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Early Identification, Upskilling and Relationship Building – Key Factors in Supporting Children with SEND

Rachel Gelder writes exclusively for Curia on the SEND review and Schools Bill
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Rachel Gelder

Associate SENCo/Dyslexia Specialist/Co-Founder of LDIGS

Rachel Gelder is a Dyslexia Specialist who served as a notable panellist on Curia’s Dyslexia Commission inquiry session on SEND Review and Schools Bill.

The child must be placed at the centre of any discussion and planning for the future. The SEND review concluded that there is a real disparity in how children’s needs are identified and supported and that crucially this should not be dependent on where they live, or which setting they attend. The national funding formula proposed by the Schools Bill will go some way to addressing this disparity, however funding aside, it is the widely differing experiences of children at the school/classroom level which really have an impact.

The importance of early identification

Early identification of need is key to the success of children who need to learn differently, such as those with dyslexia, not only in terms of academic achievement but also in terms of self-esteem. All too often, children fall under the radar, only to come to the attention of staff later in their schooling, when they are then struggling with SEMH issues on top of their difficulties with learning.

As discussed during the panel session, early screening of all children for dyslexia, would ensure that those with dyslexic type difficulties are identified and supported appropriately. However, this is with the caveat that there is consistency of method and that staff are trained appropriately to interpret the results. A formal diagnosis is not always necessary, particularly at the primary school level, however screening of all children would help to identify those who would benefit the most from having their difficulties investigated further, ensuring that their needs are highlighted in the critical transition information passed on to their next school.

The need for upskilling

The upskilling of all those involved throughout a child’s education is imperative. I delivered training alongside a SENCo to a group of recently qualified teachers entitled ‘SEND in the classroom’. Much of the day was around highlighting what neurodiversity looks like in the mainstream classroom and how children with dyslexia and other co-occurring difficulties might present. It soon became clear that all of those present had very little prior knowledge (for example, just one session linked to SEND throughout their training) apart from an attendee who was the parent of a child with SEND. One even commented that she was ‘almost scared of SEND’ as she felt that she was unprepared. The day was also about equipping these teachers with the tools of how to make theirs an inclusive classroom. Again, this highlighted a lack of knowledge, such as around the variety of assistive technology available to support children.

This upskilling of staff needs to go beyond those working directly with children in the classroom. All staff, from the SLT down need to feel that they have an informed grasp of SEND issues, as do those supporting schools in their decision making and inspection. The old adage ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes’ applies here. To really understand that child and support them you must understand their experiences, challenges, thought processes and therefore way of learning.

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Building strong relationships

Having time to build relationships with not only parents but also the professionals (from the NHS as well as in education) involved with children with SEND is crucial. Staff need to be equipped with the skills to network, exchange information and have what are often difficult conversations with parents around SEND issues. In addition, many SENCo’s have a teaching role which prevents them from having the time to develop relationships and build trust. In 2018, the National SENCO Workload Survey* found that over half of SENCo’s reported that they have teaching responsibilities in addition to their SENCo role and worryingly nearly three-quarters of SENCOs stated that they do not have enough time to ensure that pupils on SEN Support are able to access the provision that they need. If SENCo’s are not afforded the time they need to carry out this crucial role in school and those working directly with children on a daily basis are not equipped with the skills to identify and support effectively, how many children will slip through the net?

Curia’s Dyslexia Commission Report

Curia’s Dyslexia Commission will be launching its Annual Report in the weeks to come. Entailing insights from experts ranging from The Department of Education, The British Dyslexia Association, Members of Parliament, and independent headteachers and SENCo practitioners, the report disucsses the following 4 areas.

  1. Reducing Inequalities
  2. Coordination of Care
  3. SEND Review and Schools Bill
  4. Working Age Adults

You can find videos to all inquiry sessions on Chamber UK’S Youtube Channel.

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