I feel that am lucky enough to live in, to have worked for, and to be a Governor in a County that has maintained a strong LA structure. This means that Governor Services play a very active role on Governor development, including an annual conference for Governors with interest or responsibility for SEND. It is an opportunity to meet together, but also to listen to speakers with a national profile, to bring experience and expertise from a wider perspective.
I hope that I have caught the flavour and some of the key details of the day.
This year’s conference started with Matthew Barnes, Specialist Adviser for SEND, HMI and Ofsted, whose key message was that Ofsted, while still maintaining rigour in processes, would be looking more closely at in-school systems, the impact of activities, whether a broad balanced curriculum was available to every child and personal development, including behaviour and welfare.
Learning and progress of all pupils was paramount. Leadership and management were highlighted, in that, in the absence of graded lessons, progress and rigorous evaluation of elements such as Performance Management and interventions, with clear evidence of investigation of anomalies would be needed.
Matthew emphasised that school tracking and data is for each school to determine and explain rationally, as well as being able to show the progress of children. He also shared thoughts on the IDSR, the Inspection Dashboard Summary Report, which Ofsted use to create points for investigation, utilising scattergrams and trends/outliers to clarify areas for consideration.
With a significant background and interest in SEND, Matthew also highlighted the need to track children whose performance is always likely to be described as “low”, giving examples of independence in various contexts, developing essential life skills, especially communication.
Questions that arose in my mind, as a result, were connected with a growing number of early career teachers, with, as Nick Gibb stated recently, a chance for “rapid promotion”.
- Much teacher/child interaction is based on judgements, derived from previous experiences. Is the experience sufficiently broad to encompass the skills to deal with the needs of the children in a class, or, if promoted, in a school?
- Linked to; have they had experience of teaching every year group for which they are responsible? Implications for decision-making?
- Do teachers really identify their concerns (personal/professional and about the children) sufficiently quickly and in sufficient detail to support their own and subsequent, supported investigation of anomalous outcomes or behaviours?
- Do early career teachers fully understand their responsibilities as teachers of SEND children? Do they fully understand, and adhere to, school systems?
- It is very easy for individual children to fall through or get tangled in supposed safety nets. Clarity and consistency are key.
Gareth Morewood, asked to be introduced as “a SENCo from Stockport”. Gareth is well respected among the SEND community, working at local and national levels. His title is Director of Curriculum Support, which, in some ways, could more clearly define the role of a SENCo. It is in coordinating curriculum support, teaching teachers and creating appropriate support programmes for children, that underpin the SENCo role.
His talk was essentially two parts of a whole, entitled Accountability in Action and Parent Partnerships and, in some ways, might have benefitted from being a whole session, to avoid a split in the narrative journey.
Gareth clearly highlighted the legal aspects of SEND legislation, including a very clear background to SEND changes effective from 2014. He suggested that schools should consider IPSEA online legal training module for the SENCo and possibly other members of staff. There is a need to consider the broad aspects of every teacher being a teacher of SEND, as legal responsibilities.
That teachers as teachers of SEND is especially highlighted in the legislation, was referred to often. Each teacher plays a central role in every aspect of learning, making reference to existing plans and developing and sharing personal targets, but also in highlighting anomalies as they arise, recording and discussing with the SENCo in timely manner.
A focus on definite outcomes, aspirational or otherwise, underpinned much of Gareth’s talk. To have clarity about where you want the child to end up offers guidance on interactions along the journey. In fact, it was interesting that both Gareth and Matthew talked of the importance of the journey, the process and the progress, through progressive outcomes.
Discussion of EHCP, education health and care plans was a central feature of Gareth’s talk, as this is the “sharp end” of SEND, when the way in which the school has managed a child’s needs to a particular point is placed under scrutiny by an external audience. The quality of record keeping, the interactions and interventions, with evaluations of outcomes, the involvement of external expertise and following through with their advice. The central place of the child and their parents was regularly emphasised.
In talking about personal target setting, Gareth was not a fan of IEPs, but preferred student passports. He has details of these on his blog, www.gdmorewood.com
For me, a significant element in learning has always been how to keep the detail of current, key aspirations in front of teachers and children, so that they can be live within each piece of work. With a class of children, to remember the personal targets of each child might just be asking too much of the teacher. However, to articulate them in a form that can be easily accessed allows the child level targets to be discussed within activities. I’ll mention again the flip out sheets, within a drafting approach to written work.
Staff training is of paramount importance, in creating structured approaches that help teachers and TAs to develop case studies that might support EHCP applications. Having easy to use systems, which can be digital or paper based, or a combination, allowing contemporary notes to be collected and collated, might just reveal patterns of behaviours that can give insights into issues.
Parent Partnership issues were explored through both sections. It is important that these are established early and with some strength, ahead of potential need, especially where SEND needs are already clearly established and recorded. Active and productive parent partnership is not something that can be taken for granted as a natural part of the family-school “bond”, but, where it becomes a proper meeting of minds, can lead to proactive interventions that benefit the child and, by extension, the family and the school.
It’s something to work on.
· Insufficient impact at SEND support stage of the SEND CoP, leading to increased EHCP requests.
· Too few parents and professionals convinced about the effectiveness of inclusion, driving special school placement requests.
· SEND reform areas in an “immature state”.
It was clear that the authority was busy “behind the scenes”, but there were some question marks in my mind over the dynamics involved; busyness does not necessarily mean defined actions within a strategy. A “recovery” strategy was outlined, however, it is constantly seeking to hit a moving target.
- In a culture of early career teachers, it is more essential to quality assure teacher judgements through regular, recorded mentoring and moderation activities. Overt expectations?
- Consider IPSEA online legal training module for SENCo and others?
- Potential to co-opt the SENCo onto Governors, to enhance the strategic role?
- SEND target in Performance Management outcomes? Focus on teacher standards 2,6&5.
- Who does interventions? Why, where and when? Impact assessments? Interventions cf whole class expectations? Tracking progress within interventions?
- Consider all aspects of parent communication. Possible use of single question questionnaires?