5 things we learned and 5 top tips from WE’s SENDCo Summit NW

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How is Whole Education working to build SEND communities of practice?

We are working in partnership with Whole School SEND to support the work of their Regional SEND leaders and build communities of practice. We are doing this by facilitating a series of events that will bring school SENDCos and national experts together. These events will share best practice and discuss common issues; unlocking answers that exist in the system and working collaboratively to solve shared challenges.  

Whole Education’s North West SENDCo Summit:

Our first SENDCo Summit took place at Oakfield High School and College in Wigan on Tuesday 27th November. This exceptional school was recently recognised for its outstanding practice at the nasen Awards, receiving the ‘Excellent practice in secondary school’ award. Amongst its achievements, Oakfield supported 94% of learners to achieve at least one GCSE in 2017.    

The summit was an opportunity for SENDCos from primary, secondary and special schools in the North West to collaborate, share practical advice and seek support from peers and experts. Guest speakers included Catherine Taylor (Executive Headteacher of The Aspire Federation), Sue Allen (Head of School at Oakfield High School and College), Simon Lawrence (Head of Business Development and Communications at ASDAN) and Lidia Cattrell (Deputy Regional SEND Leader, Lancashire and West Yorkshire).

Five things we learned:

  1. Having a clear strategic vision at local authority or MAT leadership level is important for effective SEND practice
    Effective SEND practice is more easily developed and transmitted when local authority or MAT leaders listen to their SENDCos, support collaboration and build a personal relationship with individual schools. A key priority for leaders should be how stronger links can be developed between mainstream and special schools.
  2. Accountability and funding are key challenges facing mainstream schools
    Accountability measures can be detrimental to a school’s SEND provision, as achievements that can not be easily measured are often disregarded. As a result, schools are pressured to focus on what will improve academic outcomes instead of what will aid the development of the whole child. In addition, funding challenges have squeezed schools SEND budgets and limit the provision for learners with SEND.
  3. Schools would benefit from a consistent approach to SEND
    Too much of the practical information for SENDCos is localised. System changes are needed to create a consistent approach that would enable SENDCos to collaborate and communicate on a national level. In addition, SENDCos should have access to training in administrative skills, as much of their time is currently spent completing bureaucratic tasks.
  4. SEND training should be embedded in a teacher’s training from the start, with an SEND focus in NQT or RQT years
    At present, trainee teachers are not mandated to complete SEND training. While many complete 1 or 2 days training, many of the SENDCos who attended the Summit do not feel that this goes far enough.One special school that attended hosts trainee teachers from local mainstream schools for two week placements. They believe this is a powerful and rich experience for trainees, who can fully immerse themselves in the school and to really begin developing the skills necessary to support students with SEND effectively.Alternatively, it was suggested that NQTs and RQTs could be given professional development opportunities relating to SEND. This would reduce the risk of overwhelming trainee teachers, and build on the training that already takes place for NQTs.
  5. More needs to be done to link the educational and health care needs of learners with SEND
    Current EHC plans often predominantly focus on the educational needs of students rather than their health care needs. SENDCos would benefit from more joint working between educational and health professionals to develop EHC plans that fully support both the educational and health care needs of the student.

Five top-tips:
We asked all delegates to share one top-tip that has worked well in their school. Here are five of our favourites:

  • Take one special educational need each term and encourage staff to trial different strategies that are designed to support affected learners. Bring staff together to share their experiences and outcomes at the end of the term. Take the knowledge generated and use it to create a bank of resources.
  • Support students struggling with transition by providing them with a simple ‘now do this’ instruction cards. These help them process the activities they need to complete and tick things off that they have completed.
  • Provide a ‘menu’ of activities for students with sensory needs to complete before the learning starts. This allows them to burn off energy and be focused when they join the learning.
  • Encourage students to read by asking staff to display what book they’re currently reading. Provide quiet reading time for both students and staff.
  • Declutter the learning environment to support students with dyslexia and create a uniform classroom design to support students with autism.  

Next steps:
Over the coming months, Whole Education will be working with Regional SEND Leaders to build on and share the knowledge gathered at November’s North West Summit. Whole Education will also be facilitating and supporting the delivery of further SEND peer reviewer training, SENDCo summits, online webinars and twilight teach-meets across the country, all designed to develop wider communities of practice.  

To learn more, register your interest.

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