The Annual National SEND Conference is a key event in the calendar of SENCOs, school leaders and SEND professionals across England. Following this year's event, Rena Johnson, English Teacher and SEN Subject Leader, shares her thoughts from the day and what takeaways she will be implementing into the new academic year.
The ending of the summer holiday is a time of excitement for the year ahead - the anticipated joy of meeting new year 7 students, the opportunity to develop your skills once more and the reunion of the people you spend more time with during term time than your own family. It also provides a space for a reflection of the year now past – the lows, the wins and the highlights to carry forward. One such highlight was the National SEND Conference hosted by IG Schools.
An educational all-star event that graced the audience with notably practical guidance and interactive panel discussions far exceeded my expectations during a time of uncertainty when the SEND Review was still open for consultation. Having never attended prior, it was incredibly reassuring to hear from a range of speakers whose sole focus is to improve the outcomes for pupils with SEND. To state that the breadth of knowledge was impressive, is a somewhat insulting understatement. Speakers from the Department of Education, local authorities and SEND leaders from across the country flawlessly influenced those of us to frantically write in our notebooks in an attempt to capture the golden nuggets we could share with our settings. From funding to outstanding teaching, from early years to further education, no SEND stone remained unturned. One commonality the speakers shared was their passion to make the world of SEND a better place.
Here I list my key takeaways and how it will inform my practice.
From Tony McArdle, Chair of the Department for Education SEND System Leadership Board:
The importance of early identification
As the Teaching and Learning SEND Lead, I am in a privileged position to influence our whole school CPD offer. Whilst it may seem like common sense to address this, at no point have I explicitly dedicated an opportunity for staff to discuss or develop their skills in identifying and addressing needs early. For the 22/23 academic year, the SEND focus will be on the Graduated Approach. It is unreasonable for me to expect my peers to confidently complete the first part of the cycle if they do not know what they should be looking for during the assessment stage. This will undoubtedly improve the school experience of our pupils when needs are highlighted and acted upon sooner rather than later.
From Annemarie Hassell, CEO of nasen:
The idea of considering race and SEND in tandem is one that may or may not have taken place in your setting at leadership level. If it has, keep the conversation going. If it hasn’t, the old adage, ‘better late than never’ rings true. I’ll be looking and listening more closely at the experiences of pupils of different ethnicities and analysing any trends in achievement and behaviour. I often spout that there is no one-size-fits-all model when meeting the needs of learners and not acknowledging how ethnicity may play a part in their school experience will only do my students a disservice. It is to be noted that all nasen resources are free. I unreservedly recommend making use of this and Whole School Send.
From Esther Messinger, Deputy Headteacher at Bristol Cathedral Choir School:
Windows of opportunity
Esther’s message of positivity was a refreshing reminder of how the journey of inclusion is fuelled largely by passion. Her advice of finding solutions to challenges is something that many of us do without thought, yet, it was articulated in such a way, that it infused enthusiasm effortlessly. I fear that this academic year is set to be the most challenging for many of us and I include the pandemic in that. The cost of living crisis will affect students and their families significantly and there is always the holistic necessity of meeting needs that fall outside the classroom and beyond the school gates. However, the feeling of dread is dissipating; starting a breakfast club will by no means solve all of the issues that will regrettably come with food and fuel poverty but 7:30 certainly seems like a brilliant window of opportunity as a starting point.
From Barney Angliss, SEND Consultant:
Barney eloquently phrased it as ‘The best access arrangement is access to knowledge, to the curriculum.’ This got me thinking. How can we better our offer for our KS4 students who are preparing for their post-16 life into adulthood? We have a good careers programme in place but how can it be improved? I have always been a massive advocate of starting with students’ strengths and the forthcoming year will lead me to pay greater attention to alternative curriculum offers and initiatives such as Speakers for Schools who offer remote and face-to-face work experience placements with well known corporations. Not all learning takes place inside the classroom – by expanding their knowledge of the outside world and its demands, it is with great hope that post-16 destinations will greet our students well prepared.
From Moji Omole, Deputy Headteacher/Designated Safeguarding Lead at Kensington Primary School:
Moji’s explanation of how they address mental health concerns of her pupils with SEND demonstrated how important it is to dedicate time to wellbeing activities. A timetable that includes two hours per week on emotional health is admirable. As is not having to make a CAMHS referral in four years. Her recommendation of having a regulation room or corner has further pushed me to ensure that all of our students with SEND are given time to spend in our newly crafted sensory garden. I think that secondary settings can implement many of the wonderful strategies that our primary colleagues use with some slight adjustments to support their transition.
From Nicola Fisher, Lead Teaching Assistant at The Barlow RC High School and Specialist Science College:
The event closed by saving (in my opinion) the best until last. The 2020 winner of the Outstanding Contribution to SEND award, Lead Teaching Assistant, Nicola Fisher. Personally, I think support staff should be represented in all conferences and I wholeheartedly commend IG Schools for facilitating this. We all know that support staff are not remunerated in the way that reflects the impact they can and do have on our students or the intensity of their role. Giving them a platform to share their insights is something I shall strive to be made a non-negotiable. Nicola’s humility was inspiring. Her commitment is outstanding and her message? Simple. “You have to be passionate or the children will know."
The SEND Conference joins forces with the Schools & Academies Show!
We are thrilled to announce that from next year, the SEND Conference will be co-located with the Schools & Academies Show, the UK’s leading education policy event for schools, academies and MATs.
The show will return to the NEC, Birmingham on 22nd November! Don't miss out on the chance to enhance your knowledge and network with like-minded professionals! Register your interest to stay informed about the latest show announcements and be the first to know when registration is live!