Nicola Clay, year 2 teacher at Hambleton, our partner school in North Yorkshire, writes an impassioned blog in providing the independence to allow her pupils to flourish…

Independence is something that as teachers we all strive for – for all of our children. For our children with SEND, independence can be even more important but sometimes dauntingly difficult to achieve.

I currently teach in KS1 in a mainstream school and have been without TA support since the beginning of this year (a situation I am sure is all too familiar in the current climate!) Of course, my initial reaction was apprehension…I have a number of children in my class who have additional needs and one child in particular sprung to mind – Tom*. Tom has severe speech and language difficulties and in the past has relied upon adult support to access any reading and writing activities. He also struggles with self-esteem and sometimes has behavioural difficulties due to frustration linked to his communication difficulties. So without my wonderful TA support, I wondered: How can I make sure that Tom learns successfully when I am not there to help him? How can I find meaningful, challenging and engaging tasks that Tom can complete independently? How was I to meet his complex needs while also meeting the various needs of the rest of the class?

I embarked upon this challenge back in September and it is very much an ongoing journey. There have been times that I have felt like I am failing him, times when I have thought he might be able to access something and part-way through have realised that he can’t, and times when I have felt like I neglected the other children as I needed to sit with and closely support Tom in order to make the learning accessible and allow him to find success.

However, along with these challenges, I have also experienced many occasions when Tom has exceeded my expectations and he has achieved some incredible things: What a learning curve for me that these times have been possible not just in spite of the lack of additional support, but arguably because we have had no alternative. I recently shared one particular moment of pride and success with Nancy, our DYT consultant and she asked me to share this as a point for thought – children with SEN can succeed just like any other child when encouraged to seek independence – and it can feel even more special when it works!

During a guided reading session recently, Tom was working entirely independently on his own target – to recognise and spell phase 2 tricky words. He was concentrating on the word ‘to’ and had a series of activities that he could complete independently. I left him to his work by himself, while reading with a different group. As you do, I kept an eye on him and the result was one of those moments we wait for as a teacher. I saw Tom determinedly sounding out aloud and writing something down. At one stage, he got up and went to get a sound mat to help him. He repeated his sounds over and over again and continued to work right to the end of the session. I didn’t want to interrupt or disturb what was obviously something he was determined to do by himself, and when he showed me his work at the end of the session I was speechless. For the first time, Tom had written a complete sentence independently. “I go to the parc.” I could not put my pride into words. I hadn’t even asked him to write a full sentence. The best bit? The page had seven different attempts at this sentence, all crossed out. When I asked Tom what these bits were, he looked at me and communicated “I made a mistake, it wasn’t right.” He had noticed his own mistakes and not given up. I could not have been more proud – and neither could he.

So we continue to push and challenge Tom – he can obviously achieve more than we sometimes expected. We have ups and downs (don’t we all!?) and there are still times when he refuses to put pen to paper, or have a go at something tricky. But I am determined not to forget that moment. I will endeavour to remind myself of it for the rest of this year and make sure that it impacts upon my approach to all of the other children like Tom that I am lucky enough to meet in my career. I will remember to believe in them, challenge them, and provide them with independence to feel success just like their peers.

DYT’s flagship programme, Drive for Literacy, builds teacher capability and school capacity to identify and support children who struggle with reading, writing, speaking and listening. At present, the programme is subsidised by Driver Youth Trust and schools pay a reduced cost to receive nine consultancy days and six CPD workshops, which are tailored specifically for the school’s literacy and SEND needs.

If you are interested in the Drive for Literacy programme or would like to find out how to get involved contact