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Could a specialist teacher be the answer to your school’s woes?

The latest research report by Driver Youth Trust was released just over three weeks ago. Hide and Seek followed up on the Rose Review (2009), specifically the £10million pledged to train specialist teachers, and attempted to find out where those specialists are 10 years on. At a time when capacity and expertise are in desperately short supply, 3,500 specialists could be a much needed resource.

Fitting specialist teachers into a whole-school strategy could give teachers a better understanding of their pupils’ needs and help develop effective and inclusive strategies for closing skills gaps. In this blog, I wanted to explore my thinking on the report’s fifth recommendation:

Specialists’ training needs to include approaches to enabling them to support teachers and SENCos, as well as pupils. Initial teacher training needs to prepare new teachers to be aware of the benefits of this level of partnership when supporting children with additional needs in line with the graduated approach.

Hide and Seek report (2020), DYT

Let’s be honest – figuring out how to effectively deploy specialists isn’t at the top of any leader’s to-do list. It would be much easier to just let them wander the corridors and pick pupils to support at random. The other obvious alternative is to have them hole-up in an room with your SENCo dropping off pupils with a label.

Specialist teacher deployment

If you have a staff member with specialist training working across your Trust or school, you can redeploy them to provide help in core skills such as literacy, which will pay off in the longer term. Deploying specialists can be a significant expense though, so you need to be sure they are deployed effectively. Here’s how:

  • Clarify roles and responsibilities: ensure you, your team and the specialist understand the boundaries of their role. Develop buy-in from middle leaders by highlighting the benefits of having a specialist by sharing skills and expertise.
  • Communicate and share: make sure there are transparent lines of communication across your team. Create opportunities for discussion and a shared purpose by agreeing aims and the needs currently present in your cohort. This is especially important when specialist teachers work alongside your teaching assistants.
  • Funding: if your specialist teacher is supported by funds from outside of your standard school budget, such as by your trust, consider how to pool budgets. Put in place written agreements, adequately allocated working time allocation.
  • Managing and leading well: headteachers have enough on their plate so identify another member of your team to oversee the work of the specialist teacher. Develop suitable performance objectives, such as number of pupils supported, and for the specialist themselves to have appropriate supervision.
  • Evaluate for impact: jointly review and evaluate relevant performance indicators for pupils and staff, and develop agreed reporting structures. Keep it simple and focus on impact over process.

Make the specialist part of the team

Specialist teachers can be a valuable asset in supporting both pupils and staff. Their expertise could be hugely valuable to support pupils to catch-up and keep up in the short to medium term. However, they need to be managed like anyone else in your school and be given time and space to develop your team around them.

Chris Rossiter

Chief Executive, DYT

Chris originally trained as an applied psychologist and has worked across the private, public and charitable sector for over 15 years. Has has particular expertise in special educational needs and disability, and organisational psychology. He is a primary Chair of Governors, Trustee of the Astrea Academy Trust, member of the literacy sub-committee of the Hastings Opportunity Area and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

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