We have all heard the phrase “every teacher is a teacher of SEND”. In the classroom, it is obvious how this applies, as you will be working directly with children with special educational needs and disability on a daily basis.
But once you enter senior leadership, you may no longer have a class of your own. Your contact teaching hours will be limited. So, what does this mean for your role in SEND provision? Is every senior leader still a teacher of SEND?
The simple answer is “yes”. As a member of the senior leadership team (SLT), you will have input on policies that will affect all learners, including pupils with SEND.
And taking a whole-school approach to the issue is becoming increasingly important, because the proportion of pupils with a recognised need is growing. Department for Education statistics show that there are 15,000 more pupils with SEND this academic year, yet there are 17 fewer special schools across the country. This means that mainstream schools are accommodating a higher proportion of SEND pupils with more complex needs.
As Tes reported back in October, there has been a worrying increase in the number of exclusions of pupils with SEND. According to Dr Adam Boddison of Nasen, the charity that supports practitioners of SEND provision, children with SEND are seven times more likely to be excluded. This is not indicative of a system that is working. Senior leaders are in a position to change that. But where to start?
Conducting a SEND review is a great first step. This is an audit of your existing whole-school strategies to see how they compare with examples of good practice. Free materials to conduct the review are available through the organisation Whole School SEND (www.thesendreview.com).
Develop an inclusive approach
One question for the SLT to consider as part of the process is the balance between provision – defining the number of teaching assistant support hours, for example – and the opportunities for special educational needs coordinators (Sencos) to work with senior leaders to develop inclusive pedagogy, influencing whole-school culture so that the inclusion of all our learners is evident in the school’s DNA.
A positive mindset is important. This may sound woolly but it really isn’t. Many teachers don’t actually believe they can teach all learners, so it is up to senior leaders to help shift this culture.
As well as visibly conducting a SEND review, members of a school’s SLT can change mindsets by incorporating regular sessions about working with SEND into continuing professional development plans, setting whole-school goals for raising achievement for all learners and challenging the idea that it’s fine to plan a lesson for most or only some pupils.
The good news is that any newly qualified or trainee teachers in your school should be well equipped to support this work. School-centred initial teacher training groups and universities are getting better at incorporating inclusive teaching and learning strategies into initial teacher training.
The Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers advocates a “built-in, not bolted-on” strategy for SEND, while the National Association of School-Based Teacher Training has developed a SEND toolkit to support early-career teachers.
Know your Sendco
However, your greatest resource is and always will be your school’s Sendco. Get to know them and work closely with them, but never assume that responsibility for SEND provision lies solely with them.
Broadening access to all lessons through inclusive practice starts with improving the overall quality of teaching, and that is a teaching and learning issue. Likewise, ensuring that all pupils are ready to learn through developing strategies to keep them in class is an issue for the pastoral team.
According to Heather Denham, Sendco at St Thomas More RC Academy in North Shields, Tyne and Wear, it is also vital to strengthen whole-school assessment and planning. “We are all alert to the cycle of assess, plan, do and review,” she says. “We expect that process to tighten around those learners who set our alarm bells ringing.”
Ultimately, the key leadership challenge around SEND provision continues to be overall school improvement. In face of the growing SEND population, building a whole-school culture of inclusive teaching and learning can disrupt long-held views about who can learn, protecting the interests of vulnerable students. So, remember: SEND is everyone’s business. And every school leader is a leader of SEND.
Margaret Mulholland is director of development and research at Swiss Cottage School in London