“They rushed through the presentation on health and safety and there were no practical demonstrations or advice with managing behavioural issues.”
The trainees were told that behavioural escalations were “rare” and “not to be worried about” as they do not happen often.
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However, on Hanks’ first day he was “scratched, bitten and kicked” with no prior training on how to deescalate the situation and support the pupil while keeping himself safe.
He witnessed other staff experience similar incidents and, in one case, a teacher assistant was “knocked unconscious” – landing her in A&E.
Hanks also claimed that his senior colleagues seemed to laugh off his injuries and did not take them seriously. As a result of this, he felt unsafe, his mental health deteriorated and he felt extremely undervalued, leading him to leave the school after just one month.
Hanks believes these issues could have been avoided if staff had received some good quality training on behaviour management, as well as having a better vetting system during recruitment.
He did not feel like he was right for the role, in retrospect, and claimed that the agency that he was signed with was not entirely honest about the tasks he would be responsible for carrying out.
For Amelia Newley, a recently qualified primary school SEN teacher, the difference in support was vast depending on her employment status. She felt that she “had no support” when working as agency staff but once working at a school permanently she found her support dramatically increased.
Newley went from being “thrown in the deep end” to getting more one-to-one time with senior members of staff, learning about manual handling – this includes moving pupils from one place to another such as from a bed to a wheelchair – and receiving more training in personal care, with staff sometimes required to wash or dress individuals due to mobility issues.
Newley believes that agencies should be doing more to help new teachers settle in, for example having a representative to report back to at the agency or to go to for advice, or an online forum to seek out and ask questions with teachers who have been in the career longer.
One special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) from Somerset – who asked to remain anonymous – helps teachers who are responsible for disabled pupils. They said that there needs to be “good quality bespoke training courses for special needs and mainstream teachers that do not come with a cost”, and it should be given to every school rather than the case-by-case funding system that currently operates.
They also suggested that at the beginning of the academic year, new teachers should be offered a “two-week in-depth training course” learning about the complex needs of the children at that school and the best ways to support them.
They also said that having check-ins with older teachers acting as a mentor for the new teacher where possible would allow them that space to express themselves and come up with permanent solutions to the issues they may be experiencing.
There are loads of courses available. But it’s down to whether or not the school can afford them
The teacher also suggested an opportunity for new staff to shadow teaching assistants for the first few weeks and ticking off a document with practical things they have learned while shadowing, such as the best ways to calm each child down in the class when they get upset or which personal care needs they have.
Unfortunately, it does all come down to funding. “There are loads of courses available,” the teacher said, “but it’s down to whether or not the school can afford to give teachers the time off to go and do them.”
The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Department for Education have partnered up to create a project that involves peer-to-peer evaluation of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision in schools. This project is going to be rolled out in over 500 special needs and mainstream schools.
They have created a book that will help guide teachers in evaluating their send provision in their school and to measure how effective it is as well as planning bespoke strategies for the individuals with complex needs.
The full outcome of this project will not be known until the springtime of 2024 when the results will be reported on the EEF website, but it is a positive step in the right direction.
It will offer teachers a chance to talk about the day-to-day issues they are facing creating an opportunity for an open discussion on what needs to change.
Alison Foyle is a member of The Big Issue’s Breakthrough programme.