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We last discussed this issue during the week after the broadcast of the last episode of the series “Educating Yorkshire”, and we are now discussing it during the week after that documentary was rightly recognised at the National Television Awards. However, notwithstanding the widespread recognition that it has received, the Secretary of State is still unable or unwilling to recognise the key fact that anyone who watched it—and, indeed, anyone who has spent any amount of time in schools and in the company of good teachers—knows all too well: that being a teacher is not about teaching a subject, but about teaching the class of children in front of you, and about supporting the development, academic or otherwise, of each child in that class.
Teaching is a test of pedagogy, not of memory. Deep knowledge is good, but it means nothing if a teacher cannot impart it in a meaningful way to all the children in the class, and for no group of children is that more important than those with special educational needs. During the three years for which I was a shadow Minister with responsibility for SEN, I engaged extensively with stakeholders large and small throughout the country, and the one observation that I heard time and again, from teachers as well as others, was that teachers are not given enough training in SEN as it is, during either their initial training or their continuing professional development. The fact that the Education Secretary thinks that someone who has had no training whatsoever is a suitable person to unlock learning for children with SEN is incomprehensible to me, and is surely contrary to all the best advice that he must have received.
Given the severe cuts in central local authority education teams, which include specialist teachers and workers such as educational psychologists who can provide peripatetic support, it is more important than ever for classroom teachers to know how to teach the entire class in front of them, not just the high achievers. Figures from the Department for Education, published last week, show that the attainment gap between SEN and non-SEN children is widening at GCSE level. That applies particularly to the EBacc measure, which is completely inaccessible to many children with SEN. That is a subject for an entire debate on another occasion, but suffice it to say in the present debate that more than one in four young people without an identified special educational need achieved the EBacc last year, compared with fewer than one in 20 with SEN.
The Government’s top priority must be to close the gap by improving outcomes, and the best way of doing that is to improve the quality of teaching rather than undermining it. The parents of children with SEN will rightly expect the people to whom they are asked to entrust the education of their children to have the capability and qualifications that will enable them to fulfil that role.