Children with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) are among the most vulnerable to the sudden changes that have accompanied the Covid-19 pandemic this year. The closure of schools and cutbacks on additional support services during lockdown have significantly impacted learning support, routine and consistency.
Several charitable and not-for-profit organisations such as the NSPCC and Scope have recently provided advice and resources for parents when their children are at home. Nevertheless, the past year will likely have been highly challenging for children and parents attempting to maintain a consistent learning environment from home.
Whether you are an experienced teacher or teaching assistant (TA) supporting children with SEND or are thinking about specialising in the area going forward, the past year’s challenges can be harnessed to continually develop your approach. The team of qualified former teaching professionals at Prospero Teaching share below their advice on supporting students with SEND.
8 Methods to Support Students with SEND
1. Be Approachable and Friendly
An important characteristic for any education professional, an open and approachable character can make all the difference to students with disabilities or additional needs. A supportive, positive and friendly approach is key to ensuring you can be receptive and responsive to meeting students’ individual needs.
2. Get to Know Your Students
Familiarise yourself with your student’s Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) if they have one. An EHCP may include personal exemplar quotes relating to the child (for example, ‘Just because I can’t speak doesn’t mean I don’t communicate’) in addition to the background of the needs of the child, their targets and details of the support provision allocated.
3. Build Relationships with Parents and Carers
Be prepared to invest in quickly building relationships with parents and carers. In the best interests of the child, an effective EHCP will ensure that parents, carers and healthcare professionals work closely to support the child. Develop a cooperative team player mentality by establishing and maintaining strong working relationships with the important professionals and caregivers in the life of your pupil.
4. Implement Consistent Behaviour
Adhere to your school’s behaviour policy and consistently stick to it. The students you work with may show some challenging behaviour, and it is the responsibility of teachers and teaching assistants to set boundaries whilst following your school’s behaviour policy consistently.
A whole school approach including reward systems and sanctions may exist and provide the best support. Speak with trusted colleagues and existing members of staff for advice on what works well with your particular class and your pupils.
5. Brush Up on Your SEND Knowledge
Keeping up to date with the latest research findings and guidance could provide new lesson planning ideas and behaviour management advice. New research is continually published (see the ‘useful links’ we have included below) and schools regularly hold training to ensure staff are up to date with the latest examples of best practice. Beginning at a new school is a fantastic opportunity to learn from and collaborate with new colleagues, including of course your SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator.)
Read about the different behaviours and support associated with specific needs, but remember the saying, ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.’ Every young person we work with is an individual who needs and deserves their own individualised care and support.
6. Seize Every Opportunity for Training and Development
Be as enthusiastic as possible about meetings and training initiatives. Although meetings and courses may sometimes occur outside of your normal timetable, opportunities for discussion with colleagues and training and development courses are crucial to the effective support of your student. As meetings must be organised to accommodate the timetables of all professionals, parents and carers involved, adapting to requirements at short notice will ensure issues are addressed promptly and students are supported with urgent needs.
Prospero Teaching offer a variety of free, online CPD-accredited courses including safeguarding, classroom management and introduction to ASD. Find out more about our CPD courses.
7. Operate Flexibly as a Rule
As staff within schools cater for a wide range of students and needs, you may occasionally be asked support in other areas to cover staff absences. Amidst the chronic teacher shortage, educators have seen their responsibilities increase as two thirds of secondary state pupils and 250,000 staff are currently self-isolating. Both competent NQTs and experienced staff may seen as a ‘safe pair of hands’ and chosen to take on additional duties. Interpret this as a compliment, and use the opportunity to gain experience across the school.
8. Maintain a Calm Attitude
A calm, consistent composure will not only best help pupils most in need, but will help prevent overwhelming levels of stress and burnout. Schools can be stressful environments and working with students with SEND can at times add an extra layer of pressure. Work on accepting that the stress of your job is reflective of how vital your role is to both each student and the school. Try to focus on the positive impact you can have on your students and their family: many teachers will agree that the rewards are worth the stress.
Useful Links to Help Students with Additional Needs
National Autistic Society: https://www.autism.org.uk/
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence: https://www.nice.org.uk/
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