Supporting SEND pupils during the Covid-19 pandemic at the British Embassy School Ankara

Sarah Sener, Student Support Leader at BESA, tells us how they’re adjusting to online ways of teaching to SEND pupils

Even a quick online search of ‘how to help pupils with SEND’ during this difficult period reveals that there is not much information out there. While schools across the world struggle to adapt to distance learning, SEND pupils and their parents face even bigger challenges.

With the safety net of school and its routines and support systems gone, how can we help our SEND pupils continue to learn while ensuring their well-being in such unique conditions?

Whilst at BESA we had a Pandemic Response Plan in place, we had not planned what our education system would look like if we were required to meet our children’s learning needs remotely.

We had one day to prepare before our school was locked down. For non-SEND pupils, we already had systems in place that could be adapted to remote learning, including Google Classroom. However, we were very concerned that our SEND pupils would struggle for a variety of reasons:

o   Much of the individual support they receive at school focuses on increasing their self-confidence and supporting their well-being. How will they cope without this individual attention?

o   Many SEND pupils have developed very close relationships with individual staff, such as Learning Support Assistants. How will they manage without these interactions?

o   SEND pupils often need clear routines - how will the loss of this affect them?

o   Many of our SEND pupils struggle to cope academically – how will they access the curriculum without the scaffolding previously provided in the school context?

o   For SEND pupils with specific difficulties such as dyslexia – how will they understand all the information on Google classroom, when so much of this is written?

o   How will SEND pupils (particularly the younger ones) cope with the extra challenges inherent in the technology, such as uploading videos?

When considering these questions, it became clear that for this group of pupils, we would need to set up a system with clear routines and face to face interaction with members of the Student Support team. We also needed to consider the safeguarding aspects of this.

We achieved this by using Zoom, supported by regular emails with the families of SEND pupils. Each pupil has two Zoom meetings daily. These take place at exactly the same time, and with the same staff members – this routine helps both the pupils and their parents.

So far, we have almost 100% attendance at the sessions (non-attendance has been due to technical issues). Each session is led by a key worker, who knows the child well and has a previous history of supporting him/her. A second staff member also attends the session, for both safeguarding reasons and as support where necessary.

The morning sessions take place at the start of the school day and last for 40 minutes. In these sessions the key worker assists pupils with any area they need support in, talks through the expectations for the day, answers parental queries where necessary, and sets extra work if the pupil would normally do something different.

The afternoon sessions take place at the end of the day, and follow the same staffing format. The key worker talks through the day with the pupil, and answers any questions she/he may have. If time remains, the pupil is asked to read or do some mental maths (it is very easy to share a screen using Zoom).

Although this system does bring challenges (technology mainly, and the challenge of parents who are generally listening in) the feedback from parents and the children has been overwhelmingly positive – the sessions have been described as ‘the highlight of the day’.

Student Support staff have had to become very creative with regard to how they explain things, and use technology. The children have some routine in their day, as it is bookended by their Zoom sessions, and they get to interact with a familiar face who is patient and supportive.

There are also some unexpected advantages – for children struggling to read, sharing the text on screen means that you can easily highlight syllables when reading – this has really helped a couple of the children. Secondly, for some pupils (especially children with ADHD or auditory processing disorders) the removal of the noise and distractions of the classroom has resulted in their concentration becoming distilled, with some excellent results.

These unexpected benefits are causing us to consider how they can be transferred when we return to the classroom – for example, is it worth investing in sound removing earphones?  Can we create ‘quiet cubicles’ in classrooms? Can we make more use of technology for dyslexic pupils? As we find answers to questions, more appear, and like our pupils, we carry on learning.

This is how we at BESA are trying to help our SEND pupils during this period. We would love to hear of any other systems that schools have in place.

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