Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, West Midlands

A standardised Journey to Outstanding SEND has been a far to reach ideal for many years. However, as we begin to develop a further understanding of SEND, educational leaders are beginning to focus on creating a clearer picture of SEND in their schools. Gaining a greater understanding of the real experiences pupils, staff and parents face should ensure real progress and provision is available for all. 

The recent Ofsted Educational white paper and the SEND green paper highlight the importance of SEND, with educational leaders further discussing the SEND community, and what they can offer using the current curriculum and offer. 

The Historical journey to SEND

A lot of the conversations are now highlighting the historical failings in SEND CPD. The limited access to high quality SEND CPD, has reduced the impact of teachers and has ultimately led to many pupils being failed by the system. Many of these failures have been caused by reduced resources, squeezed services, such as CAHMS, and limited support from smaller local authorities.  Adding to this, schools are now experiencing a higher number of pupils with needs, triggering a response from leaders. While the number of pupils with needs is on the rise, many students’ needs are unidentified and/or complex in nature. 

The longitude of failings over the years has resulted in an overwhelmed system, not only having very limited resources but a knowledge gap for educators, further highlighting the need for leaders to find a solution for the journey to an outstanding SEND. 

Offering pupils with needs the correct support  at the earliest possible point, will have a multitude of long-term benefits as pupils will have a stronger stance in the working world.   Being able to showcase their capabilities fairly. While there are also many improvements needing to be made in the work world for adults with needs, schools are the best starting point and place for innovation.  


How can we achieve an outstanding SEND 

As a SEND consultant, I am fortunate to work with a number of schools. It is interesting to see schools with the most impact on SEND pupils are those whose leaders focus on creating opportunities for pupils to access meaningful learning and adapting learning environments where applicable. In addition, they’re also supporting staff to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding of SEND. The first step to achieving outstanding SEND is to highlight your organisation’s weaknesses and understand the route you as a leader need to take. 

Understanding your areas for development and focusing on personal development is a start, however, this will not lead to outstanding SEND provision. There are many factors to consider in order to develop a strategic and positively impacting plan for your setting and your pupils with SEND.  


What is your present SEND picture?

As a leader you should be asking yourself these 5 questions:

  1. As leaders do you know the SEND strengths of your school and the areas that may need to be developed?
  2. Do you regularly audit your SEND provision? 
  3. Do you audit your staff knowledge, confidence, and application in the classroom? 
  4. Do you know the local picture of SEND and what this may mean for changing cohorts? 
  5. As a leader have you defined what good/outstanding SEND looks like for your school?

Answering these can help you to fully understand your SEND journey. Continuing to enhance the experience of SEND pupils requires a deep analysis of your:

  • ‘Where’, 
  • ‘Now’, 
  • Strategic plan to your where next?

You can download our practical guide here.

Focusing on SEND can sometimes feel like a daunting task, however, it’s likely due to the absence of deeper analysis. As we all know knowledge is the key to education, a deeper analysis triggers a start in the cycle. Focusing on creating a clearer view of what you are offering, or what needs developing will lead to a more positive experience for children, families, staff, and other stakeholders. 


Understanding your children’s needs: 

The vast majority of Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCo’s) can share the present SEND picture of their setting. They can share the number of children with an EHCP, children who need additional support, children who are being monitored and the general/universal offer of the setting. Some SENCo’s can also highlight the specific programs of support for each child, how this is being monitored and how this is impacting the children and the ‘where next’. However, there is a need to encourage deeper thinking about the data collected on SEND and how this is used. For example, special needs registers highlight children in four categories:

  • SEMH,
  • Cognition and learning
  • Communication/interaction 
  • Sensory/physical needs. 

Many schools will also hold data on specific needs like Autism, ADHD, dyslexia, etc. 

These broad categories hold rich data but not necessarily specific data. Specific data will have the most impact on pupils’ learning, development, and progress. For example, identifying a pupil who has autism without identifying how autism shows up for that individual can lead to missed opportunities to support, frustrations and stilted progress. Understanding how a communication profile may be different and how this may translate into the understanding of the spoken and written word, how this may be supported to enhance communication of thought and not merely a communication of needs will help to support the student with the skills needed to develop independence and learning potential.


Accurately identifying needs and the importance of this

The earlier and more accurately a student’s needs are identified, the more likely it is that they will make effective and meaningful progress. This is a well-documented point of neuroscience, and it is especially true when a child may have been born with disabilities or differences. Using accurate data and getting ahead of potential barriers for a child will help them to make progress and may also reduce some of the SEMH elements that can accompany some needs and have more impact on resources.

The traditional groupings mentioned earlier are broad and all-encompassing and do not necessarily have the desired impact on forward planning, targeted interventions, and individualised programs. Each individual with needs will present differently in each category and will have a bespoke response to the learning journey. This is a challenge but in order to understand and proactively respond to your SEND community – identification of need, categorisation of need, staff knowledge of what the data is sharing and staff upskilling will all be crucial elements of ensuring a more proactive and positively impacting approach to SEND is undertaken.


What about the results?

In the present picture of school attainment and monitoring, this is a legitimate and relevant question for school leaders to ask and to be aware of in their approach to SEND and their provision for all pupils in their school community.

Alongside the points regarding the use of data and staff CPD, understanding the applicable pedagogy of learning and how this may be impacted by differing cognitive styles is a crucial element to research and explore when it comes to attainment and progress for pupils with SEND. For example, some children with autism may be great decoders but struggle with comprehension. This may be linked to the fact that some children with autism may approach semantics, the author’s point of view and imagery differently, allowing this to appear as a barrier to traditional learning when it is potentially a learning style that requires more focus which could ultimately result in improved educational progress.

Curriculum development and design are crucial elements to every setting’s development plan. If there is more emphasis on being curious about the barriers children present with, this can only be a benefit to all learners, leading to improved outcomes for all of the setting’s community.


The journey to outstanding SEND – can it be done?

Inclusion is here to stay and SEND is an ever-evolving national and local picture which will require energy and innovation (hopefully better funding too) to ensure that all pupils are appropriately supported. Whilst we wait for a refreshed policy response, I believe that the steps taken by school leaders can ensure that more pupils are experiencing outstanding SEND provision. A provision which is committed to the outcomes of all pupils, and remains curious about different learning styles, thinking styles and experiences. We want to create a provision which also enhances and embraces all of their setting community. But most importantly provisions that just give it a good thoughtful go.


Read our Early Years Journey to Outstanding article with the Early Years Eye. 


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