NFER: MATs should create ‘director of SEND’ role

SEND leaders are playing a 'crucial role' in fostering collaboration and assisting individual schools, researchers find

SEND leaders are playing a 'crucial role' in fostering collaboration and assisting individual schools, researchers find

Multi-academy trusts should create a “director of SEND” role to help inclusion, with trusts’ “full potential” to support pupils with additional needs “still to be unlocked”, a new report has found. 

Interviews with 19 MATs by the National Foundation of Education Research found trust SEND leaders play a “pivotal role” by centralising work and providing support to individual schools. 

NFER said these leaders tend not to mandate particular approaches but provide a framework across the trust’s schools and help SEND co-ordinators (SENCOs), who warned of soaring workload. 

Researchers recommended “where feasible” MATs should consider creating a director of SEND role, or similar, to take “responsibility for providing strategic direction and to facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing”.

They warned some limitations – such as geographical distribution of schools and workload – did mean the “full potential of the MAT model for SEND provision is still to be unlocked”. 

However, researchers found MATs are “ultimately constrained” by “what many regard as chronic underfunding” of the system, urging policymakers to cough up more cash. Support by councils also needs to be improved, they warned. 

Matt Walker, NFER senior research manager, said while there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” model for MATs’ SEND work, leaders “are playing a crucial role in consolidating SEND initiatives, fostering collaboration, and offering skills and assistance to individual schools as the sector navigates this crisis. 

“It is critical that fixing the SEND system remains a top priority for the government. A good start would be addressing staffing challenges and providing adequate resources for schools and local authorities.”

Across the 19 MATs deemed to have good practice, 15 had appointed a central team member to oversee SEND provision.

Most were created within the past few years, but some were in recent months – showing “centralising efforts” are “still evolving”. The sample was not representative of all MATs.

Benefits included having capacity to develop a long-term vision for the MAT, while SENCOs face “the day-to-day ‘firefighting’ duties”. SENCOs also feel like they are not making decisions on their own.

‘Significant challenges’ for schools

NFER said it conducted the research as the government’s SEND and AP plan says “relatively little” about the specific role of MATs to build a more inclusive system. 

MATs and schools are facing “significant” challenges on SEND, including recruiting and retaining SEND staff and navigating relationships with parents and councils, the report said. 

Meanwhile, SENCOs report a surge in the number and complexity of pupils’ needs. They are increasingly unable to meet “parents’ expectations” due to lack of resources, pushing them into an “adversarial position”. Some trusts “fear litigation”.

Leora Cruddas, Confederation of School Trusts chief executive, said “more recognition” is needed from government and councils of MATs role in SEND.

“Sharing of expertise and support is inherently built into the way trusts work, so we have a significant opportunity as trust leaders to improve education for children who are often among the most vulnerable in our schools,” she said.

Margaret Mulholland, SEND specialist at ASCL school leaders’ union, added a “fundamental lack of resources is undermining” SEND leaders and SENCOs “efforts to tackle the many problems facing the SEND system”. 

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our ambitious SEND and Alternative Provision improvement plan sets out how we will make sure all children and young people receive the support they need.”

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