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Teaching skills including pre-school and academic skills to children and young people, primarily in school contexts

Children and young people with developmental disabilities (including intellectual disability and/or autism) often have difficulty learning new skills, or learn new skills at a slower rate when compared with their peers. In January 2017, the Department for Education (DfE) figures for England show the total number of children with special educational need (SEN) was 1,244,255, an increase of 15,470 on the same period in 2016, with the primary need of children with SEN being moderate learning difficulty (25%) and ASD (26.9%).

We know that children and young people from this group are at a significant disadvantage in terms of attainment, when compared with their peers. In 2016/17, phonics screening revealed that only 43% of students with SEN met the required standard when compared with 87% of students with no SEN, a gap of 44 percentage points. These attainment gaps are either maintained or are increased across core subjects of reading, writing and mathematics at Key Stage assessment. Although, schools recognise that additional supports and resources are required to promote learning and to close this attainment gap, there exists an underdeveloped evidence-base in support of methods and curricular that show evidence of being capable of improving outcomes for these children.

Poor attainment in the early stages of education translates to poorer post-secondary outcomes related to employment, housing and social engagement for people with developmental disabilities. According to 2018 figures, 3.7 million people with disabilities were reported to be in work in the UK with just over 100,000 of these representing people with developmental disabilities, the lowest represented group. As such, there is a compelling need for research into the development and validation of effective evidence-based methods that may be implemented early, primarily in a school context, that focus on the teaching of skills designed to improve on these outcomes.

The Teaching Skills in Schools group is currently supporting a range of research projects aimed at improving opportunities for children with developmental disabilities. Members of the group include Corinna Grindle, Emily Tyler, Claire McDowell, Maggie Hoerger, Andrew Swartfigure, Clodagh Murray, Katy Lee, Freddy Jackson Brown, Esther Thomas, Emma Hawkins, Richard May, Catherine Storey and Hannah Clements. Sean O’Neill and Beverley Jones are the research assistants who support The Teaching Skills in Schools group.

We are committed to carrying out research with real impact for children and young people with developmental disabilities. On-going projects of the teaching skills in school group include:

  • Headsprout Early Reading ® (HER) in children
    HER is an online systematic phonics program that uses learning principles to teach basic reading and comprehension, that are needed to become an independent reader. HER is a fun and engaging way to teach children reading skills, with mounting evidence for its effective use for children with an intellectual disability (ID). This group is developing training/instruction manuals that will facilitate its use with children and young people with developmental disabilities - a broadening of its application. Related to this project we are working with MENCAP to trial a parent-mediated HER delivered reading intervention to young children with a developmental disability. Typically, HER is administered by teaching assistants and teachers in special schools making its application resource dependent. This project will use a small randomised control trial to evaluate its delivery by the parents of children and young people with a developmental disability.
  • Teaching Early Numeracy to children with an Intellectual Disability (TEN ID)
    Teaching mathematics to children with an intellectual disability is an area with limited research evidence. Over the past few years, our group has been developing and evaluating a comprehensive numeracy intervention based on Maths Recovery, a numeracy programme designed for typically developing children. We have developed detailed lesson plans for teachers based on the Systematic Instruction teaching approach. We now have a contract with Sage Publishers and are writing up a manual for practitioners describing the TEN ID approach.
  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) survey
    PECS is widely used in British Special Schools as an augmentative communication system for children with a learning disability. Despite its widespread use, very little is known about practitioner knowledge and experience of PECS. Over the last 6 months or so, our group has been developing a survey to find out more about PECS implementation in the UK. We will be investigating how widely PECS is used in UK school-based settings (i.e., its prevalence), as well as finding out more information about professional experiences, opinions, and knowledge of those who are currently involved in its implementation. We are hoping that the survey results will help to inform guidelines for improved PECS implementation in schools.