Natural Wastage 

Another Drive Youth Trust blog I thought you might be interested in. TAs and redundancies.
The cuts in schools are deep. Despite the government’s reassurance that funding is higher than ever, all headteachers in the state sector will tell you that there is a financial crisis with some schools warning they may have to make up to 20 staff redundant.

A small study on Twitter showed a higher percentage in both primary and secondary schools making Teaching Assistants (TAs) redundant. Interestingly, however, many schools said they were using ‘natural wastage’. This is when a member of staff leaves but no one hired to take over. In a previous school the headteacher warned staff in September that any member of staff leaving would not be replaced unless absolutely necessary.
Where does this leave our SEND learners? They may be negatively affected in a number of ways: larger class sizes, fewer TAs, a lack of interventions by experienced, specialist staff and less supervision around break times and lunchtimes. Such cuts may make negligible marks on a typically developing student but those with greater needs, in conjunction with more stressed and overworked staff may mean difficulties for a school who has not thought through their provision properly.
It may not all be bad news; Education Consultant Anita Devi says she has led TA redundancies as a SEN senior leader and through planning and sensitivity, cuts were strategic and the effects of SEND learners minimal. Are some schools cutting TAs as a first choice with little thought of its impact however? Is it a false economy or a wasted opportunity? Are we expecting an already overstretched teaching staff to take on more work? Is there capacity in an emergency? Schools require flexibility for intensive support of a student in the short term which would then be slowly reduced as things got better. Such slack in the system allows cover for illness and unforeseen circumstances.
Inclusion is not all about the money, much is linked to the culture of the school. Well thought through deployment of TAs, efficient systems and an inclusive provision is what works (see our free Drive for Literacy toolkit as an example); money does however fund provision which allows the required resources to be successful.
A systematic and thought out process in schools which won’t negatively affect our SEND learners is vital: do we value them as much as our other students? This small survey showed redundancies of TAs and natural wastage is happening in times of cuts. While this may not always be a bad thing as Anita Devi highlights, it should be part of a thorough decision- making process. SEND is suffering in mainstream schools, we know this through exclusion data, an increase in students with SEN being home educated and the appalling lack of progress students make in school. Learners with difficulties must not be affected disproportionately because they deserve better and good provision saves time, energy and cost in the long run.
Natural wastage seems an unsavoury phrase but a fitting one if the worst-case scenario emerges from it.

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All schools are equal but some are more equal than others

I recently attended the Festival of Education at Wellington College and heard Amanda Spielman give a keynote.

I wrote this for The Driver Youth Trust.

Amanda Spielman, OFSTED’s new leader gave a rousing talk at the Festival of Education last week. She listed ways in which schools were gaming the system:  allowing students with EAL to take a GCSE in their first language rather than French, putting learners through the computer driving course to bump up league tables and teaching exam content five years before year 11 GCSEs. What she said made sense; let’s think of the students more and fixing the data less. Let’s give children a broad and balanced curriculum, rich in knowledge rather than one narrowly focussing on skills required to pass exams. Teachers across the country will be cheering her along every step of the way.

Amanda Spielman set out her stall and I was on the whole nodding in agreement.  Until she delved into the realm of SEND, that is. She said,

‘If you are putting more resources into providing exam scribes than in teaching your strugglers to read and write…you are probably doing your child a disservice’.

This was an attack on SEND teachers across the country showing a lack of knowledge in how schools run. Firstly, literacy teaching and scribes go hand in hand. A child who is struggling to read and write will have many interventions thrown at them through their school life but also, if they haven’t reached a standardised score of 85 by the time they are taking exams, then arrangements must be provided. This is stated in law under the Equality Act (2010).

By resources, I assume Spielman means training and TAs.  TAs are deployed to scribe for learners when they cannot show their knowledge to the best of their ability, not at the same time as teaching them to read and write but in tandem. By year 11, scribes are used for GCSEs and TAs are given a memory aid and brief training to ensure they are familiar with the rules.

Examples of students who require scribes (names have been changed):

Timothy has cerebral palsy. While he can read and spell in the above average range Timothy does not have the stamina or speed to write for lengthy periods. Timothy is doing A’Levels.  During his GCSEs he became frustrated with his scribes as they couldn’t write fast enough for him. The school provided and trained him in speech recognition software so he could scribe for himself. It was a perfect fit for Timothy and he got the grades required for university where he will continue to scribe using Dragon Naturally Speaking (if Timothy was doing his GCSEs he would now lose spelling marks for using a scribe despite the fact he can spell perfectly well).

Sandra is from a large family, all of whom have a range of special educational needs. Sandra says ‘I’m the lucky one, I just have dyslexia.’ It is severe however, and despite many interventions and specialist 1:1 instruction, Sandra’s literacy has improved but in no way reflects her attainment levels. Her spelling and decoding scores are within the lowest 10% of the population.  Sandra is predicted Cs and Bs in her GCSEs however and uses a reader and a scribe. She will lose spelling marks in her GCSEs for having a scribe.

Lee is a looked after child. His literacy scores are low enough to require both a reader and a scribe. He came to the school following a very troubled background and remembers more swings in back gardens than he does schools. Moved from local authority to local authority, care home to care home, the gaps in his schooling are huge. There is no diagnosis of dyslexia, lack of education is thought the cause. The school put in literacy 1:1 sessions for him but the lack of time from when he began this school to his GCSEs still mean that while he has made massive progress, he is eligible for a reader and a scribe. Lee will lose SPAG marks in his GCSEs.

To blame the school system for what is a legal requirement for learners with SEND is irritating. There are so many, more pressing injustices to highlight. Earlier in the day, I listened to Vic Goddard giving a talk on ‘The Inclusive School’. He told us the school down the road has an unofficial, ‘no SEND policy’ and encourages parents of children with SEND to go to Vic’s school instead where they ‘can better meet your child’s needs’. Let’s guess which school got the ‘outstanding’ grade shall we?

I heard NASEN’s CEO, Dr Adam Boddison, tell of a school who got an ‘outstanding’ judgement despite not having a SENCO (a legal requirement).  OFSTED knew this. He showed us damning figures on permanent exclusions of learners with SEND; home education for students with SEND is on the rise. The alarming picture shows that students with learning difficulties are not managing in the mainstream and schools such as Passmore’s get no acknowledgement for embracing these children.

The system is failing many learners with SEND in mainstream schools and there is no accountability. When Amanda Spielman spoke so eloquently of gaming in schools but ignored our SEND students, other than to take away their reasonable adjustments which are there by law, I can’t help feeling this neglected sector of society, those with the least resources available to them, are again hidden from policy maker’s eyes (highlighted in DYT’s  ‘Through the Looking Glass’ report). Something which gets in the way of ‘standards’ and platitudes. It is much easier for the narrative to be ‘teach the SEND out of them and cure them with literacy lessons’. SEND students are not going anywhere, we need to stop ignoring them and give them the tools to succeed. OFSTED must give schools incentives to value all learners and reward those who do inclusion well, not punish them or criticise them for giving children scribes.

If teachers feel embattled, as Hugh Dennis acknowledged when opening the Festival, then mainstream SEND ones are lying half dead in the bunkers. Told SEND doesn’t exist, expected to show impossible progress or accused of ‘dysteachia’ (the term coined by a few private tutors to explain why some students can’t read and write); it is always the teachers’ fault.

Let’s give ALL children a broad and balanced curriculum, rich in knowledge rather than one narrowly focussed on skills required to pass exams. But let’s not forget that OFSTED played a part in creating this culture. Like Benjamin in Animal Farm, I am sceptical. Will these shiny new promises amount to a significant shift in values for schools? Or will teachers just be beaten with a different stick? This new positive OFSTED would no longer be judging teachers on ‘how’ they teach, granted, but would they instead be inspecting ‘what’ they teach?

It seems at present that ‘Schools are all equal, but some are more equal than others’.

Treat the Need not the Label

Every few months a newspaper report comes along to claim ‘dyslexia doesn’t exist’ or ‘ADHD is made up’. Of course, this is usually a sensationalist version of a new report showing controversial research in the field. Yesterday, Tom Bennett wrote an article on the misdiagnosis of ADHD and dyslexia.

https://www.tes.com/news/school-new…r-dyslexia-and-adhd-are-over-diagnosed-crypto

For a SENDCo this can become tricky as teachers may begin questioning your advice citing this example from a ‘behaviour tsar’ as evidence. They would be right to question you, after all Bennett influences government policy, he must know what he’s talking about, right? This is my response.

It is perfectly valid to question the validity of diagnoses such as ADHD and dyslexia. There has been an increase in children with ADHD and medication such as Ritalin is being prescribed more. There are correlations with government policy (in US) and it is sad if normal behaviour is being pathologized. In contrast, figures for diagnoses of dyslexia in state schools is going down which appears to correlate with the reduction in Local Authority SENSS services. Dorset for instance, which still has a service has more dyslexia recorded than other counties who no longer have a service. You could, I’m sure find a similar picture in the quality of NHS services when assessing for ADHD. It’s complex, and it’s not perfect. 

But none of this should matter to the day to day practice in a mainstream, classroom. What would a teacher do differently if a child was diagnosed with ADHD compared to one who wasn’t?
As teachers we have no right to question a paediatrician even if we want to. We have no right telling a parent that we believe their child doesn’t have ADHD because a ‘behaviour guru’ told us that misdiagnosis is rife. We have no right to tell another teacher that if they just set some boundaries that the ADHD is likely to disappear. We have no right, morally or, as it happens, legally. 

We have no right telling a 15 year old who can’t read that the diagnosis of dyslexia isn’t true because it doesn’t exist. The Equality Act and the teaching standards mean that as a classroom teacher we must put reasonable adjustments in place to meet the needs of all our students, not just the typically developing ones.

This may seem harsh but it’s true. What we do have control over however is the classroom, our students, and their right to learn. We have the right to expect support from the leadership team, our SENDCo and outside agencies should we need it. All our children have the right to an education and we have the right to deliver it in whatever way we wish as long as we are meeting the needs of the class.

A professional teacher must be informed, know their students well and teach responsively. Where does the label come in? Well, only as a starting point. It’s part of an holistic picture of the child. It doesn’t matter if the child has ADHD or not. If she is exhibiting behaviour traits which seem similar them treat the need not the label. A child with ADHD is impulsive, struggles to filter out irrelevant information and can become easily overwhelmed. This is really useful information.

Let me give you an example of responsive teaching based on this. A child comes bouncing in from the playground. She’s been playing a game of ‘wee and poo’ with her friends. Not under adult supervision the children have been shouting wee and poo at each other and giggling. The bell goes; her typical friends find it easy to transition back into the classroom and ‘turn off’ the game, walking quietly into class, sitting themselves down and preparing for learning. The girl with ADHD however struggles to self-regulate; she’s still mentally in the game and runs into class blurting out ‘poo’. She’s immediately in trouble and is sent to sit away from the group. Becoming upset, the pupil screams at the TA who is trying to keep her away from the group and the incident escalates until she’s sent out of the classroom to prevent disruption to the rest of the class.

As a teacher, observing behaviour traits which appear similar to those of ADHD, I can anticipate this impulsivity. Putting my hand up to the little girl as a physical reminder to self-regulate. I then tell her playtime is over and it’s time for learning. She’s given a few minutes for the transition to ‘check in’ then I ask her to enter the classroom calmly for learning. 

It doesn’t matter if this child has an official diagnosis of ADHD or not, recognising behaviour traits and responding is the same, label or no label.

 

Moving on…

I’m leaving my dream job. 

Literacy Co-ordinator for DASP (a partnership of 12 first, 3 middle and 1 upper school in the Dorchester Area). 

Running an alternative curriculum for students who come out with me on Tuesdays.

Teaching yr 9 mixed ability English. 

SLE for the Dorset Teacher School Alliance.

And base leader of our specialist, LA funded, provision for students with speech and language difficulties. 

I love every element of my job, the comprehensive, Thomas Hardye School. the staff and the students. 

Why am I leaving? I said to the Head recently that I was having cold feet and how I wasn’t sure I’d made the right decision. He wisely told me that staff who felt like this were usually the ones who had done the right thing and that it was the teachers moving on with no mixed feelings he worried about more. 

But, the nearer to the end of term it becomes, the sadder I’m feeling about saying goodbye to the students and staff. I am also realising however that I have made the right decision. Much as I adore my job, I spread myself thinly and never quite feel I am doing any of my roles justice. I now know from my involvement with #WomenEd that I can strive for more, that I don’t need to think ‘it would be better if…’. I can dare to keep searching until I am in an even better job. I wanted to be able to focus on a single idea without distractions; I wanted to make a national impact rather than just a school one and I think I’ve found the place to do that in. I have dared to say out loud exactly what I want to achieve and not be concerned that I may sound arrogant, or listen to the voices in my head saying ‘who do you think you are?’. I’m done settling for ‘pretty good’, I want ‘nearly perfect’.
I was invited to join an expert advisory group scrutinising training materials for The Driver Youth Trust (DYT) and was struck by the insistence on including SEND alongside literacy. Their non-profit making values which had one aim; to improve education for children with poor literacy made me want to work with the DYT  as I knew I could have an impact.

After Easter I begin my new role and it’s very exciting. I want to empower teachers in mainstream to support students who have literacy difficulties and get the message across that some simple adjustments to classroom teaching can remove complex barriers to learning. 

The Driver Youth Trust provide free resources on their website. I know as a teacher that ‘free’ is a welcoming word so please take a look. Let DYT know what you think and if there are resources or advice you need, contact us. We’re listening. 
http://www.driveryouthtrust.com

Language Learning Impairment – the poor relation to dyslexia and autism?

Bishop 2015 Does a child’s diagnosis depend on professional seen?

Overlap of specific learning difficulties


After seeing this

Tweet which triggered this post.

 I glibly stated that I wanted to blog on Language Learning Impairment (LLI)/Specific Learning Impairment (SLI).

Do you know what it is? Perhaps you’ve heard of Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD)? If you have you may think it’s dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, ADD, dyscalculia or Autistic Spectrum Condition/Disorder ASC/D (used to be called Asperger’s or high functioning autism but now changed due to DSM-5) but not LLI. 

I’ll prompt you again, Speech and Language Therapy (SALT). Oh right yes, now I know what you mean. It’s speech problems, articulation? Or don’t SALT work with ASD and social communication? I think I may even have heard Complex Communication Difficulties used recently – what’s that? 

So, is LLI a communication difficulty?  
You can see the problem here…so many labels, many overlapping because it is the exception rather than the rule for difficulties to be pure – comorbidity is far more common; ASD with dyspraxia for instance or ADHD with dyslexia. Even the decision on diagnosis could be linked to which professional a student sees as shown in Professor Bishop’s slides above.

In the new SEN Code of Practice communication difficulties are described as Speech, Communication and Language Needs – SCLN – this is a catch all phrase and can mean various forms of difficulties in communication. 
Alternatively, it may be that a professional decides what the student’s primary need is, language disorder or autism? The really complex children are often a severe mix; so my students with speech and language difficulties will often struggle more if this co-occurs with ASD or dyslexia.

 It is also further complicated as language is the precursor to literacy. As an example I had two year 11 students whose language scores suddenly improved – it appears now they are soaking up phonics and their reading is improving rapidly. In the transition notes to college I have been very clear that they will need phonic based dyslexia support.

If you listen to SENDCos and specialists in schools across the country I’m pretty sure you’d hear the ‘ey’ diagnoses; ‘he’s a bit languagey’ or ‘she’s spectrumey ‘ – horrifying for psychologists  I’m sure!

Trends also show how certain labels fall out of use:  Asperger’s for instance and dysphasia are no longer officially used whereas verbal dyspraxia, attachment theory, sensory overload and auditory processing disorder are terms which seem to be common at present.

Returning to the above tweet however, LLI is one of the most common learning difficulties in mainstream schools yet possibly the least understood by teachers in both primary and secondary. It’s also had the least research which equates to less money spent on it. Language Learning  Impairment is the true hidden disability. 

SLI was until recently the preferred term but concerns that it suggested too narrow a group of children led to LLI which encompasses any child with language impairment regardless of underlying ability.

A crude comparison could be with dyslexia; whereas this signifies a set of behaviours linked to struggling with reading, writing and spelling, LLI behaviours are with talking and understanding language. These are expressive and receptive language difficulties. It is also possible to have strength in one and weakness in the other. 

LLI is at least as common as dyslexia and more common than autism. It’s expected that there is one student with LLI in every classroom (Bishop 2014).

A typical student in mainstream with LLI may have basic functional literacy (although not always) so does not get picked up by screening tests. Once a comprehension test is given, it may become more apparent but as these students often appear ‘typical’ and read and write OK, it’s not until you begin chatting to them individually that you start to see where the difficulty lies. They may even have hidden that quite well coming across as quiet or a bit rude, dismissive even and monosyllabic. Or perhaps, they’re quite chatty but don’t make much sense; I often say to teachers that these students may talk round a subject, never quite getting to the point. A good indicator is to ask yourself, what have they actually just said to me? If you struggle to work it out then there may be some language difficulties. Other students with LLI are often described as not listening, staring out the window, blank, in their own world. He or she might be incredibly frustrating as they never do what you ask, they clearly weren’t paying attention as what they’ve written has absolutely nothing to do with the task you set. Worse still they haven’t written anything.

The student may get into trouble in group situations, outside at break time or in class. They look guilty, they couldn’t explain what had happened whereas the other student was able to fluently describe the incident, the child with LLI just shrugged and walked off or was somehow appearing cagey so thought to be guilty.  

These are typical students with LLI. It is no surprise to learn that statistically, a student with language difficulties is more likely to end up in prison – perhaps they struggle to get out of tricky situations or may not have realised what they were being asked to do – everyone else has reacted quickly and run off. In the court room under cross examination, they become confused – it’s going so fast, so much language being fired at them – just as they’ve processed a question it seems another is asked, confusing them further. They appear truculent, aggressive yet are more likely to be frustrated and unable to react quickly. 

I’ve painted a depressing picture here haven’t I? It doesn’t need to be like this however, similar to dyslexia, although residual difficulties will remain in adulthood, the language deficit can be remediated through specialist support, by teaching language and offering strategies. By making reasonable adjustments in the classroom these students can thrive in a mainstream school.

Here are some tips

Time, time and more time – schools go so fast – but allowing the sudent with LLI just a little more time to answer a question of complete a task will make a lot of difference.

Visual visual visual – no, I’m not saying they’re a visual learner but when language is a barrier, using visual prompts can help to signpost activities for a student with LLI and trigger memory. By using images of the subject you’re discussing, it will help the student to link the information and categorise for storing. 

Modify language – for many students it is good to challenge them with extended vocabulary but for the student with LLI, it is the carrier language and phrasing which can confuse them. Try to concentrate on the knowledge you want them to learn and simplify the other bits of language. 
 Keep your sentences short and concise. Use simple language with the key words they need to learn.

Students with LLI may also need literal language, struggling to cope with metaphor and idioms. 

Break down instructions into small steps – you can get your TA to break tasks down with a tick box after each one. Chunk instructions and information.

Knowing that just because they’ve nodded at you does not necessarily mean they’ve understood is a vital skill for the teacher of a student with LLI. Asking them to repeat back what they have they to do is a useful strategy (but allow them time to do this).
Being sympathetic to language overload and spending 5 minutes with them explaining with some spot images (like bullet points but small pictures) can make a difference. 
Asking the student to repeat back what they have to do will help them.

Further reading 
Professor Dorothy Bishop researches and champions LLI. She is part of RALLI – raising awareness of language impairments (RALLIcam). There are many excellent YouTube clips. 

http://www.youtube.com/RALLIcampaign
Professor Bishop is also good to follow on Twitter @deevybee and her blog is one of the best out there. http://deevybee.blogspot.com/

Professor Pamela Snow (@PamelaSnow2) has influenced me and knows much about literacy and language (and phonics). Her blog, The Snow Report is here: http://t.co/sP2ewQ80YB. I think she has persuaded me to change my mind on a number of occasions too.
Susan Ebbel, a speech therapist, has created shape coding – it’s a visual strategy for grammar using shape and colour.
Stephen Parsons (@WordAware) has been a useful contact and has a great book. http://www.thinkingtalking.co.uk/

I Can Charity has many resources and knowledge on LLI (@iCANcharity).
@afasic is also an excellent source of information as is Communication Trust (@comm_ntrust).

NAPLIC is the association for language impairment in children.

There’s hashtags #LLI_ #SLpeeps and @WeSpeeches is a collective Twitter account for speech and language professionals. They often have useful chats on Twitter. Caroline Bowman as @speech_woman is another account to follow. 

M
Links

http://www.councilfordisabledchildren.org.uk/media/547918/sli_handbook_early_support-040413.pdf

No Excuses

When I watch those videos from the No Excuses schools in the US, I am scanning the room for the type of children I teach. The ones who have sensory difficulties; that really isn’t an excuse.  In fact it’s probably one of the most research heavy areas in SEND.

I see the ones who look slightly bewildered; that’s not an excuse either. The pace of some of the teachers chorusing would not be helping those with slow processing  or developmental language disorder.

And I see the eye tracking.  Eye contact is very difficult for some students with autism (also not an excuse) and I often ask teachers who say a child is never listening whether they’ve checked by asking them. Some students (often with ADHD in my experience) might be concentrating when they are not looking at the teacher. Others are really listening while playing with Lego or fiddling with play doh. In fact,sometimes I think that when you ask a child to look at the teacher it might be when she is listening the least: have they noticed the mole on an eyebrow? Are they looking at the detail of a patterned shirt?

And then I see the students who are not following the words to the songs, and the chants and the recitals because they can’t remember the words; they are pretending by moving their mouths but they’re out of sync with the rest. These are the ones that are just about coping. I wonder however about the ones who have walked out, sworn at the teachers, won’t sit still, won’t keep quiet, I wonder about them – where are they? They exist, I know they do.  

What makes it better for children who struggle is a differentiated curriculum, an understanding of their needs, strategies to recognise why they blow and places to go when they do. Reasonable adjustments are not excuses.  

Segregation – a collection of responses

Edu blogging and edu Twitter can be extremely rewarding at times but also nail bitingly painful. When you work in SEN, it can be difficult reading ignorant comments and hearing views from teachers who clearly believe students should be elsewhere. These ‘outclusionists’ have less idea where they should go just ‘away from me and my class’.

When  QT wrote a blog post claiming to be playing devil’s advocate, I thought actually, it was not provocative just prejudiced and in poor taste. So I wrote a rather ranty blog. I also questioned how ‘normal’ you have to be for mainstream a while ago.

What happened next was better however: the Titans of SEN began to respond. I’ve used this image before; over the brow of the hill came the voices and it made me burst with SEND pride that such professionals champion those with the least resources available to them. Here they are: 

Nancy writes beautifully but harshly on ‘Rose tinted spectacles’ giving some statistics which we should all read.

Simon writes an excellent post challenging the views that we all find ‘like minded’ people and suggesting teachers should be looking for solutions to mitigate difficulties.

Chris tells us how children can be learning opportunities for teachers and that investigating options as a teacher is rewarding.

Jarlath responded with an aspirational blog lamenting how some dwell on the deficit model of SEN rather than seeing students who have a lot to give and achieve. 

New to me is  Kate, who writes a positive post on inclusion based on real experiences which was a pleasure to read.

OldPrimaryHead ‘s stonking blog sums up the problem but also the solution – a decent head who believes in inclusion past test results.

And Sue reminds us, of course, that #Everychildmatters.

Lena writes an interesting post encouraging more understanding and commitment to inclusion. 

Why is inclusion so important? Read Jude ‘s post – it brilliantly destroys the prejudiced arguments in favour of segregation.

A post from Liane on how teaching students with SEN has made her a better teacher is one which will resonate with many.

Beth reminds to to look for triggers behind the behaviours and that segregation could be yet another knock back for some vulnerable children.

Cherryl gives some examples of students in special school and asks the question; should all children be in mainstream?

JordyJax tells us SEND is not going away and gives some very practical advice on spotting SEN in students causing difficulties in school. 

Rob compares the lack of funding for flood defences with inclusion and how the subsequent fall back costs far more – he’s right, we need more money and more accountability for students with SEN – provision is currently a lottery.

Bennie has written a fantastically moving tribute to teachers on why we teach  – the stats are shocking too.

Maryisherwood, a special school headteacher writes how inclusion is personalised and inclusion for one student may mean a special school and for another mainstream.

Matt, a parent should have the final Words which are in the comments section of QT’s post.