Kate Potts

Sutton SCITT is a small ITT provider in South London that works with a range of trainees from a variety of backgrounds. We are proud of our intake and have worked hard to ensure all trainees have a fair, equal and inclusive experience from their initial enquiry through to application, selection and throughout training.

Over the past few years, we have worked with trainees who have had a range of neurodivergent conditions which could be described as ‘hidden disabilities’. For the benefit of this study, neurodiversity includes Autism, ADHD, ADD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dyspraxia[1].

Characteristics can include:

  • Sensory sensitivity/altered sensory perception, which can affect concentration and anxiety.
  • Difficulty maintaining eye contact.
  • Difficulty reading non-verbal cues and understanding ‘office politics’.
  • Difficulty in dealing with change.
  • Increased anxiety, especially in social situations.
  • Lack of attention to detail/over attention to detail.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Meeting and/or making deadlines.
  • Not completing tasks.
  • Impulsive decision making.
  • Organisation stress and anxiety.
  • Overload of verbal instruction.

It is estimated that around one in seven people (approximately 15% of people in the UK) are neurodivergent[2]. Neurodiversity can impact a range of mental functions including attention, executive function (planning tasks), sensory processing, learning, sociability and mood.

Society, education systems and workplaces are typically designed in a way that suits neurotypical people, thus creating challenges for those who are neurodiverse. Whilst we encourage all applicants to be open about any adaptations they may require, we are aware that some do not wish to disclose.

‘I don’t always have the energy, time or words to fully explain what it is like living with a neuro difference and worry about people’s misconceptions.’[3]

In our endeavours to support neurodivergent trainees, we follow recommendations made by them, implement practical strategies, and use our experience of adaptation within training. This works well to support cognitive learning but less so for emotional or environmental experiences. It has become clear there is very limited evidence to suggest strategies that would support neurodiverse adult trainees.

As teachers, we can explore a range of literature to support pupils in the classroom, but what about adults who are training in a highly stressful environment, often managing teacher training with academic study? The QTS/PGCE is a rigorous one-year programme that requires trainees to move between multiple locations such as placement school, training centre and university, and work with a variety of colleagues in these settings. Relationships need to be quickly established so trainees can optimise their potential.

Sutton SCITT is committed to the success of its trainees and aims to provide them all with a learning journey that will enable them to succeed as trainees to ECTs. Setting trainees up for success is essential, but is this always possible? Working in schools can be unpredictable and navigating this can be challenging.

Considering the above context and the rationale of fair and equal access, how does a small ITT provider make the necessary adjustments? When a candidate discloses their learning needs, arrangements can be made, but there is still a nervousness about disclosure and some candidates do not always feel confident sharing information.

Of those that disclose, some are able to articulate the adaptations they may require, whilst others are unsure, not yet being aware of the challenges they may face in school. Whilst we make adaptations in training sessions, as part of our ordinarily available provision, sometimes this is more problematic in a school setting.

What can be done to support trainees faced with these complexities?

Trainee case study

Sarah[4] was a music trainee who was diagnosed with ADHD, OCD and anxiety when at primary school. At the interview she appeared competent and confident, stating her motivation to be a teacher was to make a difference to young people like her. She was honest; the education system had at times been difficult for her. At this stage, she played down her diagnosis, stating she would not need any adapted support as she had learned to adapt her behaviour and was used to working in a variety of settings from previous jobs.

As Sarah had worked in a school setting prior to the training, no concerns were raised, and she was enthusiastic to start and begin her teaching journey. Despite this, an initial meeting was set up to discuss the adaptations the SCITT recommended, based on her interview and ‘Fitness to Teach’[5] report. These adaptations were as follows:

  • Placement A was chosen to limit travel time.
  • Parking was secured at both Placement A and the university to reduce anxiety.
  • Weekly meetings with her subject tutor were established to support emotional well-being.
  • Printed copies of pre-reading were provided prior to all meetings and lectures.

Sarah struggled to settle into her first placement. The nature of the SCITT course requires trainees to split their week between two days training and three days in school. Consequently, there was not a daily pattern to Sarah’s working week which proved challenging for her.

Building relationships was a struggle and Sarah began to feel anxious attending school. While Sarah was able to connect well with her training peers, this was on a friendship level rather than a professional one. Sarah began to feel a barrier to attending school which increased her anxiety and began to affect her confidence.

Sarah became stressed and overwhelmed, and began to overcompensate, trying to form friendships with new colleagues in person and via social media. On one occasion she overshared personal information in the classroom about her weekend which led to the school sending a ‘cause for concern’ to the central SCITT team, expressing concern about her professional conduct. When reflecting on this experience, Sarah is clear that her behaviour was anxiety induced, caused by a desire to ‘fit in’, ‘be liked’ and ‘be a teacher’.

What follows is a catalogue of strategies that were put in place to support Sarah.

  • Weekly meetings between Sarah and the Subject Tutor to reflect on the week and highlight the ‘wins’ and ‘learning’. This was done as part of the subject studies sessions, and also benefited other trainees in the group, as part of their reflection but also understanding the needs of others.
  • Individual meetings with the Subject Tutor to talk through scenarios and visualise outcomes.
  • Explicit instructions, for example regarding dress code, and avoiding inference.
  • Development of ‘teacher persona’ rather than ‘friend persona’. This included formalising teacher-talk; scripting lessons, particularly class openers to build positive but professional relationships with pupils, and keeping the conversation in mentor meetings professional at all times.
  • Role-play scenarios such as mentor meetings, debriefing a lesson, asking questions appropriately, planning ahead and avoiding spontaneous outbursts. Also including ‘what to do if…’
  • Structuring time management, specifically when planning the week (although Sarah was always very organised, we found this has helped with other trainees).

These strategies seemed to have an impact on Sarah’s self-esteem and her confidence increased, knowing that she had an advocate and someone she could seek support and guidance outside of her formal placement.

Before moving to placement B, permission was sought from Sarah to share her struggles in placement A and the strategies we had worked on with her new mentor. This, alongside a pre-meeting with the mentor, supported the transition. The mentor adopted these strategies which helped build further self-esteem and confidence, resulting in strong classroom practice.

As placement B continued, Sarah was able to manage some of the strategies independently; reflection became self-reflection, planning and scenario exploration became more independent and relationships with colleagues and pupils became more confident, as the professional ‘teacher-persona’ developed and she gained experience.

As support was gradually reduced, Sarah knew she had the support of the SCITT and the strategies she could use independently.


Setting a trainee up for success is vital. However, as expressed at the start of this article this is challenging, especially when the trainee is unsure of the learning journey ahead. When reflecting with Sarah it was clear that the support and strategies played a significant role in aiding her progress, however we could have implemented this much sooner, especially sharing key information with the mentor of placement A prior to Sarah starting at the school.

Yet this is challenging when trainees, unlike Sarah, do not want this information shared as they too often feel they may be judged. It is two years since Sarah’s case study, and in this time, we have used these strategies to adapt our provision for other trainees. We have recruited trainees who have disclosed ASD, ADHD and OCD, alongside more complex neurodiverse diagnosis, and feel that we are providing the appropriate training structure to ensure they succeed from the outset.

We are open about the support we offer at the interview stage and encourage transparency. Some of our trainees are recently diagnosed and therefore have not had the benefit of support and strategies whilst in education themselves. This presents further complexity for the trainees as they are coming to terms with a new diagnosis and for some, medication, whilst waiting for therapeutic support. Inevitably some will continue to fear opening up about their conditions, but we have actively encouraged conversations in order to support them during their teacher training. By sharing Sarah’s story with trainees and outlining how the strategies supported her, it has opened conversations about support.

This year we are supporting trainees in similar ways due to the clear benefits they bring:

  • Carefully chosen placements.
  • Pre-school visit with a SCITT tutor.
  • One-to-one weekly meetings.
  • Role play ‘teacher persona’.
  • Time management and organisation.
  • Safe space.
  • A designated SCITT colleague to ‘off-load’ or ‘practice scenarios’.

It is important that the environment and manner in which conversations happen with trainees is considered. We feel the following ensures that the trainees are engaged, and positive outcomes achieved:

  • Have the conversation in a private space, and keep the meeting as relaxed as possible.
  • Explain the reason for the conversation (some trainees automatically fear they are in trouble or being judged).
  • Listen attentively and be open minded.
  • Be sensitive and calm.
  • Ask the trainee if they have thought about what support they may require, to assist in next steps.
  • Suggest a further meeting to discuss what support could be provided.
  • Read back a summary of the meeting and next steps.

What next for Sarah?

Sarah successfully completed her training and secured a job in a local school. She has led assemblies about her education journey and experiences and attributes her confidence and openness to her teacher training journey and wants to be a role model to pupils in school. She had since volunteered to be the SCITT ambassador for neurodiversity, supporting and championing current trainees.

Kate Potts-Lovegrove is SCITT Director at Sutton SCITT.

[1] NHS Foundation descriptor
[2] Estimate based on NHS data (January 2024)
[3]What is neurodiversity? Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation 2024
[4] Name has been changed and the following is based on an account shared with the ex-trainee
[5] Pre-course questionnaire used to support trainees

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