Segregation and Stereotypes 

QT
is trying to be controversial. – so was Toby Young when he called pupils with SEN troglodytes. 
But when does controversy actually become plain offensive? When does controversy perpetuate stereotypes of students with learning difficulties? 

And when does controversy forget that the group they are offending are children? And children with the least resources available to them? Children who may not be able to fight back? 
In my Speech and Language Base (students who access SALT and English but otherwise are educated in the mainstream) are learners who are quiet, studious and tremendously hard working against all odds. Despite the fact that school runs in fast forward for them, some of my students’ attendance records are excellent, behaviour exemplary and they crave quietness so they can concentrate. Yet to QT they are lumped with chair throwing pupils. Let’s be clear; they’re are many neurotypical chair throwers too.
So if we are to segregate by quiet and studious what is the other group? Loud and unscholarly? And are these all people with SEN ? I struggle with opinionated rugby players can we have a separate school for them?
Where does segregation begin and where does it stop? I find people often agree with such ideologies until they or their children are excluded. 
Worst of all, as segregation really is just the inclusion debate between mainstream and special school, no, worst of all is the gross generalisations made about those who the author wishes to segregate. Anyone who has agreed with the blog is complicit in reducing children with SEN to derogatory stereotypes which border on the grotesque. If you’ve met a child with SEN you’ve met one child. 
So no I’m not with you QT and I’d be really disappointed if anyone were. 

Segregation and stereotypes 

QT
is trying to be controversial. – so was Toby Young when he called pupils with SEN troglodytes. 
But when does controversy actually become plain offensive? When does controversy perpetuate stereotypes of students with learning difficulties? 

And when does controversy forget that the group they are offending are children? And children with the least resources available to them? Children who may not be able to fight back? 
In my Speech and Language Base (students who access SALT and English but otherwise are educated in the mainstream) are learners who are quiet, studious and tremendously hard working against all odds. Despite the fact that school runs in fast forward for them, some of my students’ attendance records are excellent, behaviour exemplary and they crave quietness so they can concentrate. Yet to QT they are lumped with chair throwing pupils. Let’s be clear; they’re are many neurotypical chair throwers too.
So if we are to segregate by quiet and studious what is the other group? Loud and unscholarly? And are these all people with SEN ? I struggle with opinionated rugby players can we have a separate school for them?
Where does segregation begin and where does it stop? I find people often agree with such ideologies until they or their children are excluded. 
Worst of all, as segregation really is just the inclusion debate between mainstream and special school, no, worst of all is the gross generalisations made about those who the author wishes to segregate. Anyone who has agreed with the blog is complicit in reducing children with SEN to derogatory stereotypes which border on the grotesque. If you’ve met a child with SEN you’ve met one child. 
So no I’m not with you QT and I’d be really disappointed if anyone were. 

Teaching Assistants 

I’ve been reading a lot about deployment of TAs recently the Keyinsights article
set me off and I’ve followed the great links to the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF)

and others. 
So, I’ve done some reading. 
I have also discussed this on numerous occasions with Twitter colleagues.
So I’ve sought opinions and advice. 
I think most would agree the following: 
1. TAs should be used effectively 
But what is effective? The EEF have 7 pointers which are superb.
2. TAs should be trained.
This is something our school and area partnership have been working hard to improve.
We had a day looking at 1:1 literacy interventions, we’ve done some assistive technology training and in February we’re having a whole day with a series of workshops looking at language, reading, spelling, phonics and writing. 
3. TAs should not be taking role of teacher, especially for those with learning difficulties where the gap between them and their peers is widening. 
This can be problematic – if a teacher wants to teach whole class they may ask TA to take an individual (usually in secondary) or a small group (more primary?) out to consolidate and reinforce information. 
I have no problem with this as long as the teacher is leading the learning. We must be sure TAs have been suitably trained to do this type of intervention however, sometimes they have more experience than teachers around SEN and working closely with the teacher can be a sublime relationship pushing the student/s on to make progress. 
We can however get this hideously wrong – a TA who doesn’t know how to teach phonics can do more harm than good and often with the very children who need specialist teaching the most. 
I’m afraid this is the fault of the teacher – they have abandoned this child and given full responsibility to the TA for the pupil/s with least resources available to them. 
I’d hope all would agree this is bad practice. 
What of the 1:1 TA who is with a child who has complex communication needs? 
This relationship is complicated. – the TA should have knowledge of the child’s need and know how best to include him or her into the mainstream using inclusive strategies. 
A best practice situation might be: 
Weekly planning with teacher – tweaking how and when child can cope in class and how they are accessing curriculum. 
In secondary, this is harder; while the student may have a key worker, it is likely a number of TAs will be involved and numerous teachers – how do we keep continuity and plan effectively for the student?
And the one for me which causes most angst is the student who, for social and emotional reasons as well as learning difficulties is only coping in mainstream secondary with a TA by their side. 
How can we maximise this relationship so it is constructive rather than destructive? Can we plan for the student to learn independently yet keep their anxiety at a level where they don’t shut down completely? 
If a student requires a sensory diet but also benefits from break times with their peers, how can we fit this into a full timetable? How can the TAs and teachers plan for this? 
These are questions I have no answers to. 
Then there’s the child who requires a scribe and reader? Does this mean they sit back while the TA does the work for them? Are they engaged? For some, the TA copying off the board or making notes for the student means he or she can concentrate on the content without their literacy putting a barrier up for them. For others however, have they learned helplessness and while the TA is scribbling away they are busy distracting others, completely disengaged?
Another problem for both teacher and TA to solve. 
When school has a student whose attendance is poor due to refusal, illness or mental health how should the TA be used in these circumstances? Continue to attend classes and make notes? Prepare resources to enable the student to catch up on their return? Act as a class TA to help others or, often in our case, ask the TA to help other students in other classes as sickness affects TAs too. 

Then there are Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs) who performance manage other TAs, take on other responsibilities such as small group interventions and literacy support. This work is done outside a mainstream classroom. 

I don’t think we’re getting everything right but I know I see some incredible practice between TAs and teachers. I also know we can improve the system but how? 
Communication is key but we struggle in the rapid, fire fighting environment we work in. Things change too- what works one week can be disastrous the next. An argument with another student or teacher can mean a student with difficulties is affected for weeks. 
The only way to keep improving is to keep checking, keep changing, trying new things but I’m also aware this can have an exhausting affect on teachers and TAs. Thank goodness they’re so adaptable – for to include our students with needs we have to to be flexible and make adjustments – we may not get it right all the time but sometimes, with these students no research has been done yet – the situation is a new one (even to me after 15 years) and we have to work within the parameters of knowledge,  experience and the structure of school. We might also think the unthinkable, sometimes it’s like trying to be creative in a tiny box and it is the TAs who can liberate us – we must use them wisely and effectively but as part of the system not as an alternative. 

Advice from a Think-Triumph Toledo 

It’s always a tricky one arguing against someone who says everyone should have a C grade in GCSE Maths and English. You’re immediately accused of saying literacy and numeracy doesn’t matter.

But I’m going to stick my neck out – partly because I’ve had a lovely holiday picking mushrooms and sea asparagus and have gone all tree huggy. 

The Policy Exchange has brought out a paper arguing for a transfer of funds from schools to FE if students don’t achieve a C in English and Maths. 

This, what is essentially a fine, disproportionally affects the schools who are struggling. Struggling to recruit teachers as it’s so tough, struggling to control students as they’ve got all the kids the ‘outstanding’ school up the road doesn’t want and struggling to stay positive with the perpetual cycle of inspections as they’ve been requiring improvement since forever. 

So they’re down; physically and emotionally. What happens? Along comes another think tank to tell them they’ll have to pay if their students don’t get Cs. 

Instead of telling them they’re doing a good job in difficult circumstances but could do even better with the support of a critical friend, they’re given another kick and told they’re letting down their local FE college who is bearing the brunt of their incompetence.

If we are getting to this, then the Heads might want to read my ‘Think-Triumph Toledo ‘ advice. 

Top 4 tips 

1. Start up a zero tolerance policy (this is guaranteed to make the students the pastoral team and/or SEN team work hard with to help cope in school become so anxious they’ll behave in a way which will be easy to exclude them). 

 2. Tell parents of children with difficulties that this probably isn’t the school for them because you concentrate on the academic – the school down the road would be far better at meeting their needs (this is because you care about them not your results).

3. Take students out of Design and Technology, Art, Drama, Textiles. Outdoor Education – any subjects that won’t affect statistics too much even if the students excel at them and give extra English and Maths lessons to try and get them that magic ‘C’ – for if they have that the world is their oyster (even if they did want to be the next Tracey Emin and needed Art to get into college).

4. Don’t worry about the why students aren’t getting grades – it’s irrelevant and any reason is just an excuse. You might think you care but actually you’re a victim of soft bigotry or an enemy of promise (depending on which MP was in charge at the time).

That should do it – no fines for you just lots for the school down the road – but there is no school down the road because you were it?  Oh don’t worry about that, it’s not your problem. 

#summer10

This is a lovely idea from @rlj1981 and I’ve enjoyed reading others’ so here’s mine:
Summer is very different to usual in our family because we’re in the process of renting our town house out and renting a big house in the middle of a forest – this means no more strolling into town or popping to onestop for milk; it also means money will be tighter so efficiency and organisation is my Summer theme.  

1. Move into house and get straight – have a place for everything – even if I never see it again.

2. Go camping – even if for a curtailed trip due to move- kids love it and I need to see my Larndarn mates. 

3. Sort garden but don’t beat myself up about it – research easy forest gardens for the best visually but with the least amount of effort. Find out about meadow lawns to save us having to mow it – or buy a goat?
4. #womened and #literacy are two projects I want to continue with through the Summer.

5. Crack Internet shopping with Tesco and end my love affair with Waitrose.

6. Crack Internet banking – get rid of random direct debits to services I never use – take control and check regularly – no more unopened letters and tra la la banking mentality.

7. Buy 1 dog, 5 chickens, 1 goose and two pigs.

8. Create a useable system with kids to help round (scarily large) house – ‘tidy Friday’, taking plates up to sink (ignore their protestations that I am using them for child labour).

9. Try to enjoy the Summer and #notice things (from #teacher5aday) rather than running around shouting at everyone – attempt to be *that* Mum who appears relaxed, happy and actually likes her kids.

10. Commune with nature – I can now recognise a Nuthatch and a Green Woodpecker and last night we saw a badger.

I wrote this tucked into a corner by the pond in our new house where I can get wifi – enjoy Summer y’all – I’m off to commune with nature (well after coffee and a quick row on Twitter that is)….

  

7 books by women, not men, to improve your teaching 

The wonderful Peps McCrea (aka half of @staffrm) recently published a post recommending 6 books on education. I’m afraid my #genderedcheese ears pricked up as they were all male. Peps agreed and we asked for some recommendations from the Twitter hive mind.

Peps’ list is now 7 including Daisy Christodoulou which is a small step for womankind. 

I know, I’m never satisfied but it seemed a terrible shame to waste the other recommendations so here they are:

1. Pimp my Lesson – Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkman

 
 2.   Teacher Geek by Rachel  Jones  

 

3. Getting the Buggers to Behave by Sue Cowley 

 4. Of teaching, learning and Sherbert Lemons by Nina Jackson 

 

  5. Lesson Planning Tweaks for teachers by Melanie Aberson and Debbie Light 

 

6. Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks

 

7. The Learning Brain by Sarah Blakemore and Uta Frith

  
  

@Sue_Cowley has also written a great list  of women edu writers and @DamsonEd  and I came up with 2 posts on recommendations for Literacy Leaders here and here.

The Last Post (on this anyway)

I’m responding to this where @thinkreadtweet replies to a blog I wrote about dysteachia.

We’re in danger of playing ping pong at who is the most successful at teaching children to read I know. But @thinkreadtweet says children with low intelligence cannot be taught to read and I vehemently disagree.  I’ve taught lots of students with SEN to read in special schools, FE college and in mainstream. To imagine children of a lower IQ can’t learn to read would be dreadful – I’d definitely be marching to a different tune if this were the case.

The trouble is when you attempt to highlight the exception rather than the rule you can get backed into a corner with a seemingly ridiculous stance:

‘No-one can read, there is nothing we can do for the poor loves’

The other side, the ones who insist everyone (who is clever enough) can read and dyslexia does not exist, become the do gooders.
‘I am challenging the low expectations of teachers who refuse to help these poor souls, this soft bigotry is why there’s an achievement gap between rich and poor – it’s not dyslexia it’s dysteachia bla bla’

I’ve had similar discussions regarding synthetic phonics. 

Me: ‘obviously phonics is an evidenced base route to reading but it’s not so simple – reading is complex, 50% of early vocabulary is irregular, oral language is key, analytic phonics really helps many children and we need familiarity of exception words. Creating a high stakes phonics check for year 1 teachers where the success of it is linked to their pay may mean a disproportionate amount of time is spent on learning how to decode ‘jound’ rather than immersing children into a language rich environment surrounded by real books (OK I went on a bit there).

Them: “Heretic – phonic denialist – you and your soft bigotry is why this country is riddled with illiteracy – it’s teachers like you who have caused the massive gap between the rich and poor’.

And so it goes on…

Progressive = Blob

Traditionalist = Tory 

Knowledge curriculum = Rows and Rote

Discovery Learning = chucked in a swimming pool when you can’t swim

I know we are getting into a cyclical argument of doom here so, I will correct a few inaccuracies in @thinkreadtweet’s post, watch Monty Python, then go to bed.  I’ve no doubt we will have to agree to disagree after this.

Firstly, my post where this all started suggested (for an articulate boy with dyslexia) a 1:1 systematic and cumulative reading programme alongside being taught with his typically developing peers in a mainstream English class. I did not say he wouldn’t learn to read but implied that putting him in a bottom set for English with students who, although read better than him, did not understand as well as him, was not addressing his specific needs.  

Secondly, Professor Julian Elliot never said discrepancy does not exist; he argues that using this as the sole marker for dyslexia, as a model, is unscientific and discriminatory. The Rose report showed that dyslexia can affect students across the ability range and cannot be identified via a pure discrepancy model but by deficits in phonological awareness, short term memory and rapid automatic naming. This does not however mean that there are no students who will have a disparity between their cognitive ability and reading/spelling. Of course these students exist! (And I imagine these are the ones Andrew was referring to when discussing non-responders).

Thirdly – Assistive Technology is not just for the physically disabled – what nonsense. There are many students (and lecturers) with specific learning difficulties at university using equipment such as Dragon Dictate.

Fourthly – when I write a post encouraging people to go to university despite having difficulties with reading and writing, how can that be low expectations? Especially when the other student I used as an example was going to be excluded because his dyslexia was ignored. 

As I repeatedly say, reading can be taught but many with dyslexia will still suffer from a lack of fluency or poor spelling – it is a life long condition. We try our hardest nevertheless to remediate the deficits.