Train all teachers in special needs, urges pioneering headmistress

A HEADTEACHER who received a lifetime achievement award for “dragging special education out of the cupboard” has called for all members of the ­profession to be given mandatory training to deal with pupils with additional support needs.

Lorraine Stobie, 56 who was honoured for her “visionary” work at the Pearson Teaching Awards last year, said the education of special needs pupils in mainstream schools had failed to progress in 20 years.

Ms Stobie said growing numbers of children with autism, Asperger’s and Attention Deficity Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in schools meant there was now a need for all teachers to have appropriate training.

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“I don’t think enough is being done to help children that are being taught in mainstream schools,” she said. “I really don’t think a lot of progress has been made in the last 20 years.

“We’re no longer in a position where there is quite a slim chance that a teacher will meet a child with additional support needs – that’s going to happen more and more.

“There needs to be something included in initial teacher training. Mainstream schools could learn a lot from special schools and perhaps teachers could take part in shadowing.

“I don’t want this to sound like a criticism of teachers. It’s very difficult for a teacher who’s never had training [in special needs] to get that on the job.”

The headteacher at Southcraig Campus, a special school in Ayr, picked up the Ted Wragg Award for Lifetime Achievement in London in October just months after a similar honour at the Scottish Education Awards.

In November, a report found children are being let down by cuts made to the number of experts available to them. The review of educational provision for the Scottish Government raised concerns over falling numbers of specially trained teachers, educational psychologists, assistants and paediatricians with disability training.

Chaired by Peter Doran, the former chief executive of an educational trust giving care for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, the review found many parents struggled to find help due to a series of “bureaucratic complexities”.

Despite statistics showing 15 per cent of all Scots pupils have additional needs, research by disability charity Enable Scotland last year found none of Scotland’s 32 local authorities gave mandatory training.

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Linda Whitmore, Enable Scotland’s development officer for children and young people, said: “Our view is that all teachers, including headteachers and learning support assistants, should have a basic understanding of the physical, cognitive, emotional and possibly behavioural challenges faced by children and young people with learning disabilities and-or autistic spectrum disorders.

“We want to see mandatory training not only in the general topics of additional support needs, inclusion and equalities, but also in the specific areas of behavioural management strategies, communication strategies and awareness of learning disabilities and autism.”