Derry teacher shares best practice in Special Educational Needs after Vancouver visit

A Derry teacher will tomorrow share her knowledge of inclusive education (SEN) having taken part in an international study visit to Vancouver, Canada in an online workshop.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 1:12 pm

Teacher Mairead Tracey from Broadbridge Primary school in Eglinton, was one of 12 educators to take part in a British Council Northern Ireland visit to Vancouver in February 2020.

The visit explored how the Vancouver Educational District provides for pupils with special educational needs, particularly through their ‘Inclusion Model’ and focused on areas such as staff to pupil ratios, social and emotional literacy, and the classroom environment.

The five-day visit consisted of school observations in both primary and post primary schools, a meeting with the British Consul General, Nicole Davidson and meetings with Vancouver’s Education Service.

Mairead, who has worked as the school’s SEN (Special Educational Needs) co-ordinator for the last five years, was particularly interested in learning more about the classroom environment and how it works in Canada’s education system.

Speaking about the visit, she said: “The trip to Canada was just a wonderful opportunity to broaden my horizons and find out how other people approach the same problems in a different way. In Canada, they have a very compassionate model so at the heart of their special education needs system it was all about supporting the social and emotional literacy of all learners and this was at the core of their curriculum. They also had a wider scope around inclusion not just focusing on special education, but also including factors such as gender identity, race and ethnic origin.

“Diversity in every class is expected and this has big implications on how their class composition is built up. In Northern Ireland, we don’t have a cap on the number of special needs pupils in a class, whereas in Canada, it must be limited to three students. They have had to do extensive work with their unions to make sure they are looking after the best interests of their pupils and their staff.

“From the visit, I’ve been able to come back to my school and apply practices that I witnessed and share these with my own colleagues, particularly the classroom assistants – and we now have a sensory room in the school. The social and emotional literacy side of things was something I hadn’t focused on previously, but now I’ve put it at the core of what we do and at the heart of my own practices.”

Commenting on the importance of International Study Visits, Jonathan Stewart, Deputy Director at British Council Northern Ireland said: “International Study Visits aim to inspire new approaches to teaching across the curriculum. It’s great for teachers like Mairead to learn from colleagues and peers in another country and to develop new insights and understanding but equally important for our teachers to be able to share their own experiences and expertise internationally.

“Visits like this are extremely important for actively raising the awareness among teachers about the importance of sharing ideas and information on a global scale and tomorrow’s workshop will enable learning on this important topic to be disseminated to a wider audience.”

Mairead will share the findings from the visit, tomorrow (Thursday, March 11) at an online professional development workshop organised by the British Council. This workshop is part of a series of professional development workshops hosted by the British Council following International Study Visits in early 2020. Another workshop will be held this afternoon (Wednesday, 10 March) focusing on LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Schools. This follows on from an international study visit to San Francisco in 2020, where teachers learned new strategies around making schools more inclusive for LGBTQ+ pupils.

Teachers can still register for both workshops. To register, visit: nireland.britishcouncil.org/education-resources/school-teacher/international-partnership-workshopsInternational Study Visits continue the British Council’s work, building connection, understanding and trust between people in the UK and overseas through arts, education and English language teaching. To find out more about their work in Northern Ireland visit nireland.britishcouncil.org or follow on Twitter: @BCouncil_NI, Facebook or Instagram.