The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Damian Moore

'One happy family': reviewing and refining practice for 2018

One year on from our Ofsted report, Holy Family is committed to implementing our plan for better SEND support. Here are some of our priorities.

Reviewing and planning are the main two priorities for many SENCOs as the year ends. Ours has just given a wonderful exposition of the history of SEND to our governing body, recounting its early history in the Victorian workhouses and hospital schools, to the system for supporting SEND in mainstream schools we have today. Looking back to the past can often inform the future – have we resourced our first aid area well enough? Have we made good use of Optimus resources?

Last week’s Ofsted annual report revealed that a growing number of pupils with EHCPs or Statements are now being taught in special schools and other specialist settings, which are commonly renowned for their strong performance in inspections.

However, most pupils are most likely getting a better deal, despite the challenges that beset all stakeholders in the SEND system. Should we attribute this improvement to Ofsted giving greater attention to SEND, or to the knowledge we practitioners share among ourselves, face to face and online? I would hope it’s the latter.

Reviewing the strength of our provision

At Holy Family, a culture of continuous self-improvement will help us reach the outcomes our young people want, and completing a SEND audit has been a useful way to identify priorities for the year ahead.

After stinging criticism from various Ofsted leads over the past five years, Bradford Council, our local authority, has found extra resource for SEND in challenging circumstances – £13.3 million is being removed from the children’s home budget next year. The LA has also provided us with an educational psychologist, who has insight into how other schools are coping with the challenges we face.

With their input, and a combination of self-assessment and external review, we carried out the audit. The resulting document sets out: 

  • features of effective practice
  • our strengths
  • areas for development.

An assessment of these will form the basis of the local area inspection on 6 February. The areas for development reflect what Ofsted found back in January:

‘Teaching assistants are well deployed and are an asset to the school, particularly in their support of pupils who have special educational needs and/or disabilities. They work closely with the teacher and contribute effectively to these pupils’ progress.

‘The leader with responsibility for those pupils who have special educational needs and/or disabilities supplies teachers with detailed and useful information and advice about these pupils. However, teachers are inconsistent in the use they make of this valuable information.

‘As a result, those pupils who have special educational needs and/or disabilities whose needs are catered for by the school do not make the progress that they could.’

Refining our practice

Our main goal is to continue to improve our analysis of data, and with that the impact of our interventions. I still feel that our staff are uncertain about the amount of progress pupils with SEND can be expected to make, particularly in Key Stage 3.

The data we collect from classroom teachers may be best inputted by our SEND centre, known as ‘the bridge’, as quite often these pupils have fractured timetables, their time split between mainstream and smaller classes.

Enhancing roles

Our school leaders have a responsibility to promote a corporate responsibility for SEND, with all members of teaching and support staff, and parents on board.

By introducing key workers for SEND – a first port of call among the myriad names parents will find on our school website – we initially thought we were ahead of the game. But given Ofsted’s shifting priorities, we have since decided to refine our approach.

These key workers are now ‘progress advocates’, who spend as much time talking about verbs or algebra as they do about packing bags or how to calm down at lunchtime. We took concepts from the Education Endowment Fund, like pre-learning and over-teaching, and embedded them in job descriptions so that responsibility for academic progress is now shared by teacher and key worker.

Parental engagement is intrinsic to whole-school SEND. Following consultation, we have moved the time of our parent forums from Saturday morning to mid-afternoon. This may or may not have the desired effect, but it’s just one step in our ongoing effort to work more closely with parents of pupils with SEND.

Finally, we are looking carefully at how we can acknowledge the difference our TAs make on a daily basis, through millions of small but meaningful interactions. Following discussion among the SLT, we have decided to spend our SEND budget on training our existing TAs to provide, among other things, more effective small-group interventions.

Improving teaching and learning

From January onwards, our SENCO will become a part of the learning walks we use to evaluate and improve pedagogy. We already use individual pupil passports and SEND strategy sheets, as well as scrutinising SEND books on a six-week basis.

But after Ofsted challenged our presumption that all teachers were actively using these to support lessons, we’re now looking for the SENCO to actively support high quality teaching. This means coordinating key workers and making sure that teachers implement the graduated approach.

Additionally, the SENCO has begun to play a greater role in devising activities for differentiation in lessons, though there’s still plenty of work to be done there.

Ofsted’s comments were a bitter pill to swallow at the time, but it is now clear that we’ve successfully improved the quality of teaching and learning for SEND, with higher attainment at Key Stage 4, and our Ofsted monitoring team noting in their last report that staff have ‘taken action with pace and urgency’.

Doing more with less

The development plan will be reviewed with the help of the local authority SEND lead and another school’s SENCO in February, who will then use intensive weekly visits to make sure we are implementing the plan. The measure of success won’t just be the data we collect every six weeks, but stronger voice among this cohort of pupils.

A question asked by one of our governors was: ‘How does the school allocate and spend specific funds for SEND?’ We could answer the question in detail, but we’re under no illusion that the money available for SEND is ever likely to increase substantially. We must continue to do more with less, and creating a development plan for 2018 will prove instrumental to doing just that.

Find out more

SEND Review Guide (London Leadership Strategy)

Education Support Partnership

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