We sat down with Alex Grady, Education Development Officer at nasen for a Q&A to discuss the biggest topics in UK education and SEND provision. Take a look at what Alex had to say in our latest blog.
What can school leaders do to work more effectively with SENCOs?
SENCOs should be on the senior leadership team, so they can influence all decision making. School leaders should also ensure that the SENCO has sufficient time to carry out their strategic priorities effectively; this is likely to include support with administrative processes. Sufficient time and priority should be given to CPD, both for the SENCO themselves (achieving the NASENCO, and any additional relevant qualifications) and for the whole school staff, so that the message that ‘every teacher is a teacher of SEND’ is strong and comes from the top.
How can school leaders make more inclusive environments for SEND pupils?
The key here is staff development – high quality inclusive teaching is the most important factor in progress for pupils with SEND, and this requires a commitment at the highest level, backed up with effective CPD. The physical environment should be accessible, and so should the ‘invisible’ environment i.e. do pupils with SEND feel comfortable finding someone to talk to when they need to? Do they feel included in extra-curricular activities? What are unstructured times like? Etc. It can be illuminating for a school leader to track a pupil with SEND for a day to find out what the whole experience is like for them – this should indicate where any issues may occur, what improvements need to be made, as well as where the environment is working really well.
What can schools do to include the parents and child voice in decision making?
There are lots of ways effective co-production can be achieved: for individual pupils, any meetings should be set in conjunction with parents, so that their attendance is facilitated, and the format of these should be -person-centred’. This means that schools may need to be flexible with when, where and how meetings are conducted. There must be a genuine intention to actively listen to and engage with parents and pupils, and decisions should not be made without their involvement. For a wider view of parent and child voice, it can be very helpful to set up a parents and carers ‘focus group’, who can look at and discuss issues such as, how helpful is the SEN Information Report? What could make it more parent-friendly? Etc. Outcomes from these discussions can be incorporated into whole school decision-making. A similar group could be set up for pupils themselves. It’s crucial that efforts to engender parent and pupil voice are genuine and not tokenistic – it should be clearly demonstrated that these groups are influencing policy and decision making.
Development is particularly important for those working with SEND pupils; how can SENCOs and school leaders be more research-minded? What other routes to support their CPD are there?
SENCOs, and others, who are silver or gold members of nasen have full access to our three peer-reviewed academic journals, which is a great place to start. Anyone who has completed the NASENCO will have done a research project, so will have to skills to carry out further small-scale studies in their own environments. SENCO networks of all kinds will support the creation, sharing and evaluation of any action research. The SENCO Forum (https://www.thesencoforum.org.uk/) is another great place to look to find out about developments, and to start and contribute to discussions of all kinds. The Chartered College of Teaching is another valuable route; membership would enable SENCOs to keep up to date with wider education research, much of which is directly relevant to SEND, such as cognitive load theory for example. Of course, any post-graduate level study will have a research element, and it is possible to study SEN-based Masters and PhDs at many HE institutions.
What are your thoughts on the 2019 Ofsted Framework and its assessment of how schools support SEND pupils?
It is moving in the right direction, taking a wider view of outcomes, beyond the purely academic, and does have explicit mention of pupils with SEND. We hope that this will ensure that SEND rises up the priority list in schools where it has not historically been of high importance. There is still further to go though; the framework needs to be consistently applied – do all inspectors have relevant knowledge and experience of SEND, and what good and outstanding progress might look like for pupils with SEND? Is there an understanding of what curricula might look like in specialist provision? Are questions being asked about ‘exclusion’ which may happen before a pupil even begins at a school, if parents are given the impression that ‘our school cannot meet your child’s needs’?
What issue are you most concerned about in the next 12 months?
Funding levels continue to be a concern across the whole system, and this of course impacts on SEND, particularly with numbers of EHCPs rising and many high needs budgets in deficit. The pressure on special school places is not going to reduce within a year, and there are too many pupils either without a school place at all, or not in the school of their choice. And we cannot forget those pupils without appropriate education because of off-rolling and exclusion, many of whom also have SEND.
What opportunity or change in the sector excites you most?
The development of the SENCO role and its place within school leadership – we have a great opportunity to strengthen this role and the influence it can have; the SEND Review and the subsequent revised SEND Code of Practice should grasp this by the horns and really set high expectations around the importance of SEND for EVERY school.
What can our visitors expect to hear from Alex Grady and nasen at the Schools & Academies Show in London?
I will be talking about the future of SEND provision and how this might develop in the coming years, as well as providing a national update on the latest data and policy developments.