How to innovate SEND education through leadership

Sarah Driver

Sarah Driver is the chair and Founder of Driver Youth Trust. Their flagship programme, Drive for Literacy, supports schools with building capacity in order to support those who struggle with literacy and offers a range of free resources.

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Image credit: Flickr // tamucc. Image credit: Flickr // tamucc.

Does good leadership and an inclusive ethos benefit a school’s whole community? It is my view that headteachers and governors who lead the way when it comes to those pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), who share their practice and continue to champion SEND, see the benefits across their school.

What happens when they don’t?

We see schools where there’s no staff training to support those who struggle with literacy, and when there is, it’s generic and not adapted to the actual needs of the staff or pupils in the school.

This leads to poor results and low aspirations where, for example, only 14% of SEND pupils reach the expected standard in KS2. The Education Policy Institute has found that higher-attaining pupils with SEND fall behind their peers as they progress through school.

Too often we see those with SEND being taken out of class, often their favourite subjects, to be given ad hoc interventions, 20 minutes here and there, that are always the first to fall by the wayside when there’s pressure on staffing. It’s a ‘sticking plaster’ approach, not the graduated one that it should be. This leads to ‘lost’ children who lose months, if not years, of their education – not to mention the frazzled staff.

What do we mean by a school that has a truly inclusive ethos?

A fully-inclusive ethos means that those who have SEND, or those who struggle with literacy (reading, writing, speaking and listening), are accounted for as part of a joined-up system at the heart of the school.

To do this requires a committed school leadership – and I include governors in this – that makes a positive decision to see the merit of addressing the needs of these learners. It requires strategic thinking, formed around an evidence-based approach that looks at professional expertise in a school, school data (not only pupils results), scientific evidence and takes into account stakeholders’ views – parents, learners and other professional bodies.

At present, too few leaders show off and lead the way, and there is little incentive to do so. We need to encourage our leaders to champion SEND learners in an area where others are turning a blind eye. Ideally, the government would introduce an annual SEND award (like the pupil premium award) celebrating schools who make effective and creative use of SEND funding for real impact (including a prize for the winners). This would have the additional benefit of publicising good practice so that other schools can learn from it.

What changes can leaders make that would help SEND learners?

1. Decide to make special educational needs and disability (SEND) a priority

Lead the way, share your practice, continue to champion SEND and you will see the benefits across your school in countless ways.

2. Carry out an audit

This must be in relation to your provision for dyslexics and others who struggle with literacy. You can access the Whole School SEND Review for free online resources.

3. Ensure you have a dedicated governor or trustee

Engage them with the practices in your school and support them so that they have a responsibility for learners with SEND.

4. Ringfence SEND funding

We place enormous emphasis on disadvantaged pupils and pupil premium. Rightly so - and we should do the same for those with SEND. ‘Ring fence’ your SEND funding; see how it’s spent and monitor its impact.

5. Look at workforce development

This must be in a targeted and appropriate way for teachers and SENCos.

With these steps, school leaders can start to champion SEND learners and create an inclusive school. This way, we can give all learners the true chance to fully achieve their potential.

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