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ECF reforms mark another step forward for inclusive practice

Last year the DfE published the SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan. One of the commitments made in this plan was that the content of the core content framework (CCF) and early career framework (ECF) would be reviewed to build teacher expertise and increase their competence to meet the needs of children and young people identified with SEND.

Having collectively had the opportunity to contribute to the development of the new ITTECF, it is pleasing to see that it starts strongly with a new section in the framework introduction. ‘Supporting pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities’ lays out the importance of high-quality teaching for all pupils, especially those with additional needs.

What feels like a real step towards true inclusivity in this section is its emphasis on the value of understanding individual pupils’ development needs rather than their generic labels. Labels can only go so far in helping a teacher understand the child in front of them; relationship-building is key to knowing which adaptations will best support that pupil to progress.

It’s positive to see an acknowledgement of the nuance involved in supporting pupils with complex needs. The previous frameworks emphasised the need for mentors and other experienced colleagues to support early-career teachers to understand how to apply the statements within the framework appropriately. It’s helpful to see that this need for professional judgment and reflexivity even more explicitly acknowledged in the new framework. This should hopefully negate misconceptions that it promotes rigid and inflexible practices.

There are also some new statements in the framework content itself which have the potential to strengthen inclusive practice.

For example, we know that building strong relationships between pupils and teachers and fomenting an authentic sense of belonging are core tenets of inclusive teaching. So it’s great to see this new statement in the first section, ‘High Expectations’: “High quality teaching is underpinned by positive interactions between pupils, their teachers and their peers”.

These adjustments create space for better opportunities to explore SEND practice

Section two, ‘How Pupils Learn’ very clearly acknowledges the natural variations in our working memory capacity. It reads: “Pupils have different working memory capacities; some pupils with SEND may have more limited working memory capacity than their peers without SEND”. Working memory capacity is associated with multiple SEND needs and recognising this diversity will help new teachers to plan anticipatory support to help all pupils access and progress in their learning.

There are also statements that have been adjusted to acknowledge that flexibility may be required in how they are applied depending on a pupil’s developmental trajectory. However, it’s simply in the nature of broad statements covering multiple contexts that they won’t always be able to reflect the entirety of the pupil population. As acknowledged in the framework introduction, it will be vital for those working with children whose needs are different to contextualise delivery to meet the needs of their staff and pupils.

Some of the changes reflect the content of the new NPQ SENCo framework. Indeed this statement in section 5, ‘Adaptive Teaching’, is replicated from that framework: “High quality teaching for pupils with SEND is based on strategies which are often already practised by teachers, and which can be developed through training and support”. This helps to strengthen the consistency that runs through the professional learning frameworks and creates a foundation from which inclusive leaders can grow.

Close readers might notice that the examples pulled out here come from across the framework, not just the ‘Adaptive Teaching’ section. This demonstrates a desire to build inclusive content throughout the whole framework and not to simply situate inclusive practice as somehow in addition to core practice.

The framework is just the beginning. The adjustments that have been made create the space for better opportunities to explore SEND practice and develop greater understanding. But that will only happen if those involved in the delivery of the framework make best use of these opportunities and recognise that we need to support all teachers to be effective for all children.

This article was co-authored with Anne Heavey, Director of Insights, Ambition Institute

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