Reopening our Schools, Considerations for SETs
I have had a number of messages from people asking what I thought about the new reopening guidelines in particular for the Special Education Teacher. Taking a brief look at some of the recommendations I feel this is what people need to be getting their heads around:
“To the greatest extent possible, pupils and teaching staff should consistently be in the same Class Bubbles although this will not be possible at all times.”
“Staff members who move from class bubble to class bubble should be limited as much as possible.”
So timetables will need careful consideration. If you typically work with all classes for Maths then that will need to be reviewed. It is better to be assigned all of your caseload within one or two class bubbles and work with that class for literacy and numeracy support and those at SS+. That way you will only need to be in and out of 1 or 2 classes depending on the size of your school, minimising your need for contact with multiple class teachers and SNAs.
“Where possible, work-stations should be allocated consistently to the same staff and children rather than having spaces that are shared.”
So does this mean that support should be all in-class to avoid shared use of resources in the SETs classroom? We all know that certain children need a break from the classroom so this is where we need to seek balance and use common sense. It may mean the SET assigns individual resources for each child or small group withdrawn and cleans all shared equipment before the next withdrawal. I would keep this to a minimum and provide in-class support where possible.
“Class bubbles should stay away from other classes, and pods within those classes should be established to the extent which is possible." “Sharing educational material between Pods should be avoided/minimised where possible”.
SETs and Class teachers should work closely together to create these ‘pods’. Is it better to group according to ability for when Literacy and Numeracy Support is being offered by the SET? This has its own disadvantages as we all know the power of peer learning and heterogeneous groups. It was stated that PODS appear to be a further safety measure but class bubbles are a requirement. Maybe if the SETs classroom can facilitate 1m distancing between pupils then Literacy/Numeracy or Social groups would be okay to be withdrawn even if those pupils are not from the same pod.
Other recommendations from the Return to School: Curriculum Guidance for School Leaders and Teachers that may be worth considering:
- ‘Slow down to catch up’ will be a key message from the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) to schools in the initial weeks of the new school year
- A useful strategy in supporting the re-engagement of pupils with SEN as the new school year commences is to assign special education teachers to them for morning meet and greets, daily check-ins and communications with home.
- For many pupils with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), the impact of the school closure period will have been very significant. Accordingly, schools will need to plan carefully for the learning experiences, routines and sensory needs of children with ASD. It will be important to:
- Create a calm space for the children/pupils before they return to school. If it is not feasible to use sensory or quiet rooms, teachers may need to create an area of their classroom where individual children can take a comfort break. In addition, individual packs could be created with appropriate sensory or movement materials. The website of the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) contains a comprehensive suite of resources designed to assist teachers to create such packs and materials
- Place an initial focus on transition and change to support the pupils as they adjust to new social rules and learning routines at school and at home. This can be achieved through, for example, the use of social stories that are developed with the pupils, either on a one-to-one basis or in a whole class environment. More information about the use of social stories in a Covid-19 context can be found at: https://ncse.ie/supporting-transition-from-home-back-to-school
- Establish a routine in supporting pupils to regulate their feelings and behaviour through, for example, schedules that highlight key transitions within their day and ‘exit strategies’ ranging from ‘first/then’ to a full-day visual or written schedule. This can be either paper based or added to pupils’ devices where these exist.
- Even while seeking to maintain social distancing, every effort should be made to ensure that pupils have the opportunity to play and socialise both through structured and unstructured breaks. To support this, break times may be staggered, play activities may be mostly outdoors, or groups may be kept very small.
What is clear is that the flexibility is there for schools to take their own school needs into consideration. Keeping everyone safe has to be top prioirty but the inclusion of the phrases such as 'balanced approach and apply common sense' is going to be useful when marking out our own roadmap at school level.