13 Jun 2022

Hospital Schools need qualified teachers too!

It was 12 years ago now I took the decision to leave my post as an English teacher in a mainstream school and move into a SEMH setting and more specifically, a hospital school for young people with eating disorders.

At the time I was given the job offer, I shared the news with my sons’ primary school headteacher. A very inspirational head who, at the start and at the end of the day, would be rooted in the middle of the playground greeting parents and children. She congratulated me but said with prophetic honesty, ‘be aware that that in these provisions teachers do not receive the training they should…’ or something to that effect. It was a long time ago, but her words stayed with me, and I spent the next decade attending any training that ensured I stayed clear of the camp of forgotten teachers who dare move into special educational needs provisions.

That was in 2010, the same year Ralph Hartley wrote a report for the think tank Policy Exchange on ‘filling in the gaps in teacher expertise in SEN provisions.’ In the report, he points out that, although children with SEN are twice as likely to be persistently absent from school and underachieve, there was ‘a lack of a core of basic understanding amongst the teaching workforce’ and a ‘lack of teaching expertise or specialism in SEN.’  At EMS, we’ve managed to counter both of these points by running a very tight and consistent CPD programme in our school. Every week, CPD is delivered to the school on anything from adapting the new OFSTED framework to how to target IEPs to teaching in a multi-syllabi classroom for young people with SEMH needs. It keeps our skills current; it keeps us talking and all our training is in-house and bespoke.

Thus, we have a group of teachers who are highly skilled at SEN teaching, and able to upskill new members of staff so we don’t need to always look to outside providers who can’t meet our training needs.

You would think it was all tied up perfectly but no, there is always room for improvement, as I found out this year.

We have been fortunate to have join us a fantastic PGCE graduate (H). After a few months of being with us, I asked her whether she had thought about how she would complete her ECF, and with concern, she said she had been thinking about it.

She was developing vital skills working with vulnerable children, and I felt strongly that just because she had chosen to work in a highly specialist setting, she shouldn’t miss out on gaining her ECF. I began contacting all the large training providers but found that with the mainstream schools they were dealing with, our specific ECF needs were drowned out.  I knew all I needed was someone who understood our specific context, the importance of the work we did and how skilled our teachers are. And so, whilst simultaneously following the QTS route (a whole other piece!) someone recommended that I speak to Lee Pender (Head of Teaching School Hub, Thames South Teaching Hub). I emailed her, arranged a zoom meeting and for the first time I was able to actually speak to someone about our context and how important it was that teachers like ours didn’t miss out on training. It was an exhilarating conversation which resulted in Thames South Teaching Hub being able to provide ECF training but also completely understanding how it needed to be adapted for a hospital setting.

Upon receiving the email from Lee Pender, I rushed to find H, my heart leaping with joy for what felt like a significant victory for teachers training needs in hospital schools.

Since Ralph Hartley wrote his report, there has been an improvement in the understanding of our approaches to working with children with SEN needs but there is work to be done. The huge detective work it took to find a provider to work with us is an example of this.

Yet, it also shows it can be done when the right conversations can take place.

Now onto trying to find a QTS route for our teachers.

Samreen Shah

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