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Special school teaching - what's it really like?

Discussion in 'Special educational needs' started by billypo, Jan 23, 2008.

  1. I'm considering doing a PGCE with a view to working in special schools. I currently work with adults with SLD and MLD as a manager in residential services. I would be interested in working in special schools either with SLD or MLD students.

    I realise the best way to find out about special school teaching would be to go in and shadow or work as a TA for a while, but I am not financially in a position to do this at the moment, hence the following questions........
    (ps. even if you only have time to answer one or two - I'd be really grateful)

    0) What aspects of the job do you most hate/love?

    1) How many students would you expect to have in a class and are they all of similar abilities and ages? Is the provision of TAs adequate for the number of pupils?

    2) Do you do formal 'chalk and talk' style teaching or do pupils get their own projects to work on? Just wondering how it would work to teach a group as many of the adults I work with have such different levels of ability that I can't imagine them all wanting to join in with the same activity.

    3) In adult LD - we work from a person-centred perspective and consider challenging behaviour to be a form of communication. My own experience of schooling was that teachers were obsessed with discipline, saw all bad behaviour as naughtiness that needed to be punished, didn't attend to students' emotional needs etc. Is this still the same? Or is there scope for thinking about CB as a form of communication?

    4) How focused is your work on meeting different government targets? eg. some of the SLD adults with cerebral palsy I work with would be unable to pick up a pen yet alone write. Are you supposed to prove that your pupils are meeting NC targets? Do you feel under a lot of pressure to show development in areas where it might not be possible?

    5) Do you stick with the same students throughout the year? Are you able to build relationships with the students or do they move from class to class?

    6) Do you find that the SMT in special schools are more supportive? Do you feel that you work is any more valued? (as compared to working in mainstream). Are the parents generally okay?

    7) Do you get any breaks during the day? Are you allowed to eat lunch in the staff room? If so, who looks after the pupils?

    8) Do teachers do personal care/administer medication? Is this difficult to do while still maintaining control in the classroom?

    9) How much time do you have to spend on paperwork, monitoring, planning etc.? Do you get free periods to do this during the day? Do you have to do a lot of work at home? What time do you finish work?

    10) What scope is there for promotion when working in special schools?

    11) From reading the forums it would appear to me that mainstream school culture is not that friendly, eg. endless backbiting, 'my subject is better than yours', 'my SMT/parents/students are nazis/****heads' etc. Do you feel that the culture of special schools is any nicer than this? Are staff generally supportive or is there a lot of backbiting?

    12) What PGCE do you recommend? Secondary or primary? Any particular subject specialty?

    13) If your work is anything like mine, I imagine you must be knackered after a day at work but do you feel the holidays are enough to come back refreshed? Is there a lot of staff sickness?

    14) Do you get to use your initiative or are you constantly following some government textbook/guidelines etc.? Are you overwhelmed with government changes?



    Many thanks

    Billypo
     
  2. I'm considering doing a PGCE with a view to working in special schools. I currently work with adults with SLD and MLD as a manager in residential services. I would be interested in working in special schools either with SLD or MLD students.

    I realise the best way to find out about special school teaching would be to go in and shadow or work as a TA for a while, but I am not financially in a position to do this at the moment, hence the following questions........
    (ps. even if you only have time to answer one or two - I'd be really grateful)

    0) What aspects of the job do you most hate/love?

    1) How many students would you expect to have in a class and are they all of similar abilities and ages? Is the provision of TAs adequate for the number of pupils?

    2) Do you do formal 'chalk and talk' style teaching or do pupils get their own projects to work on? Just wondering how it would work to teach a group as many of the adults I work with have such different levels of ability that I can't imagine them all wanting to join in with the same activity.

    3) In adult LD - we work from a person-centred perspective and consider challenging behaviour to be a form of communication. My own experience of schooling was that teachers were obsessed with discipline, saw all bad behaviour as naughtiness that needed to be punished, didn't attend to students' emotional needs etc. Is this still the same? Or is there scope for thinking about CB as a form of communication?

    4) How focused is your work on meeting different government targets? eg. some of the SLD adults with cerebral palsy I work with would be unable to pick up a pen yet alone write. Are you supposed to prove that your pupils are meeting NC targets? Do you feel under a lot of pressure to show development in areas where it might not be possible?

    5) Do you stick with the same students throughout the year? Are you able to build relationships with the students or do they move from class to class?

    6) Do you find that the SMT in special schools are more supportive? Do you feel that you work is any more valued? (as compared to working in mainstream). Are the parents generally okay?

    7) Do you get any breaks during the day? Are you allowed to eat lunch in the staff room? If so, who looks after the pupils?

    8) Do teachers do personal care/administer medication? Is this difficult to do while still maintaining control in the classroom?

    9) How much time do you have to spend on paperwork, monitoring, planning etc.? Do you get free periods to do this during the day? Do you have to do a lot of work at home? What time do you finish work?

    10) What scope is there for promotion when working in special schools?

    11) From reading the forums it would appear to me that mainstream school culture is not that friendly, eg. endless backbiting, 'my subject is better than yours', 'my SMT/parents/students are nazis/****heads' etc. Do you feel that the culture of special schools is any nicer than this? Are staff generally supportive or is there a lot of backbiting?

    12) What PGCE do you recommend? Secondary or primary? Any particular subject specialty?

    13) If your work is anything like mine, I imagine you must be knackered after a day at work but do you feel the holidays are enough to come back refreshed? Is there a lot of staff sickness?

    14) Do you get to use your initiative or are you constantly following some government textbook/guidelines etc.? Are you overwhelmed with government changes?



    Many thanks

    Billypo
     
  3. ) What aspects of the job do you most hate/love?

    I love the kids, I love that I get to work with them on such an intense level. I hate paperwork, of which there is Much.

    1) How many students would you expect to have in a class and are they all of similar abilities and ages? Is the provision of TAs adequate for the number of pupils?

    I have 7 kids and 3 TA's. The class range from P2i to P6.

    2) Do you do formal 'chalk and talk' style teaching or do pupils get their own projects to work on? Just wondering how it would work to teach a group as many of the adults I work with have such different levels of ability that I can't imagine them all wanting to join in with the same activity.

    We do a few bits of group work, but also a lot of 1-1 and intensive interaction.

    3) In adult LD - we work from a person-centred perspective and consider challenging behaviour to be a form of communication. My own experience of schooling was that teachers were obsessed with discipline, saw all bad behaviour as naughtiness that needed to be punished, didn't attend to students' emotional needs etc. Is this still the same? Or is there scope for thinking about CB as a form of communication?

    I absolutely do not use the word naughty, but do work towards providing children with other options for communication. There is no punishment in my classroom, but there are consequences to behaviour. i can't speak for all teachers!

    4) How focused is your work on meeting different government targets? eg. some of the SLD adults with cerebral palsy I work with would be unable to pick up a pen yet alone write. Are you supposed to prove that your pupils are meeting NC targets? Do you feel under a lot of pressure to show development in areas where it might not be possible?

    Pupils are assessed using P levels. They are expected to make progress, but it can be very tiny, almost immeasurable amounts. They are disapplied from all testing. All assessment is done by the teacher.

    5) Do you stick with the same students throughout the year? Are you able to build relationships with the students or do they move from class to class?

    I have one class of 7 year 7 students. I teach them for almost every lesson.

    6) Do you find that the SMT in special schools are more supportive? Do you feel that you work is any more valued? (as compared to working in mainstream). Are the parents generally okay?

    Very subjective, I feel pretty supported. Parents are variable, just like in mainstream!

    7) Do you get any breaks during the day? Are you allowed to eat lunch in the staff room? If so, who looks after the pupils?

    Yes. 15 min break. 30 min lunch usually. I think we get an hour on paper. Breaks are staggered.

    8) Do teachers do personal care/administer medication? Is this difficult to do while still maintaining control in the classroom?

    I do, some teachers don't. Depends on how you feel about your role - to me, personal care is a learning tool. I don't think "control" is something I ever worry about!

    9) How much time do you have to spend on paperwork, monitoring, planning etc.? Do you get free periods to do this during the day? Do you have to do a lot of work at home? What time do you finish work?

    I get 2 hours a week PPA. I generally start work at 7.15am and finish at 4.30, but don't take work home.

    10) What scope is there for promotion when working in special schools?

    Plenty! There are always project leader posts etc.

    11) From reading the forums it would appear to me that mainstream school culture is not that friendly, eg. endless backbiting, 'my subject is better than yours', 'my SMT/parents/students are nazis/****heads' etc. Do you feel that the culture of special schools is any nicer than this? Are staff generally supportive or is there a lot of backbiting?

    It's a very different dynamic - there are about 3 LSA's for every teacher in my school. Of course I sometimes get frustrated and call SMT names, who doesn't? LOL

    12) What PGCE do you recommend? Secondary or primary? Any particular subject specialty?

    I did a Secondary Music BA.

    13) If your work is anything like mine, I imagine you must be knackered after a day at work but do you feel the holidays are enough to come back refreshed? Is there a lot of staff sickness?

    A good bit at the moment - Norovirus! Generally, the summer holidays are long enought to recharge. ;)

    14) Do you get to use your initiative or are you constantly following some government textbook/guidelines etc.? Are you overwhelmed with government changes?

    I generally do my own thing until someone tells me not to. :D

     
  4. dippy_duck

    dippy_duck New commenter

    I have only been in the job for a fortnight so I can?t really talk from lots of experience. However I can tell you of my first impressions in comparison to mainstream where I have spent the past 7 years.

    1 I have 7 children in my class- all are year 6 and I have 2 TAs.

    2) I begin each ?lesson? with a short group time- setting the lesson focus. The 2 TAs support the children who need it. Some may be working on a target such as ?looking? or ?turning to listen?. The children then go off to work on their own timetables- some are working from a TEACCH timetable and others are working (supported) as they would in any differentiated mainstream classroom,

    3) In our classroom we realise that challenging behaviours are a way of communicating. The children are never branded as naughty and positive behaviour is encouraged through praise and reward.

    4) As nacmacfeegle said we assess the children using the p levels. We set targets using B2 to identify even the tiniest steps of progress.

    5) The children are with me all day every day so there is an excellent opportunity of building good relationships.

    6) SMT in my school have so far been wonderful and much more supportive than any main I have worked in. I guess this varies from school to school though- irrelevant of what sort of school it is. Same goes for the parents! You just never can tell.

    7) We have a break- but the children are with us- we all have our snack and drink together. We have half an hour for a staggered lunch.

    8) I can?t tell you about medication- in my classroom the nursery nurses do this.

    9) I am finding that everything is taking me hours at the moment- but as it?s all very new I expected this. Most people don?t take home the planning and marking in huge volumes that we did in mainstream but there?s a lot more prepping of resources and paperwork. Swings and roundabouts you might say.

    10) Sorry I don?t know about promotions- as I say I only just started myself

    11) Backbiting and nastiness goes on in some work places- in and out of education. I don?t think that being special will make any difference either way. You?ll either be lucky with your colleagues or you won?t.

    12) I did a primary PGCE

    13) I don?t know about holidays and sickness- I will soon find out :)

    14) We use our initiative. It?s whatever works best for our kids.

    Hope this helps
     
  5. R13

    R13 New commenter

    FROM AN SLD/ASD PERSPECTIVE

    0) What aspects of the job do you most hate/love?
    THE KIDS. QUALITY OF STAFF TOGETHER
    1) How many students would you expect to have in a class and are they all of similar abilities and ages? Is the provision of TAs adequate for the number of pupils?
    IN OUR SLD SCHOOL WE HAVE 9 KIDS WITH 1 TEACHER AND 3 OR 4 ASSISTANTS
    2) Do you do formal 'chalk and talk' style teaching or do pupils get their own projects to work on? Just wondering how it would work to teach a group as many of the adults I work with have such different levels of ability that I can't imagine them all wanting to join in with the same activity.
    SOME WHOLE CLASS TEACHING BUT MOST PUPILS CAN'T READ SO 'CHALK' IS NOT MUCH USE. LOTS OF INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENTIATION
    3) In adult LD - we work from a person-centred perspective and consider challenging behaviour to be a form of communication. My own experience of schooling was that teachers were obsessed with discipline, saw all bad behaviour as naughtiness that needed to be punished, didn't attend to students' emotional needs etc. Is this still the same? Or is there scope for thinking about CB as a form of communication?
    I WOULD BE SHOCKED IF YOU FOUND AN SLD SCHOOL THAT DIDN'T VIEW BEHAVIOUR AS COMMUNICATIVE AND DIDN'T HAVE POSITIVE INDIVIDUAL BEHAVIOUR PROGRAMMES

    4) How focused is your work on meeting different government targets? eg. some of the SLD adults with cerebral palsy I work with would be unable to pick up a pen yet alone write. Are you supposed to prove that your pupils are meeting NC targets? Do you feel under a lot of pressure to show development in areas where it might not be possible?
    TARGETS ARE HIGH ON THE AGENDA BUT YOU CAN TAILOR THOSE - A CP CHILD WHO COULDN'T WRITE WOULD HAVE ALTERNATIVE APPROPRIATE COMMUNICATION TARGETS SET INDIVIDUALLY

    5) Do you stick with the same students throughout the year? Are you able to build relationships with the students or do they move from class to class?
    IN SLD USUALLY YOU TEACH 1 CLASS MOST OF THE TIME
    6) Do you find that the SMT in special schools are more supportive? Do you feel that you work is any more valued? (as compared to working in mainstream). Are the parents generally okay?
    I'M A HEAD - I TRY TO BE SUPPORTIVE AND REALLY DO VALUE MY TEAM - YOU WOULD HAVE TO SEE IF THEY THINK I ACHIEVE THAT AIM
    7) Do you get any breaks during the day? Are you allowed to eat lunch in the staff room? If so, who looks after the pupils? LUNCH IN STAFF ROOM IS TYPICAL AND OFTEN A 10 MINUTE COFFEE BREAK BUT LUNCH TIME IS USUALLY ERODED A FAIR BIT IN PLANNING AND PREPARATION

    8) Do teachers do personal care/administer medication? Is this difficult to do while still maintaining control in the classroom?
    YES WE DO - NO IT SHOULDN'T BE - AND ASSISTANTS DO MORE OF THIS THAN TEACHERS. ALL ARE TRAINED
    9) How much time do you have to spend on paperwork, monitoring, planning etc.? Do you get free periods to do this during the day? Do you have to do a lot of work at home? What time do you finish work?
    1/2 DAY A WEEK PLANNING TIME. PLANNING AND GETTING RESOURCES TAKES A LOT OF TIME - RESEARCH SUGGESTS SPECIAL SCHOOL AND PRIMARY SCHOOL TEACHERS DO ABOUT A 52 HOUR WEEK
    10) What scope is there for promotion when working in special schools?
    PRETTY GOOD IF YOU ARE PREPARED TO WORK FOR IT
    11) From reading the forums it would appear to me that mainstream school culture is not that friendly, eg. endless backbiting, 'my subject is better than yours', 'my SMT/parents/students are nazis/****heads' etc. Do you feel that the culture of special schools is any nicer than this? Are staff generally supportive or is there a lot of backbiting?
    CLASS TEAMS ARE GENERALLY VERY SUPPORTIVE. SOMETIMES SUPPORT BETWEEN CLASSES IS NOT SO GREAT BUT GENERALLY THEY'RE A GOOD PLACE TO WORK
    12) What PGCE do you recommend? Secondary or primary? Any particular subject specialty?
    PRIMARY FOR SLD
    13) If your work is anything like mine, I imagine you must be knackered after a day at work but do you feel the holidays are enough to come back refreshed? Is there a lot of staff sickness?
    ALWAYS KNACKERED.
    14) Do you get to use your initiative or are you constantly following some government textbook/guidelines etc.? Are you overwhelmed with government changes? I WELCOME COLLEAGUES WITH INITIATIVE, IT IS NEEDED TO MAKE SENSE OF GOVERNMENT GUIDELINES, BUT IT IS IMPORTANT TO ALSO OFFER CONTINUITY AND CONSISTENCY FOR MANY KIDS
     
  6. I went into special education as an NQT so cannot compare to mainstream but I'll try and answer some of your questions.

    0) What aspects of the job do you most hate/love?
    Love - the small number of children in a class so you can give them all lots of attention and get to know them really well.
    The sense of pride and achievement that comes with seeing them achieve something that would seem tiny to others but is massive to us


    1) How many students would you expect to have in a class and are they all of similar abilities and ages? Is the provision of TAs adequate for the number of pupils?
    I had between 4 and 6 in my last school but have 10 in my current class. This is the first year that the school have grouped according to ability rather than age and so I have children from Y1 to Y6 but they are all of similar abilty (P2 - P6). This is much easier than a class of same age but different abilities. I have 6 TAs but this is not enough. All my children have PMLD and need 1:1 to participate in any activity.

    2) Do you do formal 'chalk and talk' style teaching or do pupils get their own projects to work on? Just wondering how it would work to teach a group as many of the adults I work with have such different levels of ability that I can't imagine them all wanting to join in with the same activity.
    My lessons all have to be practical as none of the children can read or write. They all have physical disabilities which mean they are unable to hold a pen / paintbrush etc and cognitive disabilties and sensory impairments

    3) In adult LD - we work from a person-centred perspective and consider challenging behaviour to be a form of communication. My own experience of schooling was that teachers were obsessed with discipline, saw all bad behaviour as naughtiness that needed to be punished, didn't attend to students' emotional needs etc. Is this still the same? Or is there scope for thinking about CB as a form of communication?
    We try to understand the reasons for the behaviour and do not punish it but use a consistent approach to try and foster more positive behaviour

    4) How focused is your work on meeting different government targets? eg. some of the SLD adults with cerebral palsy I work with would be unable to pick up a pen yet alone write. Are you supposed to prove that your pupils are meeting NC targets? Do you feel under a lot of pressure to show development in areas where it might not be possible?

    We focus on celebrating any achievements no matter how small but i always try to have high (but realistic) expectations

    5) Do you stick with the same students throughout the year? Are you able to build relationships with the students or do they move from class to class?
    In my previous school, I had the same class for the five years I was there as it was a small school.

    6) Do you find that the SMT in special schools are more supportive? Do you feel that you work is any more valued? (as compared to working in mainstream). Are the parents generally okay?
    I can't compare to mainstream but the parents can be demanding. They have so many more stresses than parents of mainstream kids so this is understandable really

    7) Do you get any breaks during the day? Are you allowed to eat lunch in the staff room? If so, who looks after the pupils?
    I have a 20 minute break and a lunch time when the TAs look after the children and help them eat. The TAs have their breaks before and after lunchtime

    8) Do teachers do personal care/administer medication? Is this difficult to do while still maintaining control in the classroom?
    I did both in my previous school but not now. It helps to define the role of the teacher if they don't do personal care etc

    9) How much time do you have to spend on paperwork, monitoring, planning etc.? Do you get free periods to do this during the day? Do you have to do a lot of work at home? What time do you finish work?
    I get 2 hours PPA time a week. Usually leave school between 4.30 and 6pm and work on Sunday mornings. I never get to cross off everything on my 'to do' list but have learnt to accpet it

    10) What scope is there for promotion when working in special schools?
    In my experience, there is lots of scope as they tend to be smaller schools

    11) From reading the forums it would appear to me that mainstream school culture is not that friendly, eg. endless backbiting, 'my subject is better than yours', 'my SMT/parents/students are nazis/****heads' etc. Do you feel that the culture of special schools is any nicer than this? Are staff generally supportive or is there a lot of backbiting?
    I've always found everyone very supportive in special education

    12) What PGCE do you recommend? Secondary or primary? Any particular subject specialty?
    I did primary but have taught KS3 too. You have to be flexible about what age / subjects you teach.

    13) If your work is anything like mine, I imagine you must be knackered after a day at work but do you feel the holidays are enough to come back refreshed? Is there a lot of staff sickness?
    Yes, holidays are enough although a week at half term never seems long enough

    14) Do you get to use your initiative or are you constantly following some government textbook/guidelines etc.? Are you overwhelmed with government changes?
    We use our initiative. We know our children and what works / doesn't work

    Hope some of this helps. My advice is - do it! Special education is great and I would never consider doing anything else. Be prepared for it to become a massive part of your life though, it's not possible to go anywhere or do anything without thinking "my kids would like that" or "that's a good idea for art / Literacy etc next term"
    Good luck!
     
  7. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer nacmacfeegle, dippy_duck, R13 and Poppy_30. Your responses are really helpful, you've definitely given me food for thought. It sounds like special would definitely be right for me.

    Out of interest if some random person (with an up-to-date CRB) phoned to ask your schools if they could shadow for the day, would schools such as yours allow this? Any advice on how best to approach schools for work unpaid experience?

    Thanks again

    Billypo
     
  8. hi Billypo,

    before I did my PGCE, I did some voluntary work in a special school, Just gave them a call and asked if I could pop in and introduce myself as I was interested in helping out. They were very friendly and welcoming and I loved the time I spent there. You don't know unless you ask!

    FTH

    sadly still trying very hard to get a job in Special Ed! :(
     
  9. Hi I work in an SLD/PMLD School, we often havestudents, volunteers and visitors for short periods. The CRB is the important bit, our borough insist on new ones but it would be worth contacting local schools, explain your interest and ask for a visit.
    To prepare you:
    Our classrooms differ from mainstream in many ways, more equipment, noise and unpredictable behaviour. It is difficult to get an overview in a short time. If you could a regular visit would be useful as two days are never the same!

    I love special, small classes but very intensive work.Think of nine individuals rather than a class of children working together. You can be so creative and really run with topics. Most children in my class are P 1i so think sensory. We swim, dance, sing and enjoy ourselves through learning.
    I would not go back to mainstream, good luck.x
     
  10. I did answer all your questions then my computer froze and don't have time to do it all again!

    But you can ask all those questions when you do your 2 weeks experience in a school before applying for PGCE, which is a requirement of most uni's. Write to school head teachers requesting work experience, outlining your current work and your desire to teacher, then follow up with a phone call 1/2 weeks later. Don't bother getting anything out of a headteacher on the first or last weeks of term.

    Good luck, and be prepared to be put to good use even as unpaid shadower!
     
  11. Hi everyone,

    Was wondering whether I could jump onto this thread and pick your brains further.
    I am starting a new post in a special school in September, but have been invited in by the Head teacher to spend the day with my new tutor group next Thursday. I have been told that I will have 7 Yr 8 boys whose ability is around p5-p8 and I will have an experience TA with me who 4 of the pupils will already know. 3 of the pupils are also new to the school. Please if you have any ideas of activities which would help me break the ice and get to know the pupils ready for September I would be really grateful. I come from a mainstream primary background and the last few years I have been in year 5 so am a little worried about what to expect on the first day.
     
  12. Rockchick2112

    Rockchick2112 New commenter

    Hi Billypo. Your experience as a manager for adults with MLD/SLD would actually be very useful if you wanted to teach in a special school. When I worked as a TA in a special school, one of the teachers told me that she had previously worked for Sense before going into special education, and said that some of the experience she gained was highly relevant. It might be a good idea to see if you can get a bit of experience in a special school so you can include that on your PGCE application form, but I think you will be quite surprised at how transferable the skills you have gained working with adults will be when you work with children who have similar needs.

    Unfortunately, I can't speak very positively about my own time in special education. I am actually a qualified teacher, and had hoped to use my SEN experience to gain a teaching post, but I have to say that working with some of the adults in that particular special school was soul-destroying, as there was a real culture of oneupmanship. From having read some of the other comments on here, it appears that my experience was perhaps the exception, but don't think that special schools are immune from back-biting, as that kind of behaviour was rife in the school where I worked. Part of the problem was a head teacher who seemed all too eager to pick up on any gossip herself, and then use it as 'evidence' against members of staff.

    As a teacher, you would have to be involved in some personal care, but more often it is likely to be the TAs who will do this. You may or may not have to administer medications- at my school, it was quite often the school nurses who came to do this, but certain TAs were sometimes designated to do it. I wouldn't worry about lunch breaks- it is more likely to be the TAs who assist at lunch time, and the school may well employ lunch time staff specifically to help with feeding. In terms of planning, you may well find that the workload is less than in mainstream- one good thing about working in special education is that you won't have piles of marking to do. How your lessons are organised will vary a lot depending on the types of pupils you have in your class. If you have a PMLD class, most of the time it won't be appropriate to do a lesson as such- it will be more a case of providing activities suitable for the individual needs of the pupils in your class. In other classes (for example, MLD), you might do more traditional teaching.

    To work in special schools, in theory it doesn't matter whether you do a secondary or primary PGCE, but I would say that primary is preferred by head teachers, due to the levels which pupils are at. Most of the teachers at my school had done primary qualifications rather than secondary. In terms of specialism, I would say that English is as good as any, although you might be able to find a primary PGCE course which offers a specialism in SEN.
     

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