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NQT/ SEN Advice

Are you about to start your NQT year? Do you have pupils in your class with additional needs? Abigail Hawkins shares how to have a relationship with your SENCO and how you should treat each child as a person first and foremost. A must read!

In your training year you met children with dyslexia, autism and who spoke English as an additional language…so SEN and EAL are covered, right?  Your new class as an NQT has a couple of those too, so you can do the same thing…nope! Whatever you think you learned about meeting the needs of individuals in your class, prepare to be re-educated.
Even after 23 years as a SENCO there will always be a child who doesn’t quite fit my understanding and knowledge of a particular need, or an unusual diagnosis that appears in my register.  I have to research and learn new things all the time. As an NQT you are not expected to know it all and just because you taught a child with Fragile X last year doesn’t mean you know how to teach the one in your class this year (although you have a head start on anyone who has never taught a child with this.)
First of all, gather as much information as you can about the children, remembering that first and foremost they are students in your class not SEN students.  You will want to know what their strengths are so that you can play to them, and where they struggle the most so that you can scaffold work in order that they achieve.  If you have the chance to observe the children in their previous class, take the opportunity. You’ll see what they’re able to do (or not do) and won’t fall under the influence of the ‘lost all skills over the summer’.  (Yes, there might be a small dip, but they don’t completely lose the ability to open a book and write a title!) Talk to their teachers and the TAs and make sure you see them at break time too – you’d be surprised how some difficulties vanish when the pressure of the classroom is removed.  
If your school offers a summer parent’s evening, see if you can attend and meet the parents of some of those children.   They will give you an insight into life at home with their child, along with you being able to see the child in a slightly different context too.  Look for little clues, does Mum tell them to fasten their shoelaces or do it for them…how does this match with what you’ve seen in the classroom already?
Make friends with the SENCO, we’re not that scary, I promise, just incredibly busy!  But, we’d rather talk to you early on and teach you what you need to be successful with students, than try to unpick things later.  I’ve seen many a primary child become a school refuser because their teacher hasn’t asked for help early enough and just muddled through not meeting their needs.  Ask to see any plans or records about children in your classes and how you will be kept informed of any updates to information. It can be useful to find out if children in your classes are involved in any interventions or provisions and when these will be happening, it’s important that you manage their absence from your classes carefully.
When planning your lessons, aim high and then provide lots of scaffolding, support and guidance.  Key words or vocabulary mats help everyone… you can have different versions for different levels in your class and even leave space on them for EAL pupils to add words in their own language.  Don’t underestimate the power of a picture, it really can convey a thousand words, most of which your SEN pupil might not be able to read independently. Sentence starters are useful at every level too, from the simple through to the complex, using connectives and conjunctions.
Don’t make assumptions that every child with dyslexia will want yellow paper and every child with autism likes to spin wheels… you will come unstuck very quickly.  Rather than looking at any diagnostic label, the child is an individual with their own profile of strengths and difficulties.
And finally, ask questions.  Twitter, Facebook groups, staff in the school…the NQT year is the start of your career and a massive learning curve, answers to questions provide the handrail that stops you falling off the trajectory!

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The author

Abigail has been a classroom teacher and SENDCO for more than 20 years. During that time she has worked in a wide variety of settings and across age ranges 2 to adult. Whilst originally training as a science teacher, she spent the majority of her career teaching children with weak literacy skills and special educational needs. Other hats worn across the years include Co-ordinator for PP, EAL, LAC, Family Learning, Assessment, (a whole variety of subjects including Science, Literacy, DT, IT, History, Music and Maths), Designated Safeguarding Lead, Chief First-Aider and NQT Mentor. The only mainstream subject to have not appeared on her timetable (within primary, secondary or FE) at some point has been...nope, there wasn’t one, although SLT regretted asking her to teach art to 9-year-olds! Abigail loves working with schools and families around supporting young people with special educational needs and has published several books.

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