On January 13th 2012, colleagues from a wide range of Higher Education Institutions came together to consider the changing perspectives of Special Education Needs. The event posed significant questions about how SEN concerns us all.
- How do we ensure that all children and young people reach their full potential and make a successful transition to adulthood?
- What is the level of awareness of student and practising teachers with respect to children and young people with Special Educational Needs?
- What are your perspectives regarding SEN?
The overall aim of this day event was for delegates to discover tangible outcomes concerning what to do in teacher education to develop student teachers and thereby benefit children and young people. How could things be done differently?
Professor Lani Florian
Professor Lani Florian, Professor of Social Inclusion at the University of Aberdeen opened the day with her inspiring keynote address 'The Inclusive Practice Project: Key lessons for teacher education'. Delegates were given plenty of food for thought to encourage rich discussion throughout the day.
Lani presented us with some of the problems of SEN in the context of inclusion:
- the dilemma of difference
- the variability of practice
- knowing what constitutes good practice
She recommended that, to go forward as a teacher education community, we need a change in focus and suggested that an alternative perspective is possible. She suggested that we challenge the traditional models of inclusivity - the ‘add-on’ model where SEN is ‘dealt with’ in one lecture and possibly a visit to a Special School, and insisted that it is important that student teachers do not come away with the feeling that ‘treating everybody the same’ is inclusion; it is not. However she encouraged us to believe that teachers can be convinced that they are competent to teach all children.
Having discussed ‘Challenging perspectives’ in morning group sessions, delegates were asked to consider examples of innovative practice. Christopher Robertson from the University of Birmingham addressed delegates at the start of the afternoon on Continuing Professional Development: Innovative Practice in a Context of Tumult and Constraint. Christopher lectures in the field of special and inclusive practice and was a member of the reference group for the 2009 Lamb report.
Christopher shared some of his direct recent experiences and that of schools, teachers and local authorities with whom he works, stressing the value of collaborative practice. He spoke of change being ‘in the air’ in the English context and considered:
- inclusive education policy
- broader education policy and the concept of autonomous schools
- parents as choice makers and ‘in control’
- ‘front-line services
- the voluntary and community sector.
He gave a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) perspective and questioned the role of HEIs and offered some interesting reflections and ways forward.
The second presentation of innovative practice was from the University of Cumbria who run one of the very few specialised undergraduate courses in SEN/inclusive practice and inclusive pedagogy: Alison Feeney, Anne Gager, Graham Hallett, Verna Kilburn, Kären Mills. They explained their course in which they compare international systems of education and inclusion. They model very clearly what it is to be as inclusive as possible through their own teaching and set a very high standard for their students. They spoke of the barriers in students’ heads as they tend to think there is one answer to inclusion. It is important to break students’ emotional reliance on certainty; they need to address uncomfortable questions. Their aim is to encourage the creation of ‘uncertain’ teachers, that is to say those who acknowledge that there are no definitive answers, but that have a bank of skills to use in any eventuality. If students feel ‘unprepared’, it could be argued that they will be open to further learning.
Group sessions Delegates worked through the day in group sessions and presented their ideas in a final plenary. Download notes from the group discussions.
TEAN would be pleased to receive further documentation, articles or links for this new folder. Please contact Alison Jackson.