Spreading the word about accessibility: Reaching student teachers

16 April 2015

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In this Expert series article Dr Kate Flynn, Researcher at RNIB, discusses how to get accessibility information into mainstream teacher training.

People with print disabilities face barriers to learning if their teachers aren’t aware of accessible curriculum materials – and yet currently, teacher training courses aren’t required to address accessibility.

Recently I carried out some desktop research into what student teachers are taught regarding access to the curriculum. This post pulls out the key points and considers how to get accessibility information into mainstream teacher training.

Training content is left to the discretion of individual institutions

A set of Teachers’ Standards, which became effective on 1 September 2012, is used to assess student teachers. Although the standards say that teachers must have a clear understanding of the needs of pupils with disabilities, they don’t specify training content.  

Historically, there have been problems with how well teachers are prepared to teach pupils with learning difficulties and disabilities

A survey by Ofsted in 2008 found an over-reliance on schools to provide the bulk of training in Special Educational Needs (SEN). Student teachers gained experience in areas of specific concern to the schools where they worked, but didn’t receive wider coverage of learning difficulties and disabilities.

Subsequent attempts to address SEN training needs included a toolkit of 17 optional self study tasks, published in 2009 by the former Training and Development Agency for Schools. The tasks haven’t been updated since then, which means they don’t refer to newer resources such as Load2Learn.

How can we influence teacher training?

One route is to lobby decision makers at, for instance, the Department for Education. In 2013, the lack of mandatory SEN training prompted the British Dyslexia Association to launch an e-petition for a decent level of dyslexia awareness training for student teachers. The e-petition received more than 10,000 signatures. Unfortunately, the Government issued an official response declining to intervene in course content at this stage.

An alternative way to encourage change is by directly approaching student teachers and their training providers. At RNIB we’re in the process of making an online video, which will contain key messages about accessibility. Once it’s complete the web address can be issued to teacher training providers via letter or email. Our message could potentially reach thousands of student teachers, bringing positive effects for any learners with print disabilities they go on to support. Watch this space!

Further information

To read about the research findings in more detail, see our Research Briefing Mainstream Teacher Training in Accessibility.

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