Last month Barney and I participated in the Whole School SEND Summit, spreading our message in a roundtable at the conference about working with parents. More than 200 parents (many attending through the SNJ ticket giveaway), teachers, senior leaders, Multi Academy Trust leaders, SENDCos, governors, local authority leads and third sector organisations came together to share best practice and build a community in SEND provision (video here).
The event was organised by the London Leadership Strategy, a non-profit organisation born out of the London Challenge, which itself was established by the 2002 Labour government as a way of improving London schools. LLS is now using its experience to send its 'hit squad' of experienced SEND teachers into schools across the country (where invited) to spruce up their offer for children with special educational needs.
Today, looking back on this inspirational event, Anita Kerwin-Nye, Managing Director of LLS, tells us about what they learned from the event that can be taken forward into schools. Anita is also inviting you to help them set their agenda for the coming year.
Setting the Whole School SEND Agenda
As we all know, our learning doesn't end with our formal education at school, college or university. At our recent Whole School SEND summit I hope everyone, whether parent, teacher or other professional, left with a greater understanding of how working together can only improve the lives of children with special educational needs.
However, there were some specific lessons that I took from the event that I'd like to share with you. I'd also like your feedback to some questions at the end, so please do leave your thoughts in the comments or see below for other ways.
Lesson 1: Don’t call parents ‘agitators’
In his address the Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, Edward Timpson, pledged a national review of SEND provision (should they win in June) and came out strongly against exclusion of students with SEND. He went on to ask for help from the assembly in identifying areas of need, and called for greater efforts to bring parents to the table to share their insight.
He also referred to parents who ‘agitate’ and some parents as ‘agitators’, a term that was echoed in the plenary session at the end of the day, and not well received. One parent blogger on itmustbemum said “It isn’t helpful to ‘group’ and ‘categorise’ parents in any case, but especially based on ill-informed judgments. I think that this illustrated beautifully the ‘institutionalised parentism’ that many of us experience.”
As Tania put it, here on Special Needs Jungle: “We are neither chemical stirrers, supporters of an ideology, nor a political movement… I know [Edward Timpson] meant it in a positive sense that we are making a difference, but we don’t WANT to be campaigners, we just want to be parents happy that our children are getting the education they need, just like children without additional needs get.”
Lesson 2: It is important to speak up, but in the right way
Starlight Mckenzie wrote: “Of the issues raised [at the Summit] two stood out to me the most. One was that of differences of opinion between teachers and parents on a child’s potential Special Educational Needs. And the other was about being afraid to admit lack of knowledge when there is an expectation of expertise on ALL SEN (an impossible ask)”.
Disagreements are healthy, as is admitting ignorance. It is important that we are welcoming and understanding of those who are not as well-informed. As Jon Severs of TES said in his piece: “The teacher cannot know everything, and they need your help. If they ask a question, do not instantly raise hell because they 'should' know it. Help them understand…”
Lesson 3. There is strength in community
It was gratifying to see Nancy Gedge - parent, consultant teacher for Driver Youth Trust and blogger - say that, “the shiny glass and stone didn’t merely cover up the past with an illusion of change.” As SNJ's Tania said, “this event seemed like a shout-out to schools, parents and young people that things can be different and help is available to make positive changes to your SEND provision.”
Lesson 4: However, conferences are not enough
As dianemkay commented on Starlight Mckenzie’s blog: ”It’s good that the delegates who came to your round tables were positive about wanting to engage with parents. What are all the teachers who don’t use Twitter, or attend SEND conferences doing though?”. As Starlight Mckenzie put it: “The test really is what happens next as a result of the conference... There has to be change in schools and in classrooms.”
What's next? Your views needed
So what next? How can we build a vibrant community in SEND provision and drive meaningful change?
In his recent piece, Barney Angliss wrote that, “having a consistent and agreed framework to audit practice is essential to identifying areas for development [and] in my experience the framework offered by the SEND Review Guide fits this purpose very well.”
The SEND Review Guide is a free tool that has has been downloaded nearly three thousand times and adopted by a number of local authorities. We hope that it will help drive change by establishing a standard framework for the evaluation of SEND provision across the UK. For more info on the guide click here, and for a flyer to present to your school click here.
There are also a number of exciting projects in development by Whole School SEND members, including Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants (MITA) and SEND Review: Deploying Teaching Assistants, SEND Review: Classroom Practice, and SEND Review: Preparing for Adulthood. For updates on all the latest projects subscribe to the Whole School SEND newsletter here and connect on Twitter using #SENDed and Facebook.
But we know there is more to be done and we have been inviting feedback on this and compiling a list of suggested targets. What do you think should be on the Whole School SEND agenda for 2017? What needs to change in SEND provision and how can we do it together? Join the Consortium by taking the Whole School SEND pledge and join the conversation on the Summit Group. We’d love to hear from you.
*Tania & Renata would like to thank Anita and Whole School SEND for their kind funding support for SNJ*
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She is also an experienced broadcast and print journalist & author. Tania also runs a PR, web & social media consultancy, SocialOro Media. She is a Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
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