Bedford College Group: What is Great Teaching for SEND Learners?
Gaining a better understanding of learners with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), to support staff in delivering high-quality, student-centred teaching
The Bedford College Group is a large General Further Education provider in the Eastern region. It has approximately 15,000 learners each year. Over 3,000 of these learners have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), either diagnosed or undiagnosed. Almost all of these learners are enrolled on mainstream courses, which requires the lecturers on those courses to understand how to meet the needs of a wide variety of SEND learners.
Staff training on supporting learners with these conditions is mandatory but staff do not always feel confident in their ability in practice. Therefore, this piece of work focussed on devising an alternative method for lecturers and ensuring that they get the right support to deliver high-quality, differentiated teaching for their students. As stated by (CoP, 2015) ‘teachers and tutors are at the heart of the new SEND support system’.
As a pilot study, this project worked to identify key themes among staff and learners. What worked for them in the classroom, where were the gaps in their knowledge of conditions, and what would make their experiences at college better?
To do this, a series of semi-structured focus groups were undertaken with open questions used as prompts for wider conversation. Participants in these groups included mainstream staff from across 3 college departments, a SEND specialist lecturer and 12 SEND learners. The conversations of each group were recorded, transcribed and then analysed for key themes and issues that might provide a starting point for developing outstanding teaching for SEND Learners.
Staff training on supporting learners with these conditions is mandatory but staff do not always feel confident in their ability in practice.
The importance of getting to know the learner, not just reading their Education, Health and Care Plan or Individual Support Plan to understand their condition(s) was a commonly repeated theme. It is key to build a relationship so that discussions about what equipment, interventions or strategies might help students to learn, engage, or participate within the classroom can take place. “What works for you?” is a simple but effective question for more confident educators working with SEND learners.
On a positive note, eleven out of twelve SEND learners who participated in the focus groups stated enjoying the freedom that the college setting offers them, preferring the style of teaching and learning to secondary school. So these more personal conversations can begin from a more secure, positive base.
Bedford College Group will build on this work in the future in the following ways:
- Project findings will be disseminated through Head Forums, to the Executive team and within the department Golden Hours
- A toolkit to support teaching staff in planning and delivery of excellent teaching for learners with SEND will be developed
- The toolkit will be shared both internally and externally to support a SEND-focused observation in other areas/colleges.
'What works for you?’ is a simple but effective question for more confident educators working with SEND learners.
This project aimed to find out what outstanding teaching for learners with SEND looks and feels like. This is important to understand in order to be able to support teachers to develop their practice for this group of people. The project considered the knowledge and experiences of mainstream and SEND teachers, as well as learners themselves.
The extensive final report covers project learnings and includes transcripts of all focus groups, along with templates for focus group questions. Learners benefitted from being involved in the evaluation of the programme, as their voice was considered, and they were exposed to research terminology and customs. This pilot may lead to further research in this area by training Advanced Practitioners who can support staff across the college.
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