Why Special Schools need Maths Scholars too

Naomi PendletonWhen you think about where a Maths Scholar ends up, you probably imagine somewhere a bit hardcore, like an inner-city school where attendance is low, or perhaps a sixth form college teaching Further Maths all day. To be honest, that thought nearly stopped me applying in the first place, as I wasn’t sure I was cut out for either of those scenarios. Before doing my PGCE I was a Teaching Assistant for 10 years, so I guess it makes sense that when my placement schools suggested I teach at the Designated Provision Resource for a wider experience, I felt right at home.

At the back of my mind, I had always considered the possibility of applying to special schools, but despite my experience as a teaching assistant I had a lot of prejudice. I worried that teaching maths would involve nothing more than counting to ten over and over. So, when I went for an interview recently in a Special School, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Headteacher viewed the curriculum content as every child’s right. The challenge, he believed, was not figuring out which Key Stage’s content was at the right level, but figuring out how to take the relevant Key Stage’s content and making it accessible to children who are developmentally working at a lower level. Could I take the topic of algebra, for example, and make it accessible to a year 9 who is working at the level of a year 5?

The fact that you’re reading a blog about maths probably means you won’t be surprised that my answer was a resounding yes. But what quickly became apparent was that the headteacher was asking a genuine I-don’t-know-the-answer question. This was a problem that he was actively trying to solve. For some subjects he could get outside providers to come in to do workshops, including a local theatre doing a three-day project on The Tempest – but who has the skills to make maths accessible?!

Pearl Buck wrote “The test of a civilization is in the way that it cares for its helpless members.” Inspiring maths teachers have a fairly unique skill that could potentially care for some of the most vulnerable in our society in ways that will make a profound difference to their education. I’m only at the start of my journey, and I am a little overwhelmed by the amount that I have to learn. But I am glad that, far from my skills being “wasted” in a special school (as one well-meaning friend suggested), they will be utilised to the full, to help young people to access the curriculum content that they are fully entitled to.

By Naomi Pendleton