Nick Gibb is 'persuadable' to SEND-specific teacher training route

Schools minister Nick Gibb has said he is “persuadable” to an initial teacher training route (ITT) focused only on special educational needs, he told MPs this morning.

Gibb told the powerful education select committee, which held its last evidence session on SEND provision this morning following a long-running inquiry, that it “might consider recommending” a specialist ITT route as part of its final report.

It comes as the committee draws to a close 12 sessions on the state of SEND provision in the country, which have focused on lack of government funding, delays to assessments, and vulnerable pupils pushed out of mainstream schools.

Thelma Walker, MP for Colne Valley and a former teacher, said it was important teachers were able to differentiate clearly between the needs of pupils in their class, turning to Gibb for his thoughts on the matter.

Gibb noted that currently in ITT routes “there is no specialism for teachers of SEND” and added it was “something the committee might consider recommending. There used to be, many years ago.”

When asked by Ian Mearns, MP for Gateshead, whether the Department for Education would actually act on such a recommendation, Gibb said he was “persuadable’.

To obtain qualified teacher status, trainees must currently be able to identify and differentiate between the special educational needs of pupils no matter what subject they will teach, but there is no route to specialise as a teacher of SEND.

“There is an argument for saying when we recruit graduates into teacher training, we have different categories of physics, chemistry, maths and so on,” said Gibb.

“There isn’t a category for a special educational needs teacher – there is an argument for it, there are people who would argue against it. That is something your committee might wish to opine on.”

However the minister, who appeared alongside children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi and Andre Imich, the professional adviser on SEND to the DfE, was less effusive when asked how the department had measured the success of its SEND reforms since they were introduced in 2014.

William Wragg, MP for Hazel Grove, pointed to government guidance published in 2015 which cites three categories for measuring the success of implementing reforms at local authority level: a positive experience for children and families; positive outcomes; and effective preparation of adulthood.

It also specified timeframes for these outcomes, with a “positive experience” for children and families meant to be measured from September 2014 to September 2017, he said.

Imrich said the government had “facilitated and encouraged” councils to take steps, such as undertaking parent surveys and evaluating pupils’ personal outcomes, to ensure these outcomes have been met.

Wragg asked when the next national survey was taking place so the data could be nationally aggregated to check the DfE’s reforms were a success overall – to which Imrich replied there was “no plan” to do so.

Wragg replied: “This is your guidance you sent out to local authorities about how you would be judging the system, and if you’re not even keeping track of how you intend to judge the system, how can they have confidence you have effective oversight of it?”

“If the Department for Education sets criteria by which it intends to judge the success or otherwise of the Act, it should itself surely be keeping an eye on it.”

Imrich added the DfE collects data on SEND tribunals, and on how many EHCPs are completed on time (64.9 per cent in the most recent data), as well as on pupil outcomes.