When I first moved to the Middle East in 2009, mainstream schools were focused on quality provision at whole school level and SEN was yet to become a priority for many schools. Since then, government mandates and support, greater availability of NASCO qualified SENCos and increased access to quality resources for assessment and intervention with children with special educational needs (SEN), is transforming the culture of education in the region.
Today, I have the privilege of working with some of the most innovative and forward-thinking education bodies that I have encountered in my career as a teacher and educational psychologist. Although we are not all there yet, here are some of the important successes that have enabled schools to adapt to the increasing challenges of SEN provision.
Educational research indicates time and time again that excellent teachers are the basis for an excellent educational system. The SEN department is no different. We need qualified and experienced SEN teachers managing the needs of students with individual differences.
When it comes to the SEN department leader, it helps when they are a member of the school leadership team. This allows the SEN department to contribute to policy and support at whole school level, therefore impacting more effectively on whole class differentiation for teaching and learning. Most children with SEN should be accommodated at wave one, within the classroom setting, allowing for children with higher needs to be supported by wave two and three.
A recent survey by GL Education found that 38% of teachers in international schools believe that SEN is under-identified in their school*. Identification should be organised and systematic. Every school has its own policy for identification of children that need support at wave two and three. In Dubai, new policy ensures that whole year groups are screened with international benchmarking tests for cognitive and academic skills at certain checkpoints. This allows us to analyse data at whole school level and identify individuals that may be at risk.
Recently, many international schools have hired their own qualified educational testers in-house to conduct further tests in identifying barriers to learning and potential evidenced-based interventions for a student. From this September, every British Curriculum exam centre is required to have its own educational tester on site. As well as conducting assessments that inform interventions, this person can conduct testing that may inform exam concessions for secondary school students within their own school.
In addition to the obvious advantage of cost saving for parents and schools at British International Schools, this also enables any school to conduct sophisticated testing on site. Most importantly, this means that we can match evidenced-based and early interventions for a child within the school setting.
Leading an international school SEN department can be both a challenge and a delight. Innovation, collaboration and sharing of evidenced-based practice relevant to our unique region is absolutely key.
We have come a long way, in a short time, but I look forward to seeing the continued and positive results that our efforts make for the students in our care.