I am passionate about the provision for SEND students, and the opportunity to share my enthusiasm at SSAT National Conference was one I am very glad to have taken up.
I met some fantastic fellow practitioners, with whom I have already established contact for the future – it is always a privilege to share good practice with colleagues, and so valuable to reflect on our own practice to improve yet further.
I have worked for almost three years in a large 11-18 comprehensive school, where the need for SEND (special educational needs and disability) change was desperately overdue; Ofsted visited days before I took up post, and called the SEND department “the land that time forgot”.
With this as my start point, and embracing the then rumoured ideas of the draft Code of Practice (0-25), I set off to change the culture of the community surrounding the school, to ensure our SEND cohort of 39 per cent were prepared for their “next steps” in life.
Initially, change had to be startlingly fast, and was met with some surprise from many quarters, including the students themselves.
It was time to make a difference, to make sure our students were ready to take the walk down our driveway and out into the real world, equipped to move forward, to give our students and the teams around them the “can do” attitude often so lacking in this vulnerable group.
Educating students, their parents, carers, friends and teachers, to believe this was possible was a monumental task.
It is hard to let go, particularly of SEND youngsters, and let them fly solo. This was our main obstacle to overcome.
Parents, teachers, teaching assistants and other professionals had all fought to get support for these students, and allowing them to explore and gain independence seemed to some of these stakeholders to fly in the face of this hard-fought support.
However, as the weeks passed, things that had seemed impossible, such as autistic students using mainstream areas, dyslexic students accessing effectively in mainstream lessons, students with physical difficulties getting involved in PE, all became not only possible, but enjoyable.
The rest of the school embraced the SEND students in the mainstream, supporting and enjoying the diversity of our community.
The critics continued to voice concern; as we all know, with change comes fear.
We persisted, knowing our students were growing in confidence and beginning to show their potential academically as well as socially.
When we started the work to change SEND perceptions, in August 2013, the percentage of SEND students making the magic three levels of progress between KS2 and KS4 was zero. This August, the year 11 SEND cohort made the best progress in the school’s history – 83.3 per cent of the SEND cohort made three levels of progress or better. I cried.
It was an absolute delight for the students and for their futures, and pride in the team that had made this happen.
It was down to parents, students, teachers, teaching assistants, pastoral staff and leadership being on board to ensure it all happened.
A relentless drive to success.
The results are only part of the story – the students are more confident, totally integrated into their school and their community; no longer “outsiders” tagging alongside mainstream.
Those immeasurable “soft skills” of being able to catch the bus to college, find the right people to help, apply for and be successful in part-time work or apprenticeships, those are the real outcomes for the students.
Incidentally, in November 2014, Ofsted deemed the SEND department “outstanding”, only 17 months after we were said to be failing such vulnerable students.
Validation from the outside is always appreciated, but it was nothing compared to the faces of those successful students bubbling with excitement about college places and their next steps on results day.