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.

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’.

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