Improve teacher education to help SEND pupils, research says

Teacher education must “urgently” be upgraded to improve learning for pupils with special education needs and disabilities (SEND), new research from the University of Cambridge has found.

The report, Inclusive quality education for children with disabilities, found teachers commonly admitted to a “lack of preparation” when it comes to dealing with the range of needs in their classrooms.

Commissioned by the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), the research found that teachers’ practical knowledge of teaching young people with disabilities needed to be more relevant to their working environment, especially in areas with poor infrastructure, a lack of teaching materials or large class sizes.

Governments and stakeholders urgently need to provide domestic financing to close the persistent gaps between inclusive education policy and practice

Teachers need support, not just through continuous professional development opportunities, but from other professionals such as “itinerant teachers” who visit clusters of schools to help colleagues meet the needs of pupils. Examples of this practice can be found in other countries such as Malawi and Uganda, the report said.

Researchers also proposed changes in “rights, resources and research” to improve the inclusion of SEND pupils, and said it should be the responsibility of governments, not charities or other organisations, to ensure pupils with SEND can access good education.

Pupil learning can also benefit from partnerships between special and mainstream schools, collaboration between various professionals, improved teacher skills and “better learning environments”, the report said.

But in order to improve learning environments, human and material resources, not just financial ones, are crucial, as are robust systems of monitoring and accountability.

A lack of funding is highlighted as a barrier to these resources, including assistive technologies. Even where these are provided, learning environments can prevent them from being used effectively, for example in buildings that are not adapted for wheelchair access.

Governments and stakeholders “urgently need to provide domestic financing to close the persistent gaps between inclusive education policy and practice”, the researchers said.

More information should be gathered about the experiences of children with disabilities in schools as well, as there are “few robust studies” at present, especially for special schools, the report also found.

The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), an initiative of Qatar Foundation, will be held in Doha in November. Schools Week is the official media partner.

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