As requested on Twitter, posted as is. Hope it’s of use to someone!
Things moved on since I wrote this, and I wasn’t able to implement the changes that I had hoped.
A critical analysis, evaluation and comparison of the strategy, policy and practice for an aspect of inclusive education within two diverse schools
I am going to consider the research I have done around the area of need that has identified in school, how another, very different, school handles this, and what we hope to do to move things forwards in school.
Summary of the focus area of the SEND development project
Currently, our learning support assistants are used in class as directed by the teacher and also for some small group intervention work around protective behaviours, precision teaching and emotional/social issues. The school also has two pastoral managers who support children and families in need.
The aim of the project is to look at how another school uses their learning support assistants to support families and students with additional needs – and to see if there are things that we can do to improve the levels of support that we give.
Currently, it is felt that we support our parents/carers well when they ask for help, but we don’t always know when that is. I would like to investigate ways of offering support to all of our parents/carers.
A successful project will give ideas of ways to re-distribute learning support assistant time to be able to support more of our families and so ensure better success rates for all of our students. The outcome hopefully will be that parents/carers feel better supported with any problems that their child is having and that by putting the support in earlier that problems will not escalate to crisis point as they sometimes currently do.
Summary of placement visit
The school I visited has approximately 700 pupils on roll and is a mainstream secondary school in a deprived area of the city.
They call their learning support assistants ‘Associate Teachers’ – a term that could be seen to be giving more status to those carrying it than is strictly necessary, as it implies a level of qualification that may not be present – and these staff act as a combination of teaching assistant, learning mentor and cover supervisors. They work with students and their families around issues related to attendance, behaviour and/or progress. They have a responsibility to monitor the attendance of those students that they are identified as being the key worker for on a daily basis. In theory, the service and support is available to all students and families, but in reality they work with a select, needy few. They look into behaviour issues with students, working across the whole school. They do more intervention work than just whole class support. They are given students to work with one a one to one basis and also run weekly small group sessions, dependant on the work that is being undertaken in class and the identified need of the students.
They have several facilities to enable their students with additional learning needs to succeed. There is an on site, PRU like facility which is small and isolated from rest of school. It is attended part time by KS3 pupils, while KS4 pupils are there two days a week and educated off site on the other three days. It is predominately for those students who struggle with their behaviour, and is managed by an Associate Teacher while teachers from main school come down to deliver lessons. There are no more than ten students accessing the facility at any one time. They also have a Foundation Learning area, which is a suite of rooms for Y7 -Y12 students who need additional support in lessons and were not able enough to cope in the main school. They are educated in one room by one teacher for their day, moving up through foundation learning with class group. There is some scope for moving in and out of the system but this seems rare. Even though they have small class groups and Associate Teacher support, students are still expected to do the appropriate qualifications.
At that school education is the key priority, with Associate Teachers being given the task of skilling students to be able to learn. This might involve one to one catch up sessions for a student who has been absent, extra reading for a student who is struggling or some work around how to behave appropriately and get ready for learning. They also spend a lot of time teaching parents/carers to be parents, often working with them for a year before suggesting they undertake ‘triple p’ positive parenting courses (P, 2014). All of the Associate Teachers are contracted to work an hour after the end of the school day in order to be able to manage the pastoral side of their work.
The school also has access to an Occupational Therapist one day a week, with an Associate Teacher working alongside her to be able to help the students to develop their skills during the rest of the week.
Critical analysis of the reading/literature on this area.
Although there has been a lot of research around the use of additional adults to support students in the classroom, there doesn’t seem to have been a lot around the impact of the use of adults to support them and their families outside of the classroom.
Peter Blatchford et al (Blatchford, Webser, & Russell, 2011) carried out extensive research in how teaching assistants were being used. Key points from the report included
- The students who received most support from teaching assistants (TAs) made the least academic progress
- All staff need to be aware of the wider pedagogical role model – TA preparedness, deployment, practice
- Teachers need to share planning with TAs and direct them well for maximum effectiveness
- TAs should be working more with more able students while teachers are with less able
- It is not always helpful to have TAs staying to work in the classroom with small groups
- TAs should be encouraged to talk to students at appropriate times – sometimes it is appropriate not to talk and they don’t always know when this is
- Teachers don’t always have enough time to plan/share with TAs or for feedback and this is really important for all involved
- TAs have positive impact on pupil attainment when they are specifically trained and prepared for curricular interventions
- The majority of TAs only have GCSE (or lower) education. Does the perceived poor pay structure stop better educated people applying for the job?
- TAs need to become accountable for pupil outcomes as well as teachers. They also need to remember that they are there to help promote independence, not do the work for the students.
It should be noted that there were no designated Special Schools included in this study.
The second piece of literature supported some of those claims (Maggie Balshaw, 2002). There were concerns regarding the lack of appropriate training for TAs, a discussion about the name – should it be Teaching Assistant or Learning Support Assistant? A name is important in how people view the role. It also noted that TAs are mostly female and with very few qualifications.
Another article, again focussing on mainstream schools, was published in 2009 (Alison Alborz, 2009). It appears to be more positive about the role that TAs can have in the classroom, suggesting that sensitive TAs can facilitate engagement in learning and social activities although they are not so good at supporting students with behavioural and emotional problems. It identifies that the use of TAs allows teachers to engage with smaller groups and individuals but that too much reliance on TAs can hinder student interaction. It also acknowledges that TAs need to be well trained and supported to be most effective and that they are best used when supporting discrete, well defined areas of work on particular aspects of learning and are most effective when part of the staff team.
Summary of policy analysis including how the practice in my school and my placement school links to the policy on SEN in each setting.
The most obvious difference between the policies is that the other school goes into detail regarding the different levels of need as identified in the previous Code of Practice, and how students are identified as having an SEND, whereas since we only accepts students with a statement the levels and identification are somewhat unnecessary.
Both schools aim to work with the five points of the Every Child Matters agenda which is reflected in the policy documents. Both also list the multitude of agencies that they are in contact with to support students in times of need.
We have a whole school SEND ethos communicated throughout the document, whereas the other school makes and identifies specific arrangements for the majority of its students with SEND in the policy. The other school identifies the role of the SENCO, whereas for us the expectation is that all members of the Senior Leadership Team take some responsibility for the progress of the students at their school. It also gives more information about the types of CPD that are available to staff.
From an earlier word cloud analysis, it is clear that both schools have children at the heart of the policy, along with support and learning. There is a greater focus on ‘needs’ in our policy, but as a special school this is to be expected – all of the students who attend the school have a statement of special educational need and a diagnosis of at least a moderate learning disability, including autistic spectrum disorders. Provision and intervention feature strongly in the other cloud, while curriculum and parents/carers are more important in our cloud which suggests that we are more focussed on working with parents/carers to improve the chances of their youngsters, while the their policy is concerned with outlining the various provisions available for their pupils with SEND.
Practice in my school
As a special school, the majority of our Learning Support Assistants (LSA) are deployed full time in the classroom, working alongside the class teacher and supporting small groups of students with their learning. Our LSAs are on a wide range on contracts, some of them only work school hours, some of them start half an hour before school in order to ensure the students are safe between being dropped off by parents/carers and minibuses and the school day starting, and others continue work for ninety minutes beyond the end of the school day, mostly doing admin tasks for teachers. This leads to a disparity in quality as some attending training sessions and others don’t. We also have a number of Higher Level Learning Support Assistants (HLLSA) who deliver some lessons and support students through interventions such as precision teaching (to improve their literacy skills) and protective behaviours (to teach students ways of ensuring their personal safety). Additionally, three of the HLLSAs have a pastoral support role, being the first point of contact for issues such as attendance, behaviour, referrals to outside agencies and monitoring Looked After Children. In this respect, they work well alongside the SENCo, complementing the work that is being done around whole school inclusion issues, but often having the time to get to know the families of students better.
Practice in my placement school
As mentioned earlier, the placement school has a range of in school provision for students who have been identified as having special educational needs, including provision for students with challenging behaviour and for those who find learning more difficult.
All of the Associate Teachers are key workers for identified families and so they all have very similar roles in supporting those families and students. Those that have slightly different roles are those in charge of the pru type unit – who have to co-ordinate the provision and those who work in the Foundation Learning provision who have a more classroom based role supporting students who find learning difficult. They are also all employed for ninety minutes after the end of the school day, in order to let them continue to make contact with families and to have some administration time which does not take them away from working with students during the school day.
An overview of future plans
In order to increase the amount of pastoral support available to students and their families, it is important initially to identify the LSAs who work longer hours and have the capacity to take on more of a pastoral role. A conversation with those LSAs would be needed about a potential change of role, and those who are interested would be encouraged to write a letter of application explaining what skills they have that would make them suitable for the role.
Once staff have been appointed to the role, it would be necessary to identify any training needs, such as protective behaviours, mentoring or a course from Citizen’s Advice Bureau. The students and families who might need more pastoral support for example around improving attendance or support for dealing with challenging behaviour would also need to be identified.
Once students and their families have been allocated to LSAs, the staff key worker would need to be given time to talk to other staff involved in the pastoral care of these students, to take on the caseload and to develop links with the families.
In order to monitor the effectiveness of the provision, it will be necessary to track the attendance and behaviour of students in the target group and see how they change over time. Behaviour at home will also need to be monitored to see if any outside agencies who have been involved have also been effective.
After two terms, the whole process will need to be reviewed to see if it has had a positive impact and if so, to identify further staff who would be able to get involved in the project.
Alison Alborz, D. P. (2009). THE IMPACT OF ADULT SUPPORT STAFF ON PUPILS AND MAINSTREAM SCHOOLS. London: DCSF. Retrieved from http://collections-r.europarchive.org/tna/20090101050941/publications.dcsf.gov.uk/eorderingdownload/dcsf-eppi-09-01.pdf
Blatchford, P., Webser, R., & Russell, A. (2011). Challenging the Role and Deployment of Teaching Assistants in Mainstream Schools: The impact on schools. London, UK: Institute of Education. Retrieved from http://www.teachingassistantresearch.co.uk/the-edta-project/4581706629
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