- That a Review based methodology can help schools and individuals identify areas for development,
- That there is much good practice and evidence of what works,
- That developing a community of practice allows those who want to improve outcomes for children and learners with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) to connect, share, learn and improve practice and provision.
And the WSS community are – 18 months in – seeing some of the successes of this approach.
But this work sits against growing concern about the very principle of inclusion. To want to do a Review; to want to learn what works; to want to join a community of practice: we need to create a culture where inclusion – in the widest sense of the word – is seen as not a ‘nice to have’ but as a mark of an effective school. We have to create a system culture when positive outcomes for learners with SEND are seen as much as a cause for celebration for A*s. Where some of the A*s belong to leaners with SEND but also where we celebrate when the child whose parents were told wouldn’t talk can hold a conversation with their friends.
Every Child Should be a part of their community.
We all contribute to the culture of our communities and that of our schools – it is not just Somebody Else’s Problem.
So here are 5 questions we can each ask ourselves to help create a culture where children with SEND don’t just survive they thrive. While aimed at those who lead learning – governors, trustees, CEOs, Heads, teachers and other schools staff – we can all apply them. In our organisations and in our homes. And not just as a one off but as part of a curious community that constantly strives to improve the lives of all children and young people.
Anita Kerwin-Nye is the Lead for Every Child Should and Founder/Chair of Whole School SEND. This is a summary of her presentation from the Academies Show on 22 November 2017, the presentation slides can be viewed here.
1. Do I know my how many people with SEND are in my school, my class, my organisation; and how this compares with my peers, my community and with the national population?
This slide from his presentation at the Whole School SEND conference summarises current data for the national population.
How does your school compare? There many reasons for difference. Explore these honestly. Does your school have good processes for identifying children with SEND? Have you a reputation for excellence with children with particular needs – perhaps with additional provision? Is your school known locally as one who ‘doesn’t do autism’?
What do you want to celebrate? What do you want to build on?
2. How do I help ensure individuals with SEND are visible – in my class, in my school, in my community?
One of the mantras of #womened is that ‘if you can’t see it you can’t be it’ – if women don’t see themselves in models of school leadership then they are less likely to consider themselves in a leadership role.
This is true in schools. If learners with SEND – and their families – can’t see those with SEND in the school community then they are less likely to be valued, to feel included.
This starts with school staff.
“Schools are asked to provide information on the number of teachers that record themselves as disabled. However, information on disability was not obtained by schools for 50% of teachers in the November 2016 census. The information provided suggests 0.5 per cent of teachers are disabled, however, this may not truly reflect the real position given the large amount of missing data.” Department for Education School Census Data
Many teachers reflect a culture where disclosure of disability – including mental illness – is problematic. Leaving aside the legality of such approaches how does this talk to a culture of inclusiveness. How can children with SEND feel valued when their teachers feel forced to hide.
Take a look at the work of teachers like Mr A AKA @stammer_teacher on twitter who, as a person who stammers, has set up a stammer group for pupils in his school. He sets the bar high and not all teachers will want to do this. But it says a lot for his school culture that this was encouraged and supported by the school leadership.
Beyond our staff what speakers do we get in as role models for our students? Whose pictures do we include on the wall? Are there disabled characters in our story books and does our curriculum content and cultural canon include the experiences and work of those with disability and SEN.
3. Do I speak of learners with SEND as a homogenus group?
This is an important step. Just as the word disadvantaged had become a catch all for ‘poor etc.’ do we too often use the phrase SEND to present the needs of young people as similar?
We need a more nuanced debate on SEND. Some SEND learners should and will be the most academically successful amongst their peers. In assuming all SEND learners will struggle academically we can dumb down expectations.
But also many SEND learners will never ‘catch up’ with their peers. They will always be unable to access a full ‘academic’ curriculum and many will never read at age related norms. And many of these learners will – rightly – be in mainstream education. What is our curriculum to meet the needs of a wider group of learners? How do we celebrate their progress?
And still more learners with SEND will need specialist support – sometimes just to stay alive. When we make glib comments that ‘all children should be able to read’ – and then immediately follow up with ‘but not really disabled children’ what are we saying about the value we place on children with severe and complex needs. Still children. Still part of the all children data set.
It’s complicated. And nobody has all the answers. And after 30 years I have my views challenged daily on language and on what can be achieved. But the important thing is to keep the debate alive and to keep making progress.
4. How do I measure the impact I have on individuals with SEND?
Schools achieve wonderful things for and with children with SEND. Let’s not let concerns over an emerging culture of exclusion allow us to pretend otherwise.
But understanding, reviewing and sharing what is being achieved is important. This includes standard measures like progress data but what about wider outcomes?
Whole School SEND will shortly launch the Preparing For Adulthood Review Guide – a tool developed by schools and parents, and with input from children and young people, that helps schools to consider how well we are preparing learners for life post school. (And a plea – if you are an employer reading this – what are you doing to help encourage disabled workers into your work place?)
Beyond the curriculum to ‘enrichment’ do we consider whether our learners with SEND have the same level of access as their peers? How many learners with SEND are in the sports team, in the drama productions, on our school trips and residentials, take music lessons? For all children these are important in the development of social and cultural capital. For learners with SEND both family income and the complexities of care can make these things even less likely to happen at home. At school, as the point of ‘entitlement to enrichment’, this is even more important.
5. What are my networks to support learners with SEND?
And this ends where we started – with the concept of a community of practice.
As a leader in education do I know where I can draw in support? Do I have partnerships with the local special schools? When a child comes into the school with a less common condition do I know which charities might be able to help? Do I leave the relationship with the LA on SEN to the SENCO or do I know and understand the key relationships? Do I draw on the expertiese of parents and the young people themselves?
These are – of course – more questions than answers but the question is always the first step TO the answer.
For more resources go to www.wholeschoolsend.com where you can also join the WSS community of practice
Follow @wholeschoolsend on twitter and at LinkedIn
To download a free copy of the SEND Review to help you develop a plan of for your setting go to www.thesendreview.com