the interviewees (despite training not being one of the essential research questions of this project). Whilst referring to the mandatory training, one SENCO interviewee commented: "Having been on this course it's opened up my eyes to exactly what the job entails, so it's far more than I thought initially, 2 years ago..." [SENCO 17] While another SENCO said: "...and it's (about) getting the balance; the job is hard enough without having to write a mini thesis on something. So from the point of view, the (SENCO) course as good as it's been ­ it's given me lots of eye openers ­ that I've said to the (SENCO Course) mentors, it's been too heavy weighted in the written area." [SENCO 7] The above-mentioned points of view indicate that there are mixed opinions about the effectiveness of the mandatory professional . . , , (42, 43). , . training in terms enhancing the efficiency of SENCOs executing their roles. It might therefore be worthwhile to undertake further research to explore whether or not indeed SENCOs are deriving the planned benefits from the course, as originally intended. This is of particular concern for a pan-European audience, as mentioned in a recent report by the EU-funded Network of Experts in Social Sciences of Education and training (NESSE) with regard to the statistics on the proportion of children with SEN, because these statistics reflect different identification practices that often depend on local decision-making (42, 43). It is therefore imperative that for optimal SEN practice, decision-making needs to be based upon an evidently-informed professional who is appropriately trained and skilled with regard to the key drivers discussed in this paper. . / Journal of Special Education and Rehabilitation de Gruyter

Key Drivers of Optimal Special Education Needs Provision: An English Study

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Walter de Gruyter
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