Accessing an exceptional education is integral to ensuring students with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) have the best life chances and to lift the communities we serve.
By instilling an inclusive culture in our schools and breaking down barriers to success like attendance and mental health, we are able to have a lasting impact on the life outcomes of children with SEND, particularly the most vulnerable.
But what does this look like in practice? The Ruth Gorse Academy was recognised as ‘secondary provision of the year’ in the most recent nasen awards. This is what we do.
A culture of inclusivity
At the heart of our approach has been the creation of an inclusive culture. This is led by governors and the trust leadership team, and permeates right through to classroom teachers and our support staff. That SEND is a key priority is a guiding principle for school and trust.
To embed this culture from the top down, every member of staff is encouraged to consider the needs of students with SEND when making any decision, and accessibility and inclusion must underpin all changes to our provision.
Within every subject area, we have a dedicated SEND champion who is responsible for suggesting ideas for increasing inclusivity. In turn, these champions operate as a network who encourage staff to share expertise and work collaboratively across the curriculum.
And culture goes beyond the classroom. All our co-curricular and enrichment activities are also adapted to meet the needs of all students. And because there are no barriers to participation, inclusivity has trickled down into the attitudes and ethos of staff and students.
Attendance and mental health
Attendance is key to protecting students with SEND from falling through the gaps. At the heart of our attendance policy is knowing that children with SEND achieve best when they are in the classroom every day, but appreciating that health and wellbeing disproportionately affect their attendance. Our response has been to create a system of wrap-around care, so we are able to identify any concerns with students’ health as early as possible.
Our dedicated director of health and wellbeing has helped to implement a best-practice approach to health, and we work closely with external agencies to deliver joined-up support. We also fast-track wellbeing support so that students’ mental health is prioritised even while further consultations are being undertaken, ensuring that schooling is not lost while a full support plan is implemented.
Furthermore, it is imperative to regularly communicate and update families to ensure they feel engaged and invested in their child’s education. This includes targeted positive phone calls to regularly update parents and carers on their child’s progress.
We have also implemented incentives for attendance to further encourage students to attend school ready to learn, including the introduction of a token system which can be used towards benefits such as using our adapted rowing machine or claiming a small prize.
Trust the experts
Increased funding and further prioritisation of SEND by the government will be crucial for schools to deliver the highest standard of support. However, it’s equally important that the expertise that exists within the system is shared in the most efficient and impactful ways.
Much of that expertise is in specialist provisions, but it is not locked away there – and nor is it exclusively there. Every school can and should be a fully inclusive environment, but this can only happen through commitment and action: developing internal capacity, offering SEND-specific CPD to all staff and developing relationships with external organisations.
Implementing a whole-school approach to SEND has been vital to raising the aspirations of all our students. By breaking down barriers, we have been able to ensure more of them are in a classroom, engaged and ready to learn.