A comparative look at the differences between teaching Special Educational Needs (SEN) in England and Ontario

By: Holly Nelson

A comparative look at the differences between teaching Special Educational Needs (SEN) in England and Ontario.

Not so long ago, I was teaching in one of the best schools in the whole of England for students with Special Educational Needs (SEN). It was quite honestly spectacular. The students who attended were aged between 3 and 19 and the progression that those students made was often astounding. They were all happy, cared for and were offered a broad and enriched curriculum that also managed to cater to all of their individual needs and offered opportunity for real achievement. Inclusion links were fantastic with the local nearby schools. Those students had the best opportunities in life.

I adore teaching. More than that, I feel it is what I am best at and it is where my calling is. However, now that I look around for similar opportunities in Canada, I feel bewildered by differences and lack of opportunity for me. A friend of mine here, teaching in a private school, told me they have just had 800 applicants for one primary teaching position. Frankly I have no idea how I will measure up to this standard of competition.

Add to this the fact that schools catering specifically for students with special educational needs are virtually non existent, then not only is the competition stiff, but also all of my prior experience is virtually wasted!

I often wonder which education system is better? Is it best to have a combination of separate schools for SEN alongside inclusion, as in Britain, or to have a more inclusive approach, as in Canada?

I refuse to do any kind of Harvard referencing now that I am no longer at university, but a recent study by Pearson, (http://thelearningcurve.pearson.com/the-report) compared different education systems around the World, found the British education system to be the 6th best globally, whilst the Canadian is the 10th best. This was stated solely in terms of cognitive achievements of students. However, the same study concluded that the two World leaders, Finland and South Korea, have such diverse education systems (Finland has a more socially driven route to success, whilst South Korea is very disciplined and places more expectation and demand upon students) that the report concluded there 'are diverse paths to success'.

There are a couple of things left out of this report. The first is the fact that Canada places a greater emphasis on the arts than many other countries and as such has a rich and diverse arts culture, which is quite separate to the cognitive ability of Canadian students. Who's to say where the emphasis should lie? The other thing ignored is the efficacy of the special educational needs provision in each country. However, the idea that there can be diverse approaches to success is interesting and shows that in some cases there is no better and there is no worse. So, before I get on my high horse about the lack of SEN schools in Ontario and Britain vs Canada in terms of education, this is worth remembering.

As previously mentioned, in Ontario specifically, as well as in many other areas across Canada there are very few state SEN schools. Students with SEN are ordinarily taught in one of three ways here. They might be home-schooled by a teacher who travels to their home, in preparation for entrance to a mainstream school. They might be taught in a mainstream school within an SEN unit or, and for the most part, they might be taught in mainstream classes.

There are, however, many private schools that cater solely for those students with SEN. Is it right, though, to expect payment for the privilege of smaller class sizes and more tailored education for students with SEN? Support is offered to help pay for this private education, in many provinces it is 100% paid for, however in Ontario up to $440 can be provided, but according to Anglo info (http://canada.angloinfo.com/family/schooling-education/special-needs-education/) money also has to pay for doctor fees, modified transport and all other such necessities and it is dependent upon the income of the parent. I repeat, is it right to have to pay for an appropriate education?

There are many differing views on inclusive education. Montrealities in their article 'Inclusive Education: Including Special Needs Students in Regular Classrooms' (http://www.montrealites.ca/education/2012/03/inclusive-education-including-special-needs-students-in-regular-classrooms.html#.UYKGxsu9KSP), put forth a very comprehensive list of the pros and cons for inclusive education in Montreal. I do believe, in many situations, inclusion is the best policy. However, I have taught many, many students who, upon entering an SEN school from a mainstream school, seem to have profound confidence and behavioural issues, which are quickly expelled with a more tailored curriculum, better educated teachers and with peers of their own ability, against whom they are not always competing and suffering failure.

If I were, based on my experiences, to offer an opinion that is strictly my own. I would say that whether a student is taught in a mainstream, an SEN school or even home schooled, is dependent upon individual needs and choices. However, I would definitely prefer to see more state SEN schools in Ontario, just to broaden people's options for their children. Not to mention, selfishly, so I can get a job doing what I love in a state school!

I can't wait to start teaching here to further develop these thoughts and I welcome further discussion about this!

As an FYI to those budding teachers wishing to come to Canada, I would firstly remind them about how hard it is to get a teaching position here. Secondly you will need to transfer your qualifications. When looking to transfer my qualifications so that I was able to teach in Ontario, I was referred to the Ontario College of Teachers (http://www.oct.ca/becoming-a-teacher/internationally-educated-teachers). Finally, when seeking a position as a teacher or supply teacher, apply to the school district boards, as opposed to individual schools, with your resume. This is all important information for teachers new to Canada. For further information about the education system in Ontario, please visit http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/index.aspx

About the author

Expat Blog ListingHolly Nelson is a British expat living in Canada. Blog description: This is a blog detailing my move to Canada from England for love...
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Contest Comments » There is 1 comment

Jason Whittington wrote 10 years ago:

Excellent read as always!

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