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SEN debate: an audience with Lorraine Petersen

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Here at The Key, we hold termly debates on current issues in the education sector. It’s a chance for all of us to engage with an exciting, high-impact or controversial topic and consider how it might affect how you run your schools on a daily basis. Sometimes we think a bit more philosophically. We can be quite opinionated as individuals – so it’s always a good way to let off steam.

Previously, we’ve argued about the value of PISA and its influence on policy making in this country. About a year ago we asked ourselves what performance-related pay would mean for teacher morale and whether it would impact on children’s attainment.

[caption id="attachment_1057" align="aligncenter" width="480"] Lorraine Petersen is the former CEO of Nasen[/caption]

Last week, we looked at the SEN reforms – due to take effect this September. This time we invited Lorraine Petersen, formerly CEO of Nasen, to our office to lead our debate. Lorraine gave us a whirlwind tour of the reforms – and made much of the replacement of behavioural, emotional and social difficulties with social, emotional and mental health needs. A sure step in the right direction, I think and it represents a realisation that challenging behaviour is very often an expression of an unmet need.

We then moved onto our three main questions for the morning – as designed by our pupils and parents researchers. We split into three teams, each consisting of a for and against group. Team one discussed Nasen’s Every Teacher Campaign which promotes quality-first teaching for all pupils. Every classroom teacher is responsible for the progress of each child in the class. Support for pupils with SEN, Nasen says, mustn't be the work of teaching assistants only.

The group debated whether these claims make demands on teachers that are reasonable. To make it more interesting, we put Lorraine in the ‘against’ group – and made her criticise her own policy – teachers cannot be expected to support every pupil with varying needs in all classes. It turns out her actual opinions are pretty persuasive though, and after deliberating both sides of the argument the group concluded that every teacher should be a teacher of every pupil. But teachers need much better training to achieve this – both during ITT and throughout their careers.

Team three looked at the place of special schools in this country – the ‘against’ group maintaining that if all teachers can teach all pupils there’s no longer a need for special school provision. A bit of an extreme contention - and it fell to Ed to carry this argument. Despite his spirited defence of an all-inclusive approach, he was unanimously defeated. Sam’s experience as a governor of a special school made for a compelling argument – there are always going to be children whose level of needs cannot appropriately be met in a mainstream setting.

In our closing Q&A session, Heather (one of our researchers on The Key for School Governors) asked Lorraine what was the best bit of the new Code. “The new 0-24 age range, without a doubt”, she said. “Too many 16 year olds previously just fell off the cliff when they left school”. “And what’s the most problematic aspect?" "The timescale”.

What are your favourite parts of the new Code? Are you a teacher affected by the Every Teacher Campaign? Let us know by leaving a comment below.


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