#SENDed: “Making the invisible visible”

Just under a year ago Anita Kerwyn-Nye rang me to ask if the Harris Federation would be interested in participating in a MAT pilot on peer-to-peer SEND reviewing. It was a DfE funded project and we would work in collaboration with AET. I had just started my secondment as the Professional Learning Leader across the MAT and the TSA; my remit from the CEO and the Director of Education was to make our system leadership and CPD offer more outward-facing, so it seemed like a great opportunity to start as I meant to go on.

So I found myself as a named representative of educational stakeholders on the Whole SEND steering group. To be clear, I am not a SEND specialist, I am a T&L/Professional Learning leader and I have an inclusive value set. It is not very often I feel like an imposter, but I can remember entering the room for the first meeting last spring – it was like the SEND super group. Everyone who was anyone (in the twitter bubble at least) for SEND was there – Anita, David Bartram and the London Leadership Strategy had assembled all of the SEND powerhouses including Vijita Patel, Nancy Gedge, Simon Knight, Jarlath O’Brien, Dr Adam Boddison, Rob Webster and representatives from organisations like LKMCO, NASEN, NET and the Driver Youth Trust. I was suitably impressed and knew that this group meant business. I also knew that I would be challenged and would learn a lot!

A year later, a series of Whole SEND steering group meetings, audits and reviews have culminated today in a fantastic #SENDed inaugural summit.

Keynotes:

Anita Kerwyn-Nye – set the context of the SEND landscape and shared personal stories about being the Mum of children being diagnosed with additional educational needs, potentially be failed by the system. Anita shared the community of practice behind  and made it clear that not everything that makes a difference costs. It’s about attitude too.

“What we have to do is support the teachers, charities and individuals trying to make children’s lives better”.

“We need to be an inclusive society. We need diversity of thought. We need some different thinking in our schools. “We need diversity of thought to solve the world’s problems”.

“The measure of a civilisation is how we treat our weakest members. We need to raise our children to be kind”.

David Bartram – reminded us that all parents and educators, everywhere in the world have the same  hopes and dreams for their children. He shared his visits to various countries to consult on SEND provision as the UK are seen as the experts in this field. He outlined the framework and how the SEND audit can be used as tool for system-led improvements in SEND provision through peer review. He posed the following question to the room: We spend 1 Million minutes in school. How are you using those minutes for children in your schools?

“SEND needs to sit at the heart of educational policy, it is not separate”.

“We need to breath some confidence back into the system. Great school-based practice exists. We need to share it”.

“We need to demystify what great SEND practice looks like”.

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Vijita Patel – I have not yet visited Swiss Cottage but  I have heard Vijita speak a lot about the holistic learning experience that they have created for their learning community. Vijita shared the fundamental aim of the Whole SEND review to bring practitioners together. She also championed that a SEND label does not need to define a child’s potential or experience.

“We need to help the wider community to understand the potential of SEND learners. We need to advocate next steps”.

“Sitting at the heart of the SEND Review Guide is the potential of each and every child”.

“We need inclusive values at the core of our schools’ cultures. We need nurture led school provision”.

Edward Timpson – our Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, spoke passionately as a father, not sounding at all like a politician about the vision he has for the system and SEND reform. He highlighted creativity in schools & the potential of best practice feeding through the system. He was very open that many schools are not doing enough for children with SEND.

“We have an opportunity but also a responsibility to make the system work for all CYP with SEND”.

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Round tables and networking:

A series of SEND professionals chaired round table discussions on a series of themes and issues to represent the #collectivevoice of the profession.

I spent the time catching up with: NASEN, The Driver Youth Trust and the Special Needs Jungle – each giving me insight on my responsibility as a Headteacher and school leader to lead inclusively whilst challenging the system.

“You got to see it to be it” Panel:

Simon Knight – set the scene by exploring the contradiction of SEND being highly visible and invisible at the same time, he paralleled the hyper visibility and hyper accountability of PP provision funding and provision to what we need for SEND.

“We need to focus on the needs of the learners and not the needs of the system!”

“Very often there is not a learning difficulty, there is a teaching difficulty  -a barrier for one is a barrier for the other!”

George Fielding – I have heard him speak before and he always moves me. As a Whizz Kid ambassador, an under graduate and the first wheel chair user to achieve his DoE he is an inspiring and empassioned speaker about his rights as “a proud man, a proud Brit and a proud disabled person”.

“Difference and diversity makes Britain the country that it is”. 

“We have to help young people with become proud of who they are”.

“There are four Ls for me – people with SEND can learn, love, and lead but must not be limited”.

Allana Gay – as a founding regional leader for #womened, Allana has recently co-founded #bameed. She shared the data for representation of BAME educators and addressed the issue of inter-sectionality. As a woman, a black woman, a black woman who is an immigrant she shared her frustration at the multiple layers of   her complex identity and the unconscious biases she needs to navigate. She called out the leadership ladder in most schools as “getting paler” the higher you looked. I would add to this that it gets “maler” too.

“London is a melting pot, but too often our teachers do not represent that diversity”.

“With Education management gets paler as you go up the hierarchy. Educator voices do not reflect our communities”.

“In a real meritocracy we all start on a level playing field”.

Myself – I shared our journey as #womened, and the work I have been doing in the Diversity and Equality space through the NCTL funding for Teaching Schools. I questioned who was collating the data and who was reviewing the allocation and the impact of the grants. I invited the audience to consider the language we use as Diversity and Equality are singular terms and are misleading. ‘Diversities’ encompasses multiplicities, complexities and pluralities better.

“There’s a lot being done about diversity – what we need to talk about is diversities”.

“Data shows .5% of teacher have SEND, but the total number of adults with SEND is 20%”. (via Chris Rossiter, Driver Youth Trust)

Jon Severs – as commissioning editor of the TES, shared the work they are doing on representation of voices and experiences in the educational press.  He reminded us that we should not assume SEND knowledge but that we need to support the acquisition of knowledge and debate it, destigmatising it and using layman language to communicate it to a wider audience, more simply.

“The biggest challenge with SEND in the media is its complexities!”

“Need to find language to tell stories about SEND without creating victims”.

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#WomenEd have spent 2 years campaigning for diversity and equality, inclusive panels and to “diminish the differences” in under-represented groups in the education system. Today felt like a big step forward. We have lots more steps to take, there are no quick fixes.

We all need to challenge, we all need to model, we all need to champion, we all need to celebrate the diversities in our classrooms, schools and in our society.

Actions I would like to see as a result of today:

  • A network of SEND leaders and partners to work collaboratively in finding collective solutions to common issues
  • An opportunity for a series of events including one targeting Headteachers and Governors
  • A reform re the requirements of SEND provision for ITT and the skills gap closure for Quality First Teaching across the system
  • A statutory requirement for all schools to have a qualified SENDco and a named SEND lead on every SLT who needs to refresh their training every year like the DSL does for safeguarding practice
  • Hyper accountability for SEND provision in all schools like we have for PP

Seeing this Guardian Jobs advert advocating a diverse workforce on the train on the way home filled me with hope though:

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Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Challenging our school communities to champion the multiplicity of ‘diversities’ and not just ‘diversity’
  • Affecting change across the system for all learners to enable all to thrive or in George’s words ‘love, learn and lead’ but be ‘limited’ by their learning needs
  • Embedding the value of inclusion into our curriculum at Aureus where we will strive to holistically educate the WHOLE CHILD so that all will be nurtured

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • The #SENDed tweets – catching up the day’s activities
  • Reading Vic Goddard’s blog on inclusion and  ‘botheredness’

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • The brilliant keynotes this morning from Anita, David, Vijita and Edwards Timpson the Minister for Vulnerable Learners
  • The fantastic educators I met today in the audience, the sessions, on the panel and the exhibiting organisations

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