117,757 children in mainstream primary schools with an EHCP (Education Health and Care Plan) and 629,184 children reported as requiring SEN support, without an EHCP. That totals 16% of the 4,647,851 head count of children currently in our mainstream state funded nurseries and primary schools. (Gov.uk)
With training for teachers on SEND currently totalling one day of a PGCE year, how does this support our teachers to have the knowledge, skills and foundational points of reference? How does this enable our teachers to provide the enabling, supportive, neuroaffirming spaces our children need? Therefore, how does this provide school experiences for our children that will support them to thrive?
Cry for help
I’ve spoken to many teachers who are so dedicated to meeting the needs of our children but who are reaching out for more support and training as they feel they are not providing the best for our children that they know they deserve.
I’d love to support more, train more, upskill more and ensure all our children are heard, understood and accepted. Where simple accommodations and adaptions can be made that allow their uniqueness to shine.
A little while ago I recorded a podcast with the SEND Network and spoke about messy classrooms being the best classrooms and I thought I would use this blog to explain what I meant a bit more.
Inside the classroom
Imagine 24 children in a reception or year 1 classroom sat on the carpet, sat complying with the ‘rules’ of carpet time, all with their ‘listening ears’ on ‘eyes on the teacher’ and sat eagerly awaiting the teachers input for phonics.
Not reality. Not for everyone. Not inclusive. Not neuroaffirming.
What does messy look like?
Georgie at the back of the classroom stimming. Flapping her hands, pacing with the odd squeal of excitement as the teacher plays the corresponding song for the ‘S’ sound as this is her favourite. The teacher smiles and validates her input.
Hasnain is sat on a chair at the back of the carpet wearing a pair of ear defenders. He wants to join in, is happy to join in but the teacher knows that because of his sensory needs he can’t sit too close to the other children. The ear defenders ease the sudden noises and unpredictable excitement of the children on the carpet in front of him. These enable him to feel safe during the activity.
Jake indicates to the teaching assistant that he needs a sensory break, for him the teacher input has gone on too long and he needs to move. He uses the self regulation cards that have been made for him and he knows a movement break will help him to regulate and refocus. He leaves the classroom with the TA, and after 5 minutes, he returns to the carpet.
Connor is standing, not sitting for carpet time. Whilst standing to the side of the carpet he is pushing his whole body against the storage unit and spinning a fidget tool in his hands. He is engaged and puts his hand up to answer the teacher’s questions.
Emily is he other side of the carpet, bouncing on an exercise ball, bouncing up and down and spinning. She is quiet, calm and will often raise her hand with the right answer.
Joe is shouting out every answer with pure joy and excitement because phonics is his special interest. With every answer he shouts out, the teacher gently and calmly asks him to write the answer on his white board and hold it up rather than shout. After 4-5 attempts, he manages to do this.
Ben has with him a close up visual of the phonics presentation on the board. He has coloured overlays so the letters stop jumping across the page, he is sat near the teacher who can point to where they are in the presentation. He is not singled out to answer a question, but the teacher will always ask if he puts his hand up and offer an abundance of praise and always a high 5 and any confident response he makes.
What do you see?
Just picture it. Children not following the rules, children being distraction to others? Other children wanting to ‘do the same because its not fair’, or children not complying? Carpet time rules not being adhered too, the teacher not in control of the class? Poor classroom management?
Or do you see children who are in a safe learning space, where their needs are met with effective adaptions and accommodations. Where they are learning and joining in, where they can be their true authentic self. Where they are not being forced to comply with rules that just don’t make any sense and through the forcing of compliance to these rules, they mask. And do you see a knowledgeable, neuroaffirming teacher who understands children’s differing neurodivergent profile and has the skills set to meet and cater for differing learning support needs.
The rest of the class are aware of the needs of each of their friends. The narrative in the classroom from day one from their teacher has been about difference and acceptance, equality and equity. The children know that its ok for Emily to be bouncing on her ball and this helps her to join in with them, they know that they are required to sit on the carpet because they can and are able, but that Connor needs the deep pressure from pushing against the cupboard to help him concentrate.
These are the teachers we need. These are the classrooms our children need.
This is where our children thrive.