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The Need for Systemic Change in Education in the UK

As a dedicated teacher in the U.K., my passion lies in nurturing young minds and helping every child reach their full potential. However, the reality of catering to the diverse needs of students, particularly those with Special Educational Needs (SEN), within the constraints of the current education system, is a daunting challenge. I will tell you why we need systemic change.

The Need for Systemic Change in Education in the UK

Teaching is My Passion, But the Struggle is Real

Navigating the complex landscape of Inclusion and SEN provision in British classrooms is an uphill battle. Limited resources, overcrowded classrooms, and a lack of specialised training often leave teachers feeling ill-equipped to provide the individualised support and high expectations that SEN students require. We find ourselves torn between meeting the demands of the curriculum and addressing the unique needs of each learner, we desperately need systemic change.

The Emotional Toll on Pupils and Teachers

Beyond academic challenges, supporting the social-emotional development of SEN students is a critical aspect of our role as educators. Children with special needs often struggle to form friendships, regulate emotions, and navigate the intricate web of social interactions. As teachers, we bear witness to their struggles, their triumphs, and their resilience, and it takes an emotional toll.

Limited External Support for SEND Pupils

In my classroom, I have the privilege of working alongside a dedicated part-time teaching assistant. Together, we strive to create an inclusive and nurturing environment that caters to the diverse needs of our students. However, with a single assistant to support a class of 30 children, including several with SEN, the task can feel overwhelming.

Focus on Social-Emotional Growth

Despite the challenges, we remain committed to our students’ wellbeing and social-emotional growth. Through carefully crafted lessons, visual aids, and role-playing activities, we teach essential skills like emotional regulation, conflict resolution, and empathy. We celebrate each child’s unique strengths and create opportunities for them to shine, boosting their self-confidence and fostering a sense of belonging.

Supporting the social-emotional development of students with special educational needs (SEN) can be challenging, especially with limited one-on-one time due to large class sizes and minimal support staff, some of this is due to funding cuts, some due to the recruitment crisis and often due to staff absence. However, as a dedicated teacher, I strive to incorporate strategies that address these crucial aspects within the classroom setting. Here are some approaches I have used in my classroom:

  1. Whole-class activities: I intentionally design group activities that foster social-emotional skills. For example, cooperative learning tasks that require collaboration, communication, and problem-solving promote teamwork and empathy. Class meetings or circle time activities provide a safe space for students to share their feelings, practice active listening, and learn conflict resolution strategies.
  2. Emotional literacy: I allocate time in our daily routine to explore emotional vocabulary, identify and label emotions, and discuss appropriate ways to express and regulate emotions. Using picture books, role-play, or visual aids, we practice recognizing and responding to different emotional cues.
  3. Peer support systems: I encourage students to support one another through buddy systems or peer mentoring programs. Older students or those with strong social skills can be paired with SEN students, fostering empathy, patience, and a sense of belonging for both parties.
  4. Individualised support plans: Collaborating with parents and support staff usually led by the SENCO, I develop individualised support plans for students with significant social-emotional needs. These plans outline specific strategies, visual aids, or sensory tools tailored to each child’s unique strengths and challenges.
  5. Flexible grouping: I create opportunities for flexible grouping, where students can work in smaller, mixed-ability groups. This allows for more targeted social-emotional support and modelling of appropriate behaviours within a smaller, more manageable setting.
  6. Involving families: I actively engage families in the social-emotional development process. I provide resources, strategies, and regular communication to ensure consistency between home and school environments.

While one-on-one sessions would be ideal, I remain committed to weaving social-emotional learning into every aspect of our classroom experience. By fostering an inclusive and supportive environment, I strive to create opportunities for all students to develop essential social-emotional skills, even with limited resources.

The Need for Systemic Change in Education in the UK

While we pour our hearts and souls into our work, the reality is that the current system is failing our SEN students. We need more specialised training, increased funding, and smaller class sizes to truly meet the diverse needs of our learners. It is a disservice to these children, who deserve every opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential. It is more important than ever that we continue to advocate for change, to raise awareness, and to fight for the resources our students deserve. Because at the heart of our profession lies a deep belief in the power of education to transform lives and shape a more inclusive, compassionate society.

7 Ways to Advocate for Change for Your SEND Pupils

Even when the DfE/Local Authorities and even OfSTED through “The Big Listen” seek to gain our views the consultations are skewed, long-winded and lacking in accountability. I don’t know if there is a teacher voice that can influence change outside of large MATs but these are the 7 ways I advocate for the pupils in my class/

  1. Engage with school leadership: I actively participate in staff meetings and professional development sessions to raise awareness about the specific challenges faced by SEN students. I share case studies, data, and personal experiences to highlight the need for more resources and specialised training.
  2. Collaborate with parents: Building strong partnerships with parents of SEN students is crucial. I organize regular meetings to understand their perspectives, address their concerns, and work together to develop effective strategies. Empowered parents can become powerful advocates for their children’s rights and needs.
  3. Connect with local support groups: I have reached out to local parent support groups, disability organizations, and advocacy networks. By attending their meetings and events, I gain valuable insights into the broader challenges faced by the SEN community and learn about best practices from other educators and experts.
  4. Engage with policymakers: Whenever possible, I participate in consultations, surveys, and forums organized by education authorities and policymakers. I provide detailed feedback on the shortcomings of current policies and offer practical suggestions for improvement based on my classroom experiences.
  5. Utilise social media and online platforms: I leverage the power of social media and online platforms to share my experiences, raise awareness, and connect with like-minded educators and advocates. By sharing stories and insights, I aim to inspire others to join the movement for inclusive and equitable education.
  6. Seek professional development opportunities: While opportunities may be limited, I actively seek out workshops, conferences, and online courses focused on inclusive education practices, differentiated instruction, and specialized teaching methods for SEN students. Continuously expanding my SEND specialist pedagogical knowledge and skills empowers me to be a more effective advocate. Especially if I can quote EEF research or Ofsted guidance.
  7. Collaborate with fellow teachers: I have formed a support network with fellow teachers who share similar challenges. We exchange ideas, resources, and strategies, and collectively advocate for systemic changes within our schools and broader educational landscape.

Advocating for systemic change is an ongoing process that requires perseverance, creativity, and an unwavering commitment to ensuring that every child, regardless of their abilities or needs, receives the support and education they deserve. Don’t give up.

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