More avenues for progression and training for teachers in special education schools

The MOE's study found that Sped teachers wanted more clearly defined job roles and responsibilities. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Teachers in special education (Sped) schools will have more room to progress in their careers through two new tracks in teaching and leadership.

New hires will also go through a contract teaching stint and a longer diploma programme at the National Institute of Education (NIE).

These were some of the plans laid out on Wednesday (Sept 2) by Minister of State for Education Sun Xueling, along with new career and training guidelines, to raise the standards of the Sped teaching profession and make it more attractive.

In a November 2018 review of human resource practices in the Sped teaching sector, the Ministry of Education (MOE) found that existing career frameworks vary across the 19 government-funded Sped schools run by 12 social service agencies.

More than 70 per cent of Sped teachers, and social service agencies, which run the schools, were consulted for their views.

These schools provide customised support for 6,600 students with moderate to severe special needs, such as autism and multiple disabilities.

At a virtual awards ceremony on Wednesday, Ms Sun said the last human resource review for Sped teachers took place in 2007.

Since then, there has been a steady rise in the numbers of students with autism spectrum disorder, she added. To cater to increasing enrolment, the MOE intends to set up seven more Sped schools in the next seven years.

The MOE's study also found that Sped teachers wanted more clearly defined job roles and responsibilities. There are currently about 1,550 teachers across the Sped schools.

"In the years to come, we envisage the Sped profession to be a more attractive career with diverse job opportunities for teachers," said the MOE on Wednesday.

Salaries will also be reviewed from time to time to match teachers' competencies and to ensure market competitiveness, it added.

Said Ms Sun: "I know and deeply feel that, as professionals, Sped teachers need and deserve a career framework and a salary structure commensurate with the heightened demands on teaching as they serve the complex learning needs of our students."

She added: "A distinctive feature of special education is the need for a highly customised curriculum with individualised educational and transition plans. To develop and execute such plans, we need highly observant and nimble teachers."

As part of the push to uplift the Sped teaching sector, a new career roadmap will introduce two tracks - leadership and teaching - with more avenues for progression.

This means that at some stage of their careers, Sped teachers who show potential and are keen on more senior roles can indicate which track they want to be on.

To provide more clarity of roles and progression possibilities, there will be more levels for classroom teachers, including lead teachers and senior teachers. Those who choose the teaching path will focus on leadership in teaching and learning and mentoring their peers. Currently, such positions vary across schools.

For those who opt for the leadership track, their roles include developing educational goals, leading in the planning of school-based curricula and programmes, and developing teachers for larger roles.

The MOE has also drawn up a framework to define the knowledge and skills required for each job role, along with a training road map for learning and development opportunities.

To get more practical experience, new Sped teachers will also go through a contract teaching stint that will last from six to 12 months, before undergoing a diploma course in special education (DISE) at NIE. Currently, there is no such practice stint for Sped teachers.

The teaching stint will start in January next year, while the diploma course will be extended from its current nine months to 12 months in 2022.

Said Ms Sun: "To assist schools in hiring, developing and managing new Sped teaching recruits, MOE will also provide funding over the contract teaching period as well as provide the allowance for teachers during their DISE course."

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