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

Gareth D Morewood

An inclusive approach in every aspect of school life

Gareth D Morewood describes how a whole-school approach can inform true values for inclusive schools.

I am fortunate enough to have provided external training and support to SEND colleagues, schools, parent carer groups and local authorities. One topic that appears ever more frequently in the requests I receive is ‘establishing a whole-school approach to SEND provision’. So in this post, I’d like to explore the whole-school approach as it relates to the saturation model our school started developing almost a decade ago.

The saturation model

We first developed the saturation model while participating in a four-year, ESRC-funded project with the University of Manchester. The use of the word ‘saturation’ reflects the central premise that, in order to be effective, our inclusive principles and practice need to permeate through every aspect of school life; the school to be saturated with understanding and awareness (of autism, in this case).

In practice, this means working with every member of the school and its wider community to develop a rolling response; in essence a continually evolving and developing model.

One thing is for sure, you don’t just ‘set this up’ and it is ‘done’, there is an ongoing requirement for keeping things high on the agenda.

Morewood, G. D., Humphrey, N. & Symes, W. (2011) 'Mainstreaming autism: making it work', Good Autism Practice Journal 02.12.11, 62-68.

Applying the key principles across different settings

You can read more about the approach from the paper published in the Good Autism Practice journal in 2011, from the link above. The graphic summarises the key areas of the model as defined by the research; demonstrating the areas that made the model successful and continues to work really well.

This approach has been implemented in schools and settings across the UK and further afield. In this blog post I will highlight the key areas that transcend specific need (autism, for example) but are increasingly forming a significant part of the external training and support I provide.

Direct support and intervention

Whatever need, diagnosis or specific disability a student has, they will invariably need direct support and intervention at some stage in their education; seldom do young people fly through school without any input from their teachers. High quality teaching is thus the bedrock of any successful school, the core business. Getting it right (good teaching) benefits everyone, especially students with additional needs.

Targeted, evidence-informed interventions are also essential, though they can be delivered in different ways depending upon the subject, the area of need and the individual student. It’s important to ask why interventions take place, how we can track progress and monitor outcomes, and how to dovetail interventions with other elements of school life. Some useful questions to ask are:

  • Why do you do certain interventions?
  • How do you know they are effective?
  • What is the impact?
  • Do they dovetail with whole-school provision?
  • How to you track progress?

Training and development of staff

Underpinning a whole-school approach to provision is a framework of high quality CPD for staff. I have previously explained how you can undertake your own SEND review for free, and how you can deliver your own training.

However, it’s worth reiterating that any training or professional development needs to be properly structured: too often a haphazard approach, plagued by fads and discounted theories, diminishes the value of in-school training. How many of your colleagues see Inset days as ‘days off’, I wonder?

The trick is to create a genuine value in whatever you organise. For example, at our first Inset of the year myself and the head of IT co-delivered a workshop on autism and learning. I provided the research evidence and a ‘whole-school view’, my colleague the practical classroom practice and the value of home-school links.

The success of this session reaffirmed to us that we have considerable ‘in-house’ expertise, and do not need to rely on expensive external speakers every time we schedule training.

Looking beyond Inset

One of the things I have seen to work well in a lot of schools is regular twilight/morning training sessions; as we have said previously, five full Inset days may not be the most effective way to structure learning and development.

We have commuted three days into a variety of delivery models: twilight sessions, online training and quizzes, self-directed research time, collaborative planning and curriculum development… to name a few! This is not only received very positive anecdotal feedback from staff, but also allowed for a significantly wider range of sessions and opportunities for staff.

Offering a choice allows for personalisation of training and development in line with appraisal objectives and professional development aims. The impact of this approach has been significant for SEND; many ‘mainstream teacher’ lead SEND sessions, our expertise as a whole staff is quite remarkable; demonstrated by the number of colleagues leading sessions.

In essence, rethinking training and development is a pillar of any school’s holistic approach to improving provision for SEND and in fact, outcomes for all. Take time to identify staff training needs and areas for development. Be creative in your solutions. Consider the expertise of your staff. The opportunities may be right in front of you!

Flexible provision

I credit Dr Damian Milton for introducing me to the phrase ‘personalisation not normalisation’. A whole-school approach must have some flexibility to it, with reasonable adjustments made to suit the individual. Blanket provision for the sake of expediency or compliance is not only counter-productive but often unlawful.

However, some schools can fall into the trap of setting up so many different systems and services that they lose sight of their core purpose; there is always a need for a balance. For us this is firmly about ensuring all our students have positive pathways into education, employment or training when they leave us post-16; or as our school motto states ‘educating for life’.

Developing appropriate curriculum pathways for learners is important; a narrow, fixed curriculum limits opportunity. I am not naïve in thinking that each school isn’t different and the community they serve has to be reflected in the curriculum offer; however within the core purposes of education we do need to understand the reason for reasonable adjustments and a wider understanding of what an inclusive curriculum actually is. Force-feeding a narrow offer to young people ill-suited to the content is a recipe for disaster, on many levels.

For me a vital element of our whole school approach is the education of the peer group and a proactive move in ensuring that not only the curriculum structure, but also the content is inclusive; do images in maths lessons reflect disability and race; are life education (or PSHE) lessons structured to allow positive debates and discussions on disability, for example?

The Anti-Bullying Alliance outlines a strategic whole school approach for tackling bullying which includes:

  • senior leadership and pupil and parent voice thread throughout
  • a strong whole school anti-bullying policy
  • underlying values and school ethos
  • cross curricular approach
  • training and staff development
  • prevention strategies
  • reporting and response strategies.

Although specifically in relation to bullying, these core messages mirror my learning from working with a range of schools and also match many elements of the saturation approach outlined in this post.  The commonality must mean there is some value in it, surely?

You can access some fantastic short films and resources on disablism in class from the Alliance which may be a good starting point for developing an inclusive curriculum.

Creating a positive ethos

Never has it been so important to be solution-focused! The challenges schools are currently facing in funding and recruitment are well documented, not to mention curriculum changes and exam reform. However, I often say that if we cannot be positive, who will be?

I try and always emphasise the power of the positive, and am reminded of Nev Wilshire’s wise words in the BBC programme, The Call Centre: ‘Happy people sell!’

Ensuring there is a consistent drive for positive solutions and challenges offer valuable learning opportunities that keep the whole school approach developing, evolving and, most importantly improving the outcomes of young people our schools serve.

I don’t profess to have all the answers or a magic wand for school improvement, but I do think the adaptation and application of our saturation model can make a difference, even if only to stimulate some thinking and debate. For if we do nothing, we end up even further behind.

More from Optimus

High quality, low cost: a guide to CPD for SEND

Developing inclusive practice: an international perspective


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