In 2016/2017, colleagues at The Sheffield College were encouraged to participate in a Big Learning Project. A collaborative small-scale research project that would lead to the development of their practice. I’ll be sharing a few of the write-ups here and the first comes from a trio of staff who chose to work together on their project.
They knew that teaching staff and LSAs could be working more effectively together; sharing knowledge and expertise so that each student’s learning experience could be improved. So, they set out to explore what might work.
What follows is a write-up of their journey.
By Cath Clarke, Louise Nunn and Isaac Howell
This project was inspired by feedback from a staff development training event about ‘How to effectively utilise learning support assistants in the classroom.’
In the first instance, training was requested by the Staff Development team to improve communication between English and Maths Staff and Learning Support Assistants (LSAs). This was delivered on Staff Development Day in early January 2017 by Cath Clarke and Louise Nunn (English teachers) with expert guidance from Isaac Howell (SENDCO).
The training included an overview of the Specific Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Department, vocabulary associated with SEND, and effective work practices.
The intention was to give an overview of protocol and procedure when English and Maths Staff work alongside LSAs in the classroom.
On the day of the event, more than 40 LSAs came to the training session and one member of the English and Maths Department. Unfortunately, most of the English and Maths team were either delivering or were involved in other essential training. The event was supposed to run for one hour. This was too short, and the session overran significantly as it became apparent that there were so many issues and queries. This highlighted the fundamental need for specific strategic guidelines and training for SEND staff and English/Maths staff.
The key finding was a lack of understanding of roles and responsibilities as well as poor communication between academic and support staff in the classroom.
In the initial stages of preparation for the training event it became apparent that expert guidance from within the SEND team was needed. Isaac Howell was approached and agreed to input on the training session. On the day of the training Steve Kelly also checked the training content to ensure it was sending the same messages that he was delivering to the wider team. This was done informally as a result of the relationships between staff but again would benefit from being part of a standardised approach.
In reading the College SEND policies there was an immediate realisation that the vocabulary and acronyms were unfamiliar and confusing. Staff were also ignorant of or confused by latest legislation changes. The only experience of this was at the start of the academic year when new Educational and Heath Care Plans were put in documents on Pro Monitor. No specific training seemed to have taken place for academic staff. When searching on the Hub – there didn’t seem to be any appropriate information.
We discovered most of the SEND acronyms by general searches on the Web – but again were confused by the meanings and definitions. Some terminology seemed to be nationally recognised across educational institutions and others were organisationally specific.
SEND is an integral part of the College’s four Cornerstones;
‘The LSA or any other support staff in a session are aware of their role and how that fits into the wider aims’ – it is essential that all staff College-wide have clarity of their roles.
Additionally, Ofsted state that for an OUTSTANDING OUTCOME-
‘Staff plan learning sessions and assessments very effectively so that all learners undertake demanding work that helps them to realise their full potential. Staff identify and support any learner who is falling behind and enable almost all to catch up.’
This demonstrates the vital role that the SEND support team has to play in the classroom.
Following feedback from the training event, more questions were raised.
Our first question was how to improve the system and situation regarding teaching staff and LSAs working effectively together in the classroom.
The second question would naturally be –
If the teaching staff and LSAs did have a strong rapport and more effective communication, would this have a positive impact on their work?
Whatever was revealed by the question could then be carried over so that the focus was on the impact on learning for the students.
Using the feedback given at the event – both of the academic staff attempted to follow some of the suggestions/guidance to try to improve their own effectiveness with their own LSAs in the classroom. This involved a trial experiment over a period of 6 months – January to June.
Cath Clarke had 8 lessons with LSAs in both Functional Skills English and Maths and in GCSE English. Support needs ranged from deaf learners, moderate learning difficulties, students with EHCP plans, and visually impaired students.
Louise Nunn had 4 LSAs which included support for hearing impaired students, EHCP plans, and learners with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Both academic tutors had LSA support for learners with Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties.
Draft guidelines following the training event were emailed to the SEND Department and Staff Development – using the suggestions from the session and the online evaluation feedback.
Both tutors followed a number of the guidelines to establish a model of good practice over the period of the experiment. Feedback was then requested from relevant LSAs on the effectiveness of this practice.
Both tutors also used Peer Observation with each other and other tutors within English and Maths – to check if the model of Good Practice worked effectively.
Model of good practice used with the aim of improving communication
- LSAs informed on what was being covered in lesson each week.
- LSAs given copies of lesson plans, resources and SOW.
- Tutors and LSAs had informal and formal meetings at the start and end of lessons.
- Updated Pro – Monitor reports/ emails to LSAs to inform decision making.
- Tutors made aware of glossary terms and definitions to help with planning and delivery.
- Use of technology to support effective Teaching, Learning and Assessment.
- Increased pro–activity in utilising and directing LSAs.
- LSAs more pro–active in HOW to help teaching staff with specific SEND issues.
- Regular reflection and review of student progress outside the classroom.
Findings based on the 6 month trial were mainly anecdotal and qualitative, using feedback from LSAs and tutors’ own experiences (plus peer observations – one per tutor).
Both tutors agreed that the experience encouraged reflection on their own practice.
Tutors felt the training event had revealed a deficiency in awareness of SEND – despite being ‘experts’ in English and Maths. After the 6 month period – both tutors felt they had raised their own awareness of SEND.
Both tutors felt far more confident in directing LSAs during lessons.
Isaac Howell felt the bond between the SEND Dept and English and Maths was much better and communication had improved for those taking part.
LSAs involved felt ‘included in the lesson’ and more ‘aware of overall aims and objectives’.
LSAs felt more able to discuss issues and input in to lesson planning.
Experiences encouraged greater review of teaching practice and promotion of inclusivity.
One LSA remarked on feeling more ‘valued’ and having an impact on the sessions.
Conclusion and Recommendations
To establish cross-College agreement on comprehensive guidelines that clarify roles and responsibilities for all SEND staff and teaching staff.
To have a working party to implement these changes and cascade to the wider College.
For College to provide urgent staff training on SEND legislation, responsibilities, terminology and protocol.
To provide documentation to support the above – specifically the Vocabulary of SEND.
To provide a more coordinated approach to the student experience – ensuring all staff are aware of student needs (updated and regularly reviewed support plans etc on Pro Monitor).
More effective use of College systems especially Pro – Monitor e.g Group Profile Document with guidance for staff and recommended support for students.
For all staff to use the Model of Good Practice.
Ofsted (2017) Further Education and skills Inspection Handbook, Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/further-education-and-skills-inspection-handbook
The Sheffield College (2017) Shared Expectations of Students’ Learning, Available at: PRIVATE WEB ADDRESS
The Sheffield College (2017) The Staff Hub, Available at: PRIVATE WEB ADDRESS