I have been a student teacher mentor for around 10 years now it’s an aspect of my role that I truly love. I enjoy passing on the expertise from within my own school, the pearls of wisdom that I learn from twitter and I love the fact that I’m helping to shape the careers of some young teachers in a small way. It’s a role which I take seriously as I’ve said before, as teachers we have the education of the next generation in our hands. We have to be sure the trainees are good.

As many of you will know, my school is a special school. I give the trainees a taste of teaching children with additional needs. We have trainees at all stages of their training from first years to 4th years and including PGCE. More recently we have had Schools Direct trainees. This is very exciting as it’s brand new! I love a challenge.

Back to my trainees. Research from Policy Exchange in 2010 showed that there is a serious problem with teaching expertise in special schools. This reflected the findings of the Salt Review in to the supply of teachers for children with SEN. The Salt Review highlighted the impact of the disappearance of specialist routes at ITT level. This of course means that there is now a severe shortage of qualified specialised teachers. Older qualified special teachers are retiring and the expertise is slowly leaving the profession. This is a big worry for our poorly children and those who need extra help. I’m not talking about children with MLD (excuse the labels) who can cope very well in mainstream with some support. I’m talking about children with complex medical needs or profound and multiple learning difficulties. These are the children who need teachers who are specially trained to help them. Hand picked trainees who want the job and who have empathy and understanding for these children. This is not a job everyone can do. Not everyone can teach children who are so poorly they are being tube fed or using oxygen. Not everyone can teach children with no communication or no independent movement. Not everyone can cope with having chairs thrown at them and certainly not everyone can cope with all these children in the same class. It takes a different teacher to do this job. It’s not something you drift in to. The University of Cumbria had the foresight to realise this and became the first university in the country to develop a new route with a specialism in SEN. Students have travelled from all over the country to attend this course, proving that not only is there a need there is a demand for this specialism. Finally some students are being trained specifically to teach our children with additional needs.

All of this brings me to my latest student, Jenii. She arrived in January for a 3 month extended placement. She has completed her 4 years by doing the same tasks as everyone else in her cohort. She has studied alongside her mainstream counterparts but made a definite choice to specialise in SEN. Jenii has had extra training and focus upon SEBD, Autistic Spectrum, Profound and Multiple learning difficulties and much more. Through her own CPD she has studied more in depth behaviour management studies, Makaton and inclusion. In year 2 she completed a case study in a mainstream school based on a sensory room for children with SEN. This formed the basis of her dissertation. As you can see Jenii has studied far more SEN related strands than other students and this is precisely the type of training required for special schools.

So let’s look at her progress. When she arrived she was rated ‘good’. Her area for improvement was assessment. Her knowledge of AfL was a little lacking and she needed to focus on how to give feedback to pupils. Now, not only has she improved in this area she’s well and truly nailed it! I’ve just awarded her ‘outstanding’ for her assessment. She is a true master in this area and is a future assessment leader. In further praise of Jenii she can set learning objectives expertly as though she’s been doing it for years. She looks at prior attainment, works on her lesson content and returns to assessment to set suitable individualised and personalised targets for each child. No easy task when every child in the class has a separate objective. She is also able to take in to account the extent of their difficulties on the day and adjust her targets accordingly. A child on the spectrum having a serious meltdown will not achieve their original objective, Jenii has the skill to adapt it. Also, she is a good team player and works well with all the TAs. Again, this is a special skill. Not everyone can work effectively with 5 experienced TAs watching your every move. Every credit to her. Any more praise for Jenii I will save for her reference.

While Jenii has been with us she has had some extenuating circumstances to deal with and she has proved that she can cope well under pressure. As we all know teaching is a highly pressured job so this is a must. Her Mum had an operation and it was difficult for Jenii being away from home knowing that her Mum needed her. Also she was without a car for a few weeks. This added an hour’s bus journey to both ends of her day which must have been draining for her on top of all her planning and studying. A further occurrence which Jenii experienced was the loss of our much loved pupil. Our whole school was in mourning for him and Jenii held that class in place like a true professional despite her own grief. Again, difficult for any teacher, but for a trainee- well, simply marvellous.

I think I’m getting my point across now. Universities need to be offering placements for teachers with SEN specialisms. My student, part of the first cohort in a long time has proved it can be done. She has moved from a grade 2, rated ‘good’ to a grade 1 ‘outstanding’ with elements of good. I will be so sorry to lose her on Friday, she’s part of my team. I’m incredibly pleased to report that she has an interview for a post in a special school starting in September. That school will be lucky to employ this young lady. She’s a credit to herself and to her university.

Thank you UoC for developing this SEN specialism. Long may it continue!

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