Well it can’t be said that special educational needs is never in the news anymore! I don’t remember a time when there has been so much press coverage about the area to which I have dedicated my career for the last 26 years. Unfortunately, most of the stories that we read are not good news stories about the fantastic work that schools, teachers and teaching assistants do day in and day out with some of our most vulnerable and challenging pupils. No, the headlines take the form of ‘Incalculable harm to special needs education’ (Guardian, 24/10/18), ‘Young people with special needs being failed in 44% of areas in England’ (Guardian, 24/10/18), ‘Thousands of children with special needs excluded from schools’ (Guardian, 23/10/18), ‘38,000 sign petition for SEND funding reform’ (TES, 23/10/18), ‘Schools have incentive to exclude SEND pupils, MPs told’ (TES, 23/10/18); this selection represents just two days in October.
Whilst no one can argue that funding for schools generally and SEND in particular is in a very difficult place, and there are other factors such as the increasingly challenging curriculum and assessment system, higher exclusion rates, more Education Health and Care Plans, and higher numbers of pupils with SEND being educated in independent special schools, negative media reports are bound to have an impact on the mental health and wellbeing of school staff, not to mention children, young people and their parents. Of course, it is important, not to say crucial, to highlight the difficulties in the system and the impact that these have on individuals and families, but we also need to think positively and constructively about what we can do to support the children and young people sitting in our classrooms today.
The Schools Workforce Development project has been initiated by the Department for Education for just this reason. nasen is the leading partner in the Whole School SEND consortium which is delivering this work, along with University College London and a range of other organisations committed to improving outcomes for children and young people with SEND. One of the issues that Whole School SEND is aiming to address, is the disparity of access to and involvement with CPD for SEND across the country; many of our most vulnerable communities are in rural and coastal areas for example, and it can be difficult to find and access high quality CPD in these areas. We have appointed a team of eight Regional SEND Leads and eight Deputy Regional SEND Leads to correspond to the Regional Schools Commissioners areas of England; they are all teachers and school leaders who continue to work in schools whilst carrying out their Whole School SEND role one day a week. Their remit is to gather information about SEND in their region, including what support and training is available, and to disseminate this information more widely throughout the region; this will help us to have an understanding of the picture nationally, including where the gaps are, so that the consortium can work together to plug those gaps in order to enable every school and every teacher across the country to find and use high quality support.
One mechanism for doing this will be to encourage and enable mainstream and special schools to support each other; at nasen, we know that there is a huge amount of effective practice for pupils with SEND going on in schools, but there are not always opportunities for professionals to share this practice. It can be very isolating to be in a small mainstream school with a pupil in your class with a low-incidence needs such as a visual impairment, for example; how do you know what constitutes effective practice for this child? Even your SENCO may not have come across this need before, and local authority support services can be hard to access even where they still exist. Whole School SEND will enable staff in mainstream schools to benefit from the experience of special schools, and vice versa; you should be able to find links to condition-specific organisations, and find out about ‘what works’ in each of the four broad areas of need. We will be hosting ‘Knowledge-Exchange’ conferences where special and mainstream schools will be explicitly sharing knowledge, as well as ResearchSEND events where professionals can learn more about research specifically into SEND.
We will be encouraging every school across England to sign up to the Whole School SEND Community of Practice on the SEND Gateway website (www.sendgateway.org.uk) – this will demonstrate your commitment to the principles of collaborative practice for SEND, and also means that you will be among the first to hear about all the events and developments coming from Whole School SEND.
Alex Grady will be delivering a session at the Schools and Academies Show at midday in the SEND Theatre where you can learn more, as well as hear the latest updates on the sector.
More about nasen
nasen (National Association for Special Educational Needs) is a non-for-profit membership organisation who have been operating since 1992, supporting thousands of practitioners by providing relevant information, training and resources to enable staff to meet all pupils’ needs. Working with dedicated education professionals, their aim is to ensure that practice for special and additional needs is both effective and current.
Find out more at www.nasen.org.uk