ESOL and SEN learners: policies and practice lecture
This chapter focuses on policies and legislation relating to the provision of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and for pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN), including some common institutional practices for supporting these categories of learner. There are some practical tips to help you keep in line with these policies, but the main emphasis will be on policy. We will engage in a more in-depth discussion of these topics from a practical and theoretical perspective in Module 4, which focuses on Inclusion.
As we have seen with other policy areas, ESOL and SEN policies and practices are rooted in tradition and often reflect the implicit values of British society (including some significant differences in Scotland). The first section of this chapter will give you a grounding in the background to these two categories of need, as well as how these needs were traditionally met (or not). Each need is then considered in turn, including the expectations for how pupils with these needs are accommodated in a mainstream classroom. The chapter ends by looking at how increased expectations of both pupils and teachers will affect practice. This includes the expectation that teaching practice in general will be inclusive, differentiated and personalised, so that a pupil with ESOL or SEN needs joining a group should not require substantial changes to either pupil groups, resourcing, or pedagogy.
Learning objectives for this chapter
By the end of this chapter, we would like you:
To understand what ESOL needs entail;
To think about how you meet a wide range of needs for your pupils as part of your standard teaching practice; and
Identify what other support might be available to ensure all your pupils achieve the best possible outcomes.
Finding policies related to ESOL can be problematic because of the wide number of similar terms used. However, the choice of phrasing also reflects a change in attitudes. Terms such as English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL), Second Language (L2) learner, or non-native speaker are commonly used in other countries to refer to groups of learners who study English. There is a minor distinction between ESL being taught in a country where English is the main language and EFL being taught in a country where English is a foreign language (so a pupil would study ESL in the UK but EFL in Spain), but the phrases are used almost completely interchangeably and this distinction is disappearing.
More importantly for the context of UK mainstream classrooms, these terms are undesirable because they can have negative connotations or fail to express the range of backgrounds our learners might have. For example, many ESOL pupils may have English as their first language but do not use it at home because their parents do not use English. Equally, pupils might have several languages, so to call English their second language is simply inaccurate. ESOL is therefore a more inclusive and neutral term, similar to English as an Additional Language (EAL). Similarly, we might commonly refer to a native speaker or a pupil's mother tongue (including EMT, English as a Mother Tongue) even though a pupil is a native of the UK and is most fluent in English, but uses a different language at home.
Some of these acronyms might also be used to refer to courses pupils have taken, to which we can also include English for Specific Purposes (ESP) and English for Academic Purposes (EAP). This is particularly relevant to older pupils, who might need to study EAP as preparation for language proficiency tests required for university entry (International Language Testing Service: IELTS). EAP courses are typically offered by universities as pre-sessional, meaning that a student starts an intensive English course the summer before their degree begins: passing the course secures entry. However, this arrangement can be difficult with changing visa rules, and many students will need to demonstrate English proficiency much earlier. It is therefore becoming more common to refer to EAP at secondary level, including as an entry requirement to selective secondary schools.
Howard (2012) gives a good overview of how immigration in the UK contextualises ESOL policies. One of the key points to remember is that little preparation had been made in schools, the assumption being that immigrants would leave the UK once the post-war labour shortage was over. When this did not happen, schools in the 1960s found themselves struggling to meet the needs of children born in the UK but who did not use English at home. The Local Government Act in the 1966 treated ESOL as an issue of race, with extra funding provided to schools with over 2% of pupils from Commonwealth backgrounds. Howard (2012) points out that funding followed this principle of focusing on the ethnicity of an individual school's population up until 1999 and the introduction of the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant. Whilst still relating language needs to ethnicity, this change in funding policy was influential because it linked funding to each pupil rather than setting a threshold for a proportion across a whole school.
This change in funding also supported an overall shift in how ESOL was conceptualised across the school sector. As parental choice became a more dominant narrative, the idea of concentrating ethnic minorities into particular schools was incompatible. An amendment to the Race Relations Act (1976) was made in 2000, prompted by issues raised following the death of Stephen Lawrence. All schools were expected to address racism, and in line with the broader Every Child Matters narrative schools were also expected to meet the needs of all learners even if there are a low number of pupils with ESOL needs. Rather than being an excuse for underachievement, ESOL needs were now emphatically challenges that needed to be met. Schools were also expected to play a greater role in making new arrivals feel welcome, particularly in outreach for newly arrived economic migrants or asylum seekers (for example, through offering classes for whole families to attend together).
Around the same time, analysis of the examination performance of different ethnic groups challenged the assumption that ethnic minorities were low achievers. This was emphasised by a larger number of very high-achieving groups as patterns of migration to the UK changed. This increased the number of very high-achieving bilingual pupils, many of whom might be highly mobile and attending schools in different countries throughout their school career, as well as highly motivated groups of Chinese pupils.
The contemporary narrative on ESOL emphasises that meeting the needs of all pupils is crucial, and that ESOL should be thought of as distinct from issues of ethnicity. There is also an increasingly prevalent discussion around very high-achieving pupils with ESOL needs, which emphasises the importance of setting high expectations for all pupils. Policies in ESOL originally responded to economic migration post-war, which surprised the education system in the UK. Today, the education system is much more internationally-minded and the UK is seeing very different types of migration. Policy seems to be slow in responding to these changes, but already schools are seeing new demographics and much higher parental expectations that ESOL needs will be met effectively.
One of the key issues of accommodating ESOL needs is making an assessment of needs. There is currently no national system in the UK of assessing language proficiency for speakers of other languages. Making an informal assessment of proficiency can also be misleading because conversational or social English is very different from the demands of academic texts. As early as Key Stage 3, pupils will be expected to engage with more challenging texts and encounter unfamiliar vocabulary. The idea is that pupils will learn how to infer the meaning of these unfamiliar words from their context, but this becomes very difficult for pupils who will find many more words in the text unfamiliar.
Whilst there is no assessment system within schools, well-established frameworks are available and are widely used in international schools. When assessing English proficiency, it is common to either use a numerical IELTS score or the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR; sometimes just CEF). This will be helpful in assessing progress as there are a wide variety of resources available to support assessments. The CEFR is also used on all textbooks aimed at ESOL, so give a good indication of the appropriate level. As a rough indication, an IELTS score of 5.5 is typically requested for university entry. This equates to B2 on the CEFR, which describes the pupil as an independent user of English.
For pupils who take the majority of their secondary education in the UK, an important decision needs to be made whether to enter them for the GCSE English ESOL variant or the standard GCSE English or GCSE English Language. The ESOL variant is carefully designed to avoid idioms and to be more accessible to an international audience. However, it is typically not taken as evidence of proficiency by universities. Taking the English or English Language GCSE might therefore save a great deal of future assessment demands and many thousands of pounds. As a compromise, the IGCSE in English is also widely accepted as evidence of proficiency but is written for a more international audience.
Schools have traditionally used separate classes for ESOL lessons with specialist teachers, or at least English teachers who might have had some experience teaching English as a foreign language. However, the range of abilities and different starting points make such provision difficult to run, particularly if resources are lacking. Other schools will keep pupils in the mainstream classroom but provide occasional support staff, although again these staff usually lack specialist training and very few will be able to use another language to communicate with pupils. The reality for many pupils is therefore some attempt at learning by immersion, with no opportunities for code-switching (where proficiency in their first language can help to make sense of another language, such as by explaining complex grammatical points).
Despite the lack of resources and support, there are still ways that teachers can make it easier for pupils with ESOL needs.Being aware of your own language use is important as both the speed and variety of vocabulary can be confusing. You probably already share learning objectives with pupils at the start of a lesson and in the plenary, so this could be a good opportunity to look at key vocabulary for the lesson. Returning to the same words and phrases throughout a lesson is known as 'recycling vocabulary', and can greatly assist understanding because pupils get to see the same words and phrases used in a range of similar examples. If you are able to prepare your lessons sufficiently in advance, you might also be able to let pupils know some key words ahead of time so that they can look up translations and explanations.
Fluency can also be improved by practice, so helping pupils to choose the correct level of reading for pleasure can be highly influential. When giving advice to pupils in general, teachers often recommend choosing a text which will stretch a pupil, for example by suggesting that they open a page at random and check that there are between two and five unfamiliar words on each page. However, best practice in ESOL is to encourage reading for pleasure at a slightly lower level so that fluency is improved by focusing on general meaning and 'gist'. Care will obviously need to be taken to ensure that pupils do not feel patronised, but if you have the resources there are some great options such as graded readers (in book, audio and online formats). These are simplified versions of popular books, and are often arranged using CEFR levels. Indeed, these books can be a great revision tool in general, particularly for English or History classes.
Finally, being in an unfamiliar situation can feel isolating, so it is important to give opportunities for developing social English. Building some structured group discussion into classes can help, as can showing some interest in the other languages spoken by your pupils. Even simple greetings or being able to ask how someone's weekend was can be highly inclusive, and it will help to reassure pupils to see an adult struggle with an additional language.
As with ESOL, Special Educational Needs are no longer an excuse for poor achievement, but a challenge which needs to be met by schools. Another similarity with ESOL is that provision for SEN has largely shifted from separate classes or concentrating particular types of need into certain schools, so that now pupils with SEN are expected to be part of the mainstream classroom wherever possible.
You will already be familiar with the principles of inclusion and the aims of Every Child Matters. In terms of SEN policy, this can be seen to originate with the Warnock Report of 1978, which also prompted a new Education Act in 1981. Some have looked back on this cynically as cost-cutting by a Conservative government, and it is certainly true that special school provision and funding was seriously cut. However, the principle still seems to have held and is now widely shared: the needs of each pupil should be prioritised, not their disability. This principle initially only applied to 'identified' SEN needs, which created issues around assessments and the availability of experts. One negative effect from this was a tendency to try label pupils with a particular SEN so that they could be more easily categorised. This still occurs to some extent in schools, partly due to increased funding and partly from increased parental pressure.
However, SEN is currently conceptualised much more broadly. While there is still funding attached to diagnosis of particular needs, it is more common to think about a continuum of needs and provision. In line with the principles of inclusion, and in common with the ESOL practices described above, there is a belief that good teaching should be able to meet the needs of all pupils. In guidance published in 2004, this was described as the belief that "effective teaching for children with SEN shares most of the characteristics of effective teaching for all children" (DfES, 2004). As we saw with ESOL, however, the reality of meeting a wide range of needs with scarce resources means that this can often be difficult. Specialist training is available for particular categories of need, particularly for supporting pupils with visual impairments or those on the autistic spectrum. Indeed, some teacher training courses offer a specialism in SEN rather than a curriculum subject area, so it is no longer the case that there are only a few experts in SEN - there is probably more support available than you might expect.
As well as moving away from an emphasis on disability or barriers to learning and more towards principles of inclusion, current practice also emphasises personalised learning. This means thinking about how all pupils access the curriculum and wider school life and the wide range of needs and backgrounds of your learners (as we saw in the chapter on the hidden curriculum). Having high expectations for pupils to achieve and for schools and teachers to enable progress does not, however, mean that all pupils must achieve equally. Schools and teachers should expect to be evaluated on the effort and resources they have put in place to enable good progress relative to a pupil's starting point. Expectations should therefore be high, but realistic - including having a realistic (but optimistic) view of the support and resources available. It is also important to remember the social goals and how the overall life of the school contributes to a pupil's development, so even if you might feel that a pupil could make better academic progress in a specialist setting there is still a strong argument to be made for inclusion policies. Including pupils in the broader school community is also a key concern for pupils with SEN because such pupils are more likely to be excluded from school or to have poor attendance.
It is worth reflecting on SEN as being part of each pupil's continuum of need. As teachers think about personalisation of the curriculum and the particular needs of each individual pupil, those needs can be thought of as 'special' when the need is "significantly greater than in the majority of their peers" (DfES, 2001). This phrase is taken from the SEN Code of Practice and shows how SEN is often a professional judgement made by a teacher rather than requiring the formal 'statementing' process from an expert. As we saw in the chapter on safeguarding, respecting the views of pupils is also an important principle linked to the concept of children's rights. It is therefore important to take these views into account and to think about how barriers to learning might be experienced by a pupil, and what type of support they would value. Progressing from this standard expectation of personalisation and differentiation, SEN provision can be usefully thought of as having three different stages. These indicate that provision needs to go beyond what is normally expected as part of effective general teaching. The first two stages, School Action and School Action Plus, indicate that the school has made its own assessment and created a needs plan which all teachers should follow. This will typically include targeted support or additional resources from within the school, usually funding from the school's existing resources. The next stage is an external assessment, leading to a formal statement of Special Educational Needs. While it would be inadvisable to ignore School Action and School Action Plus plans of support, the Statement of Special Educational Needs carries much more influence, and failing to follow it could have significant implications for a teacher since following the plan has been deemed important for meeting the pupil's needs. Many schools still refer to these three levels of need, if only informally, although others prefer to follow more recent guidance and replace SEN planning with wider-reaching Education, Health and Care plans.
Recent developments have clarified and raised expectations for how pupils with SEN are supported. This is ambitiously stated in the Children and Families Act (2014) as pupils being entitled to support which enables them to achieve the "best possible educational and other outcomes". This policy also makes clear that local authorities have a duty to ensure that there is sufficient support, including making sure that schools follow care plans and are provided with whatever resources they need, including funding. Crucially, however, local authorities now have this as a clear responsibility even before a care plan has been created. This is intended to overcome the delays where pupils could have been left with very little support as they waited to be 'statemented'.
Finally, it is worth reflecting on the principles raised in the equality and diversity chapter. One of the consequences of meeting needs so far as possible in a mainstream setting and removing barriers to learning is that disability is not sufficient to classify someone as having special needs. As a general principle, a pupil does not have SEN if their needs can be met by the school through its standard inclusive practice and personalisation of the curriculum. As a teacher, your responsibility is to identify any pupils who may have SEN or other additional needs and to try meet those needs by working with the support in school. It is then for designated staff in the school or the local authority itself to determine if more support is necessary and to start formal processes.
Compared with ESOL needs, there is much more guidance for how to meet SEN needs. There is also a much more formal process for identifying and assessing needs, including identifying sources of support. While you should always think about how your general teaching is inclusive enough to meet the needs of all pupils, being aware of how long it might take to get effective support puts an emphasis on early identification of cases where you may need extra resources. It is also important to communicate effectively with previous teachers, including making links with primary schools, so that early identification and continuity are both improved. As we saw in the chapter on pastoral support, you should think about the broad range of health, social, and emotional needs of learners (particularly those with SEN or who may have SEN). Communicating with pastoral leaders or other teachers of the same pupils can help to share ideas and form a more cohesive plan. Trying to make an explicit routine will be helpful, particularly for new staff or if absences need to be covered - part of setting high expectations for teaching is that learning will still be effective even when a regular teacher is absent.
As well as thinking about the needs of pupils, parents will need supporting through assessment processes, as these can often be frustrating and bureaucratic. This can be particularly frustrating for the large numbers of pupils who are diagnosed late, meaning that parents feel that they have fewer options and pupils may already have fallen significantly behind their peers. There can also be tension between schools and parents regarding funding, as some care plans can make direct payments to parents rather than funding provision in schools. As policies shift the definition of SEN, you might also find that some pupils are no longer given dedicated support, and this can be difficult for parents. This can be particularly true for Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties (BESD). While schools might have provision such as nurture groups for pupils with such needs, behaviour in and of itself should not be considered SEN and should be able to be managed within existing school behaviour policies.
An effective Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo) will be valuable in identifying and monitoring pupils who may have SEN, and should be able to offer support for a wide range of needs or signpost you to other support and training. No teacher or SENCo will be experienced in the full range of needs, so it should be expected that part of your professional development will have to be reactive to the particular pupils in your groups. Nevertheless, as a general principle you should try to build your skills as proactively as possible, particularly in common areas such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and visual impairment.
While personalisation and differentiation is important as part of meeting the needs of each individual, addressing outcomes beyond educational achievement can add further complexity. It is therefore important not to focus too much on each individual and to consider the interaction of needs within each group. This will be a challenge even in the small class sizes of a special school. Care plans and targeted support, such as individual needs assistants, will also tend to focus on an individual's needs in general. Applying this to the support they will need in the specific context of your classes will require in-depth knowledge of your group. Helpful guidance is offered by Ofsted (2004) in terms of what a teacher should expect to do as part of supporting pupils with SEN. The first of these is teamwork, emphasising the need for a coordinated response across all subjects and with different staff. As with all pupils, Ofsted also expects teachers to capture the interest of pupils with SEN and set high expectations and personalised targets and learning outcomes as well as helping learners to be more independent (both in general and in terms of directing their own learning). There are no particular expectations that you should be familiar with specific needs or resources beyond common ICT and multi-sensory resources. As we have seen in the general principles above, this guidance from Ofsted reinforces that the expectations for supporting pupils with SEN are almost identical to the expectations for supporting all pupils.
Finally, effectively accommodating a pupil with SEN into the mainstream classroom requires consideration of the range of outcomes that might be important to each individual. Pupils have a right to have their views listened to and respected, so even when formal care plans are not established it is worth spending some time communicating with pupils and parents. A range of outcomes will be important to them, including social needs. It is therefore important for pupils to feel a part of each class, and decisions which might make good sense for their academic development might make them feel isolated.
When comparing the provision for ESOL and SEN needs, it is clear that policy has given much more attention to SEN. Good practice in ESOL is difficult to find, and while there are resources and training opportunities available, these can be limited. Resources also tend to focus solely on English, so responsibility for meeting ESOL needs can fall onto English teachers. This not only makes too big an assumption that teaching English is similar to teaching ESOL, but it leaves other curriculum subjects either creating their own resources or struggling to meet ESOL needs. There is also no ESOL equivalent of a special school, although some highly-selective schools do offer multi-lingual teaching these are only available in large cities and often charge fees. As a new teacher, building your skills in ESOL is therefore a good strategy to give yourself a competitive edge since you will be able to identify an ESOL skills gap in most schools. Some of the advice in this chapter, such as recycling vocabulary, should also be useful for your class in general.
The demand for meeting the needs of all pupils has also increased, but without any significant additional investment. Rather than removing barriers or enabling good progress, teachers are now expected to aim for the 'best' outcomes for pupils not just educationally but also in terms of social, emotional and health outcomes. As we saw in the chapter on the hidden curriculum, addressing some of these goals can enhance your teaching rather than distracting from it. However, expectations for differentiation and personalisation are clearly higher than ever before, so you might need to demand more support than ever before. This can even be true for teachers in special schools, where the increased scope and complexity of care plans will at the very least increase your planning time.
For both ESOL and SEN needs, the policies discussed in this chapter have shown a shift over the last 70 years. From being an 'inconvenience' which needed to be clustered in one place, both ESOL and SEN have been included in the principles of meeting the needs of every pupil and differentiating the curriculum. Over this time, expectations on pupils have increased so that ESOL or SEN is no longer an excuse for a lack of progress. This expectation has also passed on to teachers, so it is no longer acceptable to fail to meet the needs of pupils - including pupils who are waiting to be formally assessed. There are high expectations that good teaching is inclusive of a broad range of learner needs, so finding yourself with pupils who present specific needs should not require a major change to your teaching practice. If you are teaching inclusively and differentiating lessons effectively but needs are still not being met, this is probably an indication that a learner has more substantial needs and specialist support is required. Finally, it is important to keep sight of the broad range of learner needs, not just academic progress. While it can be tempting to group pupils for convenience or economies of scale, social needs will also be very important to pupils and their parents.
Finally, globalisation trends have affected many schools, particularly those in large cities, as professionals become more mobile and fewer parents choose private schools. Setting higher expectations is not just policy rhetoric: the UK is seeking to attract highly skilled and educated migrants, which means promising a world-class standard of education for their children. Schools near universities are already seeing an increase in pupils who attend for a year or two while their parents take postgraduate courses, and there are high expectations that pupils will make good progress in such a short space of time. Neither ESOL nor SEN needs are acceptable excuses for a lack of progress, but ESOL is perhaps seeing the strongest shift in opinion as expectations are raised for UK schools to offer a high-quality education for a new generation of global citizens, many of whom are already established high-achievers.
As you consider the hands-on scenario at the end of this chapter, you should think about the educational and social outcomes that are important for your pupils and how you might be able to meet those needs both currently and with further support.
Now that you have completed this chapter, you should feel more confident in:
Planning to assess and meet the wide range of ESOL needs pupils may have;
Understanding the high expectations for meeting a diverse range of pupil needs as part of your regular practice; and
Knowing what support is available and how to seek it out.
Department for Education and Skills (DfES). (2001). Special Educational Needs Code of Practice. London: HMSO.
Department for Education and Skills (DfES). (2004). Removing Barriers to Achievement. The Government's Strategy for SEN. London: HMSO.
Howard, S. (2012). Schooling, ethnicity and English as an additional language, in V. Brooks, I. Abbott and P. Huddleston (eds.), Preparing to Teach in Secondary Schools (3rd ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press. Pp.301-315.
Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). (2004). Special Educational Needs and Disability. Towards Inclusive Schools. London: HMSO.
You are a new teacher in a large secondary school in Birmingham, teaching English, History and Drama at Key Stage 3. Your school has a substantial ethnic minority population of Pakistani pupils, many of whom are third-generation and have been raised entirely in the UK. Some speak English at home as well as other languages, others do not. Your school has also experienced the general demographic trend in Birmingham of increasing numbers of Chinese pupils, including large numbers of pupils who have grown up in China.
The SEN register also indicates that several of your pupils in the coming year are on the autistic spectrum, including two pupils with anger management issues. Another pupil has severe visual impairment and uses a visualiser as well as an iPad which replicates whatever you display on your interactive whiteboard. He has a one-on-one support (a level 3 teaching assistant) for around half of his lessons. While the TA is informally happy to help with any groups in which you place this pupil, her formal role is to be his support and the school receives direct funding for her salary.
Two other teachers in your department have similar groups of pupils. The first teacher, Kate, has both ESOL and SEN experience to a high standard, but is also in high demand from the GCSE Drama team so would rather reduce her teaching load in your department. Your other colleague, Seamus, taught in China during his gap year in the 1980s and met his wife there, helping him to maintain a good knowledge of Cantonese. His curriculum expertise is mainly in history. However, like you, he is confident teaching all three subjects at KS3.
You have been invited to a team meeting to how best to allocate £3500 of funding across nine classes taught by three different teachers. This can be spent on learning resources, equipment, or training for the next INSET day. Your department has also been awarded funding for a fixed-term post of one year to recruit either an additional level 3 teaching assistant full-time or a higher-level teaching assistant for an 80% timetable. As part of the preparation for the meeting, you have been asked to think about the desirable and essential criteria which will should be put into the job advert and at what level the post should be advertised, as well as how the new member of your team should be used as you plan next year's timetables.
Firstly, it is important to consider ESOL and SEN for each of the subjects. It might seem more convenient when timetabling to group all the Chinese pupils into Seamus' classes, but this might have implications for other ways you organise groups, such as if you stream by ability. This might help new pupils to feel a sense of belonging in a group, or it could have the opposite effect and make them feel isolated in the school more generally - knowing your groups well is therefore important as you think about the best strategy. It is also worth remembering that Cantonese might be more common with those who immigrated to the UK following the war - modern-day immigrants are more likely to speak Mandarin or a local variant, such as Sichuanese. Kate might therefore be a better fit since she has more expertise in teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages in general, which might be more valuable than code-switching.
In terms of the budget, you might consider online resources which come with translated materials, extra English resources, or more drama resources such as puppets which do not rely so much on language use. Some resources could get more use if they also support SEN needs, so puppets could also be justified for their value in helping pupils on the autistic spectrum to express and explore their emotions.
In your class, it is also important to think about access to these new resources for the pupil with visual impairment. Most online resources should be adaptable, as is anything you can use on the interactive whiteboard, but other resources might not be so easily accessed. Interactive whiteboards are very expensive, so you might also need to think about whether every classroom should have one or if rooms will be shared. As you agree on the more expensive items, it is also useful to think about some cheaper items in case you are not allowed to carry over any spending to the next financial year. Good quality multi-lingual dictionaries are still valuable resources, even with the range of online tools available. This is because they offer a single and convenient authoritative source, whereas online tools can give far too many options (as well as other distractions). Looking for a 'co-build' dictionary will help to translate concepts and ideas both ways, aiding not just comprehension but also expression.
Training for the next INSET day will also be important, as it may be hard to prioritise one specific area. As a compromise, you could have an ESOL morning or SEN afternoon, or decide that it would be more useful to look at one area in more detail and assign others to occur within after-school meeting hours or on future INSET days. Topics for consideration that may be brought up by all three members of staff could include: Involving Pakistani pupils in the curriculum, how to use resources effectively with students with Special Educational Needs, or sourcing culturally inclusive literacy and drama material.
Regarding staffing, an HLTA is most likely to be a popular choice because they can cover classes and the rest of the time assist with specific SEN and ESOL pupils and groups. Being able to take groups without the supervision of a teacher could be valuable since it occasionally frees up either Kate, Seamus or yourself to act in a TA role and offer targeted intervention or other support (or even catch up on training). Examples of essential criteria could be: Secure subject knowledge of secondary English, History and Drama and used to working with pupils with a range of ESOL and SEN needs. Examples of desirable criteria could be: Knows some Pakistani or Cantonese, or having previously worked with Visually Impaired or autistic pupils. The emphasis you place on the new member of staff being able to support your visually impaired pupil will largely depend on how resilient the school's contingency plans are: if your dedicated TA was suddenly ill, would there be any alternative support? You may even decide that too much of the provision for this pupil is tied up in one individual, when more of his needs should be met through your regular teaching plan.
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