In Autumn 2019, Whole Education launched a new SEND programme for local authorities in partnership with David Bartram OBE, author of Great Expectations: leading an effective SEND strategy in school and expert advisor to the Timpson review into school exclusions.
WE SEND is based on a model of SEND peer review developed by London Challenge and aims to work with local authorities over three years to build scalable self-improving communities of SEND practice. It places collaboration at the heart of SEND provision by connecting schools to form triads, which then go on a journey of self-evaluation, action planning and peer review. The programme improves knowledge transfer between schools and in doing so builds the capacity and capability of local authorities to improve SEND provision from within.
After launching with three local authorities, Whole Education is proud to now be supporting six local authorities with more due to launch in the Spring. The first local authority to complete the programme was Bury in Greater Manchester, who launched with twelve schools and are set to grow the programme to twenty four schools in 2020/21.
We are proud to share some of the key learnings from the first year of Bury’s involvement in Whole Education SEND.
Twelve schools were involved in WE SEND Bury which launched in October 2019 . Whilst SENCos took the leading role for their school in the project, all headteachers and/or appropriate deputies actively participated by attending the launch, joining the quality assurance visit, finalising the action plan with the SENCo and supporting with the self-evaluation. This was extremely important, as a key priority of the project is to reduce the isolation of the SENCo and raise the profile of SEND across participating schools.
The twelve schools were split into triads, with one school taking on a more supportive ‘coach’ role. Triads met three times over the course of the year, with the first meeting dedicated to the drafting of an action plan, based on a simple but rigorous self-evaluation using evaluation platform EvaluateMySchool. The project culminated in a ‘celebration of learning’, held virtually due to Coronavirus restrictions. During the celebration, a representative from each triad had the opportunity to share their experience including key learnings and next steps.
Before the project began, one SENCo acknowledged that ‘the SENCo role is very lonely’. SENCos spoke of often being seen as the school expert on all things SEND, but not having anybody to ask when they needed advice or guidance. During the quality assurance process, led by David Bartram, SENCos had the opportunity to reflect on how the project had helped them feel more supported. Schools found that having a coach was ‘brilliant’ as they could provide useful insights and advice when necessary. Participants also found that having a ‘focused process for collaboration’ was helpful, as it meant visits were solution focused and specific.
One concern raised about taking part in a peer review process was that it could be judgemental. The visits are designed to respond to this concern by being explicitly solutions-focused, creating a process that SENCos found supportive and ‘provided both challenge and reassurance.’
By working with other SENCos, participant schools could more easily see the strengths in their provision, as well as where there were areas for development. For one participant, the process ‘gave me the confidence that we are doing the right thing’. Another formed a SEN working party, which embedded and raised the profile of SEND in all departments across the school. A third SENCo found that working with other schools ‘enabled our SENCo to get a better balance between operational and strategic aspects of the role.’
- One school set the objective of ensuring SEND was represented on the SLT. A restructure of SLT was completed and the school now has a dedicated Assistant Headteacher post focusing on SEND and inclusion.
- One school identified the use of teaching assistants as an area for development and so upskilled TAs through the MITA programme
- One school introduced whole school CPD to clarify the expectations of teachers when it came to supporting learners with SEND
- One school improved staff understanding of the referral pathways to improve accountability
- One school introduced questionnaires to ascertain pupil voice. This proved very insightful and to the creation of a safe space where children could relax and feel calm.
Taking a collaborative approach to improving SEND provision has had a positive impact across the whole local authority as well as within all the individual schools. Completing the self-evaluations and action plans throughout the project has enabled local leaders to quickly identify schools with stand out strengths to showcase and schools which would benefit from some additional support in specific areas.
Why it works
Rather than relying on knowledge from outside the local authority, the WE SEND programme structure supports improvements to be made through the sharing and development of good practice within Bury. Solutions are designed with local expertise, in response to the local context, with the programme providing support, challenge and coaching.
Quality assurance carried out by David Bartram has ensured the process is rigorous and high-quality, and providing coaching training to all SENCos involved ensured that conversations were solution focused and supportive.
The programme will now continue to grow in Bury, with twenty four schools due to take part in 2020/21. Bury SEND leaders will take greater ownership of the running of the programme, creating the building blocks of a system that is sustainable and self-improving.
Schools involved have maintained their relationships and continue to collaborate. In addition, Whole Education is proud to be facilitating a series of six SEND CPD webinars, delivered by national experts and that compliment specific focus areas of the action plans.
If you would like to learn more about how WE facilitated Bury’s self-improving SEND journey, what WE learned, or how we can support great SEND practice in your region, please get in touch with Verity at SEND@wholeeducation.org.
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