An interview with... Claire Vuckovic, Independent SEND and Inclusion Consultant, IncludED
I learnt most about SLCN from talking to visiting speech therapists. Listening to them talking about a child’s development and the difficulties the child was having, alongside the resources and strategies they were recommending helped me start to piece together how speech and language should be developing, where it can go wrong and what impact that can have on a child’s learning. Nowadays, there is some fantastic training available.
My main tip (and it’s a bit of a catch all!) is “be aware of your communication”, make sure you have the children’s attention, use clear simple language, use your expression and natural gesture and leave plenty of time for children to process what you have said. The more you use your “teacher voice” the more natural it will become, don’t underestimate how much these will support all the children in your class – not just those with SLCN.
2) What has been a key factor motivating your personal focus on Inclusion and Special Educational Needs (SEN)?
This has been an interesting question to try to answer! Thinking about it I have realised that it probably goes back to when I was learning to read myself – we had a reading scheme called “Wide Range Readers”. They were books of short stories and poems, some fiction and some non-fiction. I was fascinated by the stories of Helen Keller and Louis Braille. My Dad had an elderly neighbour who used to communicate in rapid finger spelling and he taught me the alphabet when I was quite young (I never achieved the speed that my Dad and his neighbour could use, but I have got quite good at Makaton now).
I think I am also quite creative and a bit of a problem solver and I really like puzzling out ways to present or support learning in different ways for different children. Of course it helps that I have been doing this for so many years now and have had the benefit of so many knowledgeable people (not just professionals – families, volunteers and children themselves) but even after all these years I have yet to meet the same child twice, the only piece of advice that works for all children (even with similar needs) is – if it isn’t working, try it a different way!
3) What is your top tip for TAs, Teachers, or SENCOs in mainstream schools in order to maintain pupil centred planning with a variety of SEN pupils?
Oh good – easy one! Get to know the child – not their “condition”.
Talk to them about their lives outside school – what do they like to do, what makes a good day for them? Try to talk outside the classroom, maybe over lunch or on playground duty. Talk to families as well, what do they like to do as a family, what helps them get things done, or not. Listen.
I use the Helen Sanderson Associates website for information and resources and also to remind me how powerful Person Centred Planning is.
4) If you were an NQT faced with preparing for your first OFSTED inspection, how would you maintain an inclusive environment and ensure that you ‘ticked all of the boxes’ for effective practice?
Sorry – if OFSTED are coming it’s too late. Inclusion is not something you do – it’s something you are.
On a more positive note – you can try to use some of your release time to discretely observe your class at work or play in your environment. Are they using all the resources available to them and maximising their independence? If you have a child with SEND are they accessing all the same activities as their peers and if not can you identify the barriers?
5) As an experienced independent SEND and Inclusion Consultant, do you feel that SEN provision and inclusion is improving, or are there still areas which require particular development?
From when I started out as a teacher – yes. However, I feel that while practice and understanding is improving, tensions within the education system are huge and increasing; measures of school accountability, changes in curricula, and performance related pay for staff alongside an increasingly stretched budget all make meeting the needs of children with SEND a very difficult issue for schools to prioritise.
Undergraduate SEND specialism teacher training degrees, such as ours at the University of Cumbria are unusual. It was disappointing to find that many recently qualified teachers still lack confidence in their skills and knowledge around SEND, that situation does not appear to have changed much over the years. Cut backs in many Local Authority Advisory Services to schools and Early Years Providers is also a concern and I wonder who is going to enable and support our teaching workforce to meet the needs of all children, as the Code of Practice requires.
HOWEVER! I think we could all support children with SEND by improving our understanding of communication and making some small changes to the way we deliver our teaching. Some of the most effective strategies (as I mentioned above) are straightforward, free and when they are used consistently for a while become second nature. So I think a drive to improve SLCN training is very encouraging.
Read more advice from Claire in her article 'New Term, New Teacher' in The Link Magazine, Issue 6...