I’ve spent many years caring for children and young people in both home and childcare settings before I entered into the world of teaching. Back in the ’90s I spent at least seven of those years working with young people with SEND. I’ve had the privilege to care and support some amazingly resilient young people who for one reason or another could no longer live within their family home. During this time I encountered a range of attitudinal barriers towards them. As their carer and advocate I’ve had to deal with these situations due to them being profoundly disabled and with limited communication skills.
Now seven years into teaching within Further Education, I find myself wondering if things have improved for our young people with SEND? Once they have left the security of their special school or support in mainstream some choose to enter FE. Not only will they be entering a different learning environment, they will also be dealing with that sometimes awkward transition from child to adult.
Those of us who teach know that no matter the age of a child, they can be cruel to others that they deem ‘different’ from themselves. I think as a teacher it gets harder to deal with once the students get older, as one assumes they should by now have a better understanding of what is morally right and wrong. My question is, will this ever improve? We can teach our students those ‘British values’ and give them ‘put yourself in their shoes’ opportunities, but if they are going home to negative attitudes towards those with SEND, will we ever break that cycle?
A few years ago I taught adults with SEND for a local council. These courses were based round developing independent living skills and understanding different relationships. Often the challenges they found were attitudes toward them, being taken advantage of and struggling to find employment. Further to this they had also expressed their concerns when they had entered FE settings. Sadly they had found it quite a daunting experience, primarily due to the size of the setting. Which was why they had chosen a more discreet adult learning course within the community. My groups were no more than ten and often the students that required support had to juggle weekly with the decision of their support helping them come to my session, or choosing them to help attend another weekly activity. Sadly as you can probably guess this was down to government cut backs on funding. I also found that it was important to ensure my lessons did not clash with school finishing times. Some of them accessed public transport and were keen to avoid being on the same bus due to the way they were treated.
This was only in 2009 and I don’t believe for one minute that things have drastically changed. If it has, please do say. So thinking back to my time both working in the care sector and adult learning community, I wonder if more could be done to help remove these attitudinal barriers? Are we really doing enough? Maybe if we could work a little harder and conjointly on some areas, we might start helping improve outcomes for our SEND students?
Start from the beginning
I know some local primary settings have worked in partnership with local SEND schools and children have mingled and swapped classroom environments. However I know from personal experience that although the children are more than happy to participate in this initiative, it is often the parents that are the ones with the issues. I’ve overheard in the past parents discussing why they are refusing to let their children take part in the initiative, because “they might catch something!” So although it is a good idea to help young children explore each other’s learning environments and break down those barriers. We also need to educate their parent/ carers too.
Liaise with all feeder schools
From an FE point of view I think we need a more consistent approach to liaise with all local schools. We need to understand the educational environment they are used to and they need to understand what education is like in an FE environment. Without doing this how can we help improve outcomes?
Zero tolerance from the start
We all carefully plan our induction week in our colleges and want it to be a positive introduction into FE. In addition to this we are also mindful that we do not bombard our students with a list of ‘dos and dont’s’. However, I think right from the start a greater emphasise needs to be given to attitudes towards one another. I know the focus in FE this year has been based round British Values and Protect, but maybe we need to go right back to basics?
These are just my own personal observations. If anyone has anything further to add or say please do so in the comment section.