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A SEND-First Approach... To Everything

Updated: May 23

A SEND-First Approach... To Everything - Aidan Severs Consulting Ltd

Imagine a world where children with SEND really were the priority. What would that look like and what would the impact be on all children?

That which we've explored in a couple of previous blog posts, Margaret Mullholland puts succinctly in a TES article:

"...there’s now a feeling that schools should be structured for these pupils in the first place, rather than trying to adapt to their needs retrospectively."

I read the above article whilst working on a SEND project for Oak National Academy (which is just one reason why SEND is on my mind currently), and it really chimed with the way my thinking had been going. The article argues for the development of an 'equity lens' in school leaders. Mullholland goes on to say:

"...adopting an equity lens is actually straightforward. It starts with reimagining the bottom 15 per cent of pupils (in terms of prior attainment) as the top 15 per cent of pupils - and deploying resources accordingly."
"Who leads SEND? The answer should be: everyone"

Yet, too often, and understandbly, SEND expertise is the preserve of the SENCo, and teachers have not recieved enough training - and that's not my assessment, that's what many teachers say themselves ("A further barrier reported by staff when supporting students with SEN was... a need for more staff training").

Nicole Dempsey, Head of Mountain Rescue at Dixons Trinity Academy, shares the following image in her blog post entitled 'The revolution will not have disabled access; part 2':

An image of two schools, one with access for wheelchairs which all pupils use and the other with steps for most pupils and a separate ramp for wheelchair users - SEND

What if we were radical? What if pupils with SEND really did become the beating heart of our system and our schools? What might that look like?

  • SENCos a part of every leadership team. Better yet, the whole leadership team fully trained on SEND, and continuing to top up that training. Leadership meetings that centre around meeting the needs of pupils with SEND before any other business is discussed. Perhaps less business would need to be discussed if pupils with SEND became the focus.

  • CPD focusing first and foremost on SEND and inclusion, looking at how to meet the needs of pupils with SEND rather than on the needs of an imagined 'majority'. Where every coaching session focuses on supporting the most needy and where the names of those with EHCPs are mentioned first in every staff meeting focusing on teaching and learning.

  • Teaching which is aimed first at those who most need help. Teaching which reinforces the basics constantly. Teaching which is highly-structured so that the thread is never lost and every piece of content relates exactly to the main purpose of the learning.

  • Monitoring and evaluation that looks at how well pupils with SEND are learning as a starting point. Observations, book looks, drop-ins which focus on how the needs of pupils with SEND are being met as par for the course - the thing which happens before anything else.

  • Learning environments which are designed to meet the broad range of needs in the classroom, which celebrate and reinforce language and vocabulary, which aren't over-stimulating, and which allow pupils to concentrate well.

Think of any aspect of school life - break times, lunch times, wraparound care, clubs, toilets, friendships etc&etc - and imagine what it would be like if pupils with SEND were truly put first.

I have no evidence for what I think would happen, simply because the above hasn't been done before, but I honestly think we'd be looking at schools and a system which worked so much better for everyone involved in them.

Are there changes we can begin to make in this direction? Whilst the DfE and government ministers acknowledge that the SEND system is in a mess, it'll be some time before the financial situation and policy changes - what can be done at a grassroots level? How can we begin to make a difference now? I reckon some of my brainstormed ideas above could be trialled quite easily.

If you work in a school where these kinds of approaches are already been taken, I'd love to hear from you!

If you would like Aidan to work with your school or organisation, you can get in touch here, or by using the links below:

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Subject Leadership

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