Compassion, Inclusion, Leadership, Learning, Purpose, Wellbeing

Inclusion: focusing on common ground

By Anita Devi

More often than not, the dialogue around inclusion focuses on difference, honouring diversity and celebrating uniqueness.  Whilst all of these are perfectly valid and necessary, they shouldn’t mask conversations around sameness or common ground. In my blog this month, I want to explore a root of suffering.

Why? You might ask. In our lives we have all suffered at some point, to differing degrees.  Last year (January 2022) I spent some time examining pain. I’m in that place again!  It seems an odd thing to consider at the start of a year, when people are setting goals, being optimistic about the year ahead and have just finished a season of celebrating.  However, to experience pain means we are alive.  That’s what I discussed last year.

Today, I want to talk about compassion in relation to pain and inclusion.  Compassion is literally to walk with someone in their pain. Some would say, compassion helps us contribute to a life of purpose.  I agree.  Experiencing and feeling compassion implies three things:

  1. We can look beyond our own needs and perceptions to consider others.
  2. We are connected in a community, where heart and soul issues matter.
  3. We can take collective and supportive actions to support others and receive support ourselves, when needed.

You might think that is obvious.  However, think back to the pandemic (2020-22) how many of the three things listed above were challenged and compromised?

Recently, through a conversation with an academic, I discovered is there is a compassion spectrum.  Let’s explore this from the perspective being a giver of compassion, as opposed to being the one receiving.  At one end is compassion satisfaction; a deep sense that the input you are putting into a relationship is enabling the other person/s to grow and flourish.  There is opportunity to give, but also time to process the emotions, the thoughts and the experience.  It’s a good place to be, but unsustainable all the time. The other end of the spectrum is compassion fatigue – a lot of giving without space to process emotions, thoughts and experiences. It is also unsustainable and highly draining.  So here we have these two extremes:

The key difference between the two extremes is time and space to process emotions, thoughts and experiences. Life events shape us, they mould us, and they change us.  In effect making time for stillness and rest is vital.  Many of you may have heard me previously speak on ‘working from rest’ before.

In effect, the most effective modus operandi is ‘leading from the middle’.  I will be delving further into living in the middle as leaders in my new Leaven Leadership Letters launching on 14/02/2023.

So how do we process?  For each of us, the actual tool or strategy used will differ.  For example, I am an internal processor and as a person of faith, I find prayer time helps me process on a daily basis.  It fills my compassion tank.  Others might use music, journalling or sleep.  What I can share is some things that don’t work, but society has come to believe it does work:

  • Sharing on social media is not processing.  If anything, it adds to the heart, mind and soul clutter!
  • Ranting is not processing, its expression and can have negative consequences, if not managed well.
  • Talking to everyone about an issue and not taking on feedback is not processing.  Far better to find a selected few who can be honest with you and share their wisdom.
  • Bottling up and avoidance is not processing.  Eventually a volcano will explode, (sometimes triggered by something tiny) and the consequences that follow may be quite detrimental. As a child, I was a bottler.  I learnt the hard way how costly this can be.
  • Excessive dependency on something to provide validation, substituting or distraction is not processing. This can range from eating a lot of chocolate to watching porn, for example. Some (not all) of these activities may not be harmful in themselves (e.g., drinking wine), but it is the excessiveness that challenges limitations for personal safety. For some, engagement may temporarily feel like a sense of control and freedom, at the same time.  But the negative cycle that follows often leaves people feeling far lower when they started.

I hope you hear my heart on this.  Emotions (even anger) is not a bad thing, but that is expression, not processing.  Processing brings together your head (considered thought), heart (values) and soul (core beliefs).  Feelings fluctuate, but combining considered thought, values and core beliefs extenuates the process into positive action. What distinguishes compassion from empathy is intentional action.

People are complex.  Relationships are complex.  Life is complex.  That’s why compassion matters. We think of the other, connect with them and walk alongside them.  It always feels good when someone show us compassion, so why not give some away and then make time to process?

Photo by Faith Giant on

I started this blog by talking about sameness and common ground.  I believe we all need to process (that’s the sameness), how we do is an individual choice.  So may be inclusion is not just about our differences, diversity and uniqueness.  Maybe there is a case to consider inclusion in terms of both same and different.  What do you think?

About Anita:

As a former SENCO, Senior Leader, School Improvement Advisor, and local authority SEND Advisory Teacher and Healthwatch Trustee Anita Devi carries a wealth of experience in developing leaders of learning. Her own teaching career spans early years to post grad in the UK and overseas and Anita lives her why through her belief in the joy of learning. In 2017, Anita was awarded the prestigious international Influential Educational Leaders Award for her SEND Pipeline strategy developing professional from initial teacher training to advanced and experienced SENCOs. Anita is author of the first SEND book for Early Career Teachers and has contributed to several other publications. Anita passed her PhD thesis viva on the career trajectory of a SENCO (beyond the NASENCO) in in 2022. Currently a Changemaker Education Consultant & Founding CEO of #TeamADL and #365send T: @Butterflycolour Insta: @Butterflycolour9

Inclusion, Leadership, Learning, Neurodiversity, Purpose

The Roller Coaster of Festivities

By Anita Devi

As a Christian, I love Christmas.  It’s so much more than just about lights, mince pies and Boxing Day leftovers.  In truth though, I prefer Easter over Christmas, any day.  That’s not because of the eggs or chocolate either.  It’s to do with purpose.  Easter holds a deeper meaning for me than Christmas.  But we need Christmas (the birth) to appreciate Easter (the sacrifice).

The purpose of this short early inclusion blog, during the Christmas break is to consider the first part of ‘including me, including you’.   We can only give away, what we have first been given.  So, what do you actively and intentionally do to include the diversity that is you?

Christmas starts with advent in many homes … the 24-day countdown. This year my Advent Calendar has been about ducks! No reason … just makes me smile.  We’ve had Carol Services, supported Foodbank and made time to care for and support those in our neighbourhood and network.

Christmas Day is full of people, noise and food … the King’s Speech – not the film, but a first this year, in 2022.

Then the 12 days of Christmas begins … and traditionally in our home, Boxing Day has been about playing games with friends and family.

A few more lull days, including my birthday and then we are into preparing and celebrating New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.  Boom its’ 2023!  The decorations and lights come down around the 5th.

It’s still dark outside when you leave for work and come home … but spring is just around the corner.  So, whilst we are full of hope and delving deeper into mercy, we also need to manage the roller coaster of emotions, that anyone can experience. 

Personally, I do not like roller-coasters, so here are my three top tips … feel free to add your own in the comments:

  1. Find your anchor activity – something to do in between the highs and lows that helps you adjust to the constantly changing pace of the festivities.  For me, it’s a good book!
  2. Plan in nothingness time.  Time to be still and process or just do nothing.  I wrote about nothingness time in my Time Management eBook 6 years ago!  It’s great for work and play.
  3. Log your journey – photos, words, Lego sculptures, colouring, origami, journaling … something that helps you see growth and direction in a time when it can feel like just another event or activity.

Remember including yourself, is just as important as including others. Giving is so much easier when it comes from a place of experiential strength.

Have a great New Year everyone and from #TeamADL see you on the other side!

About Anita:

As a former SENCO, Senior Leader, School Improvement Advisor, and local authority SEND Advisory Teacher and Healthwatch Trustee Anita Devi carries a wealth of experience in developing leaders of learning. Her own teaching career spans early years to post grad in the UK and overseas and Anita lives her why through her belief in the joy of learning. In 2017, Anita was awarded the prestigious international Influential Educational Leaders Award for her SEND Pipeline strategy developing professional from initial teacher training to advanced and experienced SENCOs. Anita is author of the first SEND book for Early Career Teachers and has contributed to several other publications. Anita passed her PhD thesis viva on the career trajectory of a SENCO (beyond the NASENCO) in in 2022. Currently a Changemaker Education Consultant & Founding CEO of #TeamADL and #365send T: @Butterflycolour Insta: @Butterflycolour9

Environment, Governance, Inclusion, Leadership, Learning, Purpose

Inclusion – does the learning environment matter? How can it teach valuable life lessons, create community and boost learning?

By Chris Pickup, Studio Director, Arcadis IBI Group (guest blogger)

The environments in which we educate and shape future generations are just as important as the subjects that we teach. They not only encourage higher attainment, but they also influence behaviour and determine the experience of every student, individually and collectively.

This has been proven. If we go back to 2015, the HEAD Project (Holistic Evidence and Design), funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)1 and IBI Group, and undertaken by The University of Salford, examined how different physical characteristics of classrooms, such as air quality, colour and light, together impact the learning progress of over 3,700 primary school pupils.

The culminating report, ‘Clever Classrooms’, gave clear evidence that well-designed schools boost children’s academic performance in reading, writing and maths. Is stated: “differences in the physical characteristics of classrooms explain 16% of the variation in learning progress over a year for the 3766 pupils included in the study. Or to make this more tangible, it is estimated that the impact of moving an ‘average’ [attaining] child from the least effective to the most effective space would be around 1.3 sub-levels, a big impact when pupils typically make 2 sub-levels progress a year.” This remains true today and the report continues to inform school design.

What is interesting though is that, while having a sense of belonging was a key factor, the report found that whole-school elements, such as navigation routes within a school, specialist and play facilities were not significant compared with the design of the individual classrooms. It is here that we have seen a huge shift.

As a result of the events of the past few years, particularly the pandemic, there has been huge disruption to learning, virtual teaching and long periods with no peer or other interaction. Our mindset and emotional responses stem from our experiences and we have all realised the value of socialisation, community and collaboration as it relates to our overall happiness and wellbeing.

What does this mean for learning environments? It puts more pressure on schools and other educational facilities to play a much larger role in creating a sense of place and belonging. The classrooms and science rooms need to inspire learning, but the spaces in between become important too in creating community. Places where students congregate, collaborate, sit or walk together enhance the feeling of inclusion.

Mental health has also been adversely affected and so we need to use our environments to help students recover, then thrive. Being truly inclusive means creating educational places that make people feel safe and secure, comfortable and supported as well as energised and social.

All of these things must be achieved within ever constrained budgets. Funding remains a very real issue and allocation of funds are still not related to attainment.  This year, the DfE published the SEND Review, which champions the ‘right support, right place, tight time’. Perhaps now is the time to see attainment as the driver, so we improve the environments and student experiences to a level where young people get not only the education they deserve, but also the very best possible start in life.

Chris Pickup is Studio Director at Arcadis IBI Group. He is an architect with many years of experience across a broad spectrum of sectors, including education, healthcare, private housing, urban design, masterplanning and 3D visualisation. He leads, designs and delivers projects, is the studio sector lead for Schools in the UK for Arcadis IBI Group and leads its UK Design Excellence agenda. He is passionate about the potential of good design in influencing positive outcomes.

Diversity, Employment, Inclusion, Leadership, Learning, Neurodiversity, Preparing for Adulthood, Wellbeing

Bridging the inclusion gap for students in higher education – placing psychological wellbeing at the centre of everything

By Dr Nicola Eccles (Guest blogger)

Psychological wellbeing and mental health have been thrown into the spotlight in recent years.  Post pandemic even more so.  The things that predispose individuals to mental health problems have been magnified.  Uncertainty, a loss of control and changes to circumstance all increase our vulnerability to poor mental health.  These things were presented to us in high quantities during the pandemic and the ripple effect of this is still being felt.  Our brains take a while to catch up.  The rates of anxiety and depression in the general population have increased significantly and emotional distress is high.  A post Covid study showed up to ¾ of people were suffering from emotional distress.  The ripple effect of trauma from the pandemic is still being revisited every day provoked through daily hassles, stress and events which are felt more acutely post pandemic.

Rather than consider ourselves solely as the problem, or as ‘broken’ , we should recognise that the world we live in is also not very ‘liveable’.  Some of the mental health problems we try to ‘solve’ are to an extent, reflective of broader societal problems.  We are currently dealing with post pandemic trauma, money worries and anxiety, global war atrocities, the detrimental impact of social media and marginalisation for so many different groups.  Ultimately, therapy cannot solve societal, hierarchical and economical problems.

Yet the resources to deal with our mental health crisis remain the same.    There is limited provision for face-to-face counselling and pharmaceutical treatment is not the best option for all.  Awareness and mental health training needs to be commonplace for everyone.  Ideally this will start in school from an early age but until this is in place the rest of us are playing catch up. We know that investing in mental health has a significant return on investment (ROI) in the workplace (1).  For every £1 spent there is around £5.3 return.  Perhaps more importantly and in need of greater recognition is the VOI (the ‘value of investment’) when we prioritise mental health.   The value to individuals, organisations, spaces, communities and relationships goes far beyond reducing absence or increasing productivity.

For students, the priority becomes even more pressing.  Research illustrates the fact they already experience much higher levels of psychological distress than the general population with moderate to severe levels of anxiety and depression existing in around a third of first year students (2).   Even pre pandemic over half of all students had clinically high levels of anxiety and low levels of resilience and coping.  The impact of this on student experience and dropout rate is significant.  Taking steps to prevent the likelihood of mental health problems in students and to provide effective and realistic support is crucial for institutions which house and support young adults.

What are the risk factors for students?

  • Prevalence of mental health disorders
  • Psychological factors specifically self-esteem and confidence
  • Loneliness
  • Academic factors (misperceptions around course, poor grades, poor relationship with tutors)
  • Financial factors
  • Social factors

For students with a disability these issues become compounded.  We are all a laboratory of one and therefore one approach will not answer the issues for every student.  Yet organisations cannot afford to produce a menu of psychological wellbeing options.  Therefore, the most inclusive, wide reaching and cost-effective option is to enable individuals to take accountability and responsibility for their own psychological wellbeing.  The problem comes when we start with the expectation that individuals know how to do this.  Most of us don’t.

Arming students with knowledge around how to build their own mental health toolbox is a sustainable approach.   This can be done through training which places skill development and behaviour change at the centre. 

Understanding how we can make sustained health habit change, how we can increase our own coping measures and resilience, how we feel stress and the most effective techniques to divert this, are all learnt behaviours. 

These could be communicated through online training, a digital health application, or workshops. 

Engaging students and onboarding them to the process can be a challenge.  With competing interests and time pressures, the hard to reach become even harder to reach.  A great starting point can be the recruitment of mental health ambassadors or mentors within the student community. 

At Aspire we start by laying the foundations for a house of psychological wellbeing (PWB).  This involves understanding what PWB is…and what it is not. It involves the key components of self-esteem and self-compassion.  Then layering in different tools to choose from to deal with the challenges of contemporary life.

Recognising the critical role of communicating psychological wellbeing tools to students is the first step for those involved in higher and further education.  

And so?  Where do we start? Recognising the critical role of communicating psychological wellbeing tools to students is the first step for those involved in higher and further education.   Making clear how and where students can seek help, giving them tools and support strategies but more importantly illustrating how they themselves can take responsibility and accountability for their own mental health.  We also cannot ‘tell’ students to work on these tools when we ourselves are not walking the talk.  Once we all begin to openly talk and act with our own psychological wellbeing at the centre then those looking in at us will be able to emulate it more successfully.  If we talk about it but our actions speak very differently, then this will fall flat.  So, offer a range of support systems which include teaching students to help themselves whilst individually and collectively placing psychological wellbeing at the centre of everything we do.

*please note this article refers to mood states rather than clinically diagnosable psychological conditions.  Please speak to your local GP if you believe you may need a medical intervention to support your mental health


  1. Deloitte and WBCSD (2022) Healthy People, Healthy Business: Embedding a culture of employee health and wellbeing
  2. Adams KL, Saunders KE, Keown-Stoneman CDG, et al Mental health trajectories in undergraduate students over the first year of university: a longitudinal cohort study BMJ Open 2021;11:e047393. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-047393

About Nicola

Nicola is the Head of Wellbeing and Mental Health at Aspire.  Nicola has worked as an academic specialising in health behaviour and public health at Universities in the North of England for many years.  She has also designed, implemented and evaluated health interventions with schools, hospitals and councils across the UK to understand what works, for whom and when in relation to making sustained and effective changes to mental and physical health.  More recently Nicola has been involved in the design and creation of digital health applications dedicated to improving psychological and physical wellbeing.  With a specialism in behaviour change tools, Nicola brings this expertise to the design and delivery of Aspire software solutions.

About Aspire

Aspire offer students and tutors the opportunity to support both their studies and their mental health and wellbeing through a supportive website and digital health application.  Please contact  for further information

Disability, Governance, Inclusion, Leadership, Purpose, SEND

The paperwork of inclusion

By Dr Anita Devi

Every job has elements that people enjoy and other aspects that they don’t. For me there are some aspects of paperwork that bring out the procrastinator in me. Do not get me wrong, I have shelves of notebooks that help to monitor and maintain records and I recognise the need for data and analysis to detect patterns. I also see the value of ensuring there is a chain of information to ensure sustainability of support and provision.  The paperwork that frustrates me is filing, (although online this is much better) and secondly when forms have to fill be filled out in triplicate.

We are a data rich and information heavy society, but such wealth has not led necessarily to a proportionate increase in transformation or inclusion. We rely more on describing what is than dreaming about what could be. The latter requires curiosity, being present and reimagining the system.

Over the years, I’ve adopted a few strategies to help me wade through the paperwork inclusion:

Firstly, instead of paperwork, use the word administration. This change in word brings about a different emphasis and a deeper sense of responsibility.  Administration also implies that each piece of paper has purpose and sits within a system. Often it is when the system and records kept do not align, that we have not only conflict, but injustice. A good example would be by the Education Health Care Plans in the United Kingdom. Equally when I have worked abroad and there has been a lack of purposeful paperwork, the system has broken down. So, it is about being intentional and purposeful.

When things aren’t working, I’ve noticed there is a tendency to restructure rather than look at the system and the processes within that. A good example in this year has been the SEND Green Paper. In January 2022 I initiated a petition to suggest that we nationally rethink the format of Education Health Care Plans. It was a very focused petition with minimal information because the emphasis was not on looking at everything simultaneous, but taking a laser sharp approach into driving change, through co-production. This idea was subsequently encapsulated within wider structural reforms. However, with so many things changing simultaneously, the impact of rethinking administration was lost.

Most people would say inclusion is desirable. What we talk less about is the systems and administration needed to achieve it and sustain it. These systems of administration need to be balanced i.e., not too much paperwork so it becomes a burden and equally not too little so that we cannot have an accurate track record.

The question therefore is how do we strike a balance?

Recently I was supporting a dual site secondary academy enhance their inclusive provision. As part of the dialogue, we were looking through all the transition information passed on from primary feeder schools. There were a few records that listed children has having MLD (moderate learning difficulties). What was interesting for me, is the label MLD would lead to a number of questions about their learning, speaking ability and the data analysis.  In other words, a personalised approach.  The receiving school, however addressed that information from a place of simply what do we need in the classroom, without necessarily processing what this meant for the learner. We looked at another case study.  This time a student identified mental health needs. The focus was on anxiety and again for me there was zero focus on the triad of social-emotional-mental health. We know a label isn’t enough. It’s the conversations that go with that and that will always be at the heart of co-production and a person-centred approach.

There has always been an intent to be co-productive and person-centred, yet why hasn’t this worked or been enough? A systems approach enables us to see the inconsistencies in administration. For example, most people throughout the SEND Reforms in England (2011-2018) stated they wanted a cultural change. Cultural change is about people and that comes through conversation, dialogue and questioning. However, to implement the desired changes most of the focus has been on dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s in administration.  Thereby producing a lot of information, but minimal transformation. Continuous professional development needs information, but it does not transform behaviours unless we invest in people.

So, what’s the solution going forward?  Less is more!

  • Less focus on ‘paperwork’; greater focus on administration.
  • Less standardised ability-driven approaches; greater focus on people and their neurodiverse contribution to humanity.
  • Less information ensuring it is targeted, more emphasis transformation of provision and learning.

It’s all about making a choice. What are your thoughts on the paperwork of inclusion?

To understand more about the Co-production Matrix join us for a short workshop.

About Anita:

As a former SENCO, Senior Leader, School Improvement Advisor, and local authority SEND Advisory Teacher and Healthwatch Trustee Anita Devi carries a wealth of experience in developing leaders of learning. Her own teaching career spans early years to post grad in the UK and overseas and Anita lives her why through her belief in the joy of learning. In 2017, Anita was awarded the prestigious international Influential Educational Leaders Award for her SEND Pipeline strategy developing professional from initial teacher training to advanced and experienced SENCOs. Anita is author of the first SEND book for Early Career Teachers and has contributed to several other publications. Anita passed her PhD thesis viva on the career trajectory of a SENCO (beyond the NASENCO) in in 2022. Currently a Changemaker Education Consultant & Founding CEO of #TeamADL and #365send T: @Butterflycolour Insta: @Butterflycolour9

Disability, Diversity, Inclusion, Learning, Purpose, Wellbeing

Othering: an alternative perspective

By Anita Devi

[Banner image by Karolina Grabowska]

‘Othering’ is a term used in a variety of contexts and put simply; it means when we treat others differently. In this month’s blog, my aim is to provide an alternative perspective to this construct, so that it no longer remains a conversation of power, but an action of compassion.

The definition of ‘othering’ is viewing or treating (a person or group of people) as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself. (adapted from Oxford Dictionary).  Othering can be subtle like ignoring people’s ideas, work, or opinions, not giving people the benefit of the doubt, failing to share important information, to overt discrimination through avoidance, withholding resources and excluding people from meetings or social events.

In effect othering can occur when someone sees others as beneath them or above them.  In both these scenarios difference is marked by either pride or insecurity.  Placing others on a pedestal is just as detrimental as lording it over them.  Let me illustrate through a personal example: I grew up in a family that generationally promoted a culture of patriarchy. As a female this led me to placing ‘others’ on a pedestal; respecting them more than was their due. Respect is not a bad thing.  However, it is unhealthy when it is disproportionate. The result often being ‘major let down’, which if repeated can lead to distrust.

More often than not ‘othering’ is referenced in terms of looking down on others.  What we miss is it can also be thinking too highly of others.  A difference of positioning in society is part of history; usually established through vocation.  With education more widely available this is shifting.  However, it is important to note positioning relates to status. Power can be status-related, but it is not dependent.  It is possible to be powerful and influential without status.  The acceleration of social media has increased both influence (real and perceived) and othering.

The current political agenda in the UK is #LevellingUp I’ve spent time thinking this through – what it means and what it looks like.  The fact we need a national priority for levelling up is testament to the fact ‘othering’ is prevalent and it is likely to be multi-layered or as some argue, intersectional. Levelling up, therefore is a process of resetting difference.  For me ‘levelling up’ means ‘mountains made low, and valleys raised up’.  If we only focus on raising up valleys, the mountains remain unchanged and peering over the previous valley land. If we just focus on mountains being made low, it doesn’t always impact the valleys.  This is why different political parties have different views on taxation, for example.  In trying to bring about a more equal society, some argue for the rich to be taxed more (mountains made low) and others seek valleys to be raised up (those in need to be taxed less and given more). The reality is, to create a level playing field from mountains and valleys we need both.

An alternative perspective …

Back to my story … so placing people around me on a pedestal hurt me and increased my distrust.  Equally, placing myself above others did nothing for me.  Pride is an ugly place!  In effect, the extreme ends of the othering pendulum don’t’ work.  There has to be balance.

What if othering is about serving others?  Over time ‘service’ and ‘serving others’ have become phrases associated with being undermined.  But there is a real joy in serving others.  Parents do it daily when they think of their children and their needs.  A good employer does it well when they consider the needs of their employees.  Incidentally, during COVID19 lockdown, there was an increase in employer-employee trust reported.  When asked for the reason for this, many employees said, “For the first time, I felt my employer was concerned about my wellbeing”. 

When we serve others, we value them and ourselves equally. How it that possible?  Serving implies I have something to give that someone would find helpful / valuable in enabling them.  If you are on the receiving end, it’s about knowing someone cares enough to give, because you are valued. In most cases, when people receive from a place of care, they go on to give with care to others too.  The multiplier effect and the expansion of compassion in society.

I hear you … Anita, if only life and the problems of society were that easy!?!  Maybe it is that easy.  Maybe we have complicated our perception of equality by focusing on power-driven othering, as opposed to being service oriented for others.

I learnt early on in my life, I can’t change the world to my thinking (that would be othering through domination), but I can influence the world by being an example of compassion.  Goodness will expand itself.  Do I always get it right? No.

Every failure brings more learning (humility) and a stronger desire to serve. In my use of language, I do not speak of the less fortunate / the vulnerable, as this does imply inadvertently, ‘I’m better’, which is othering through power, position or fortune.  What we at TeamADL do talk about is, how best to serve?  Serving others is a privilege.  It defines both purpose and direction.

Let me end on topical note.  Over the Jubilee weekend, I attended a neighbourhood afternoon tea event.  There I met Judith (85 years old) and Joy (87 years old).  Judith was in a wheelchair, using a pacemaker and connected to an oxygen tank. Both of them were full of life and shared some incredible stories about their journey, life and preferences.  Listening in that moment was a real joy.  They were serving me by sharing and I was serving them by listening intently.  Othering, as a service can bring about equality.

A wet rainy morning, but Judith (85) brought the sunshine to the Jubilee Celebrations. Grateful for the conversation.

What are your thoughts and experiences on othering?

Next month, our final #ADL_tadmin blog of this academic year (2021-22), we will be looking at hidden disabilities.

Till then.

Governance, Inclusion, Leadership, SEND, Uncategorized

The White Paper 2022 and red flags (Part 2)

by Anita Devi

Hopefully Part 1 (published two days ago) given you some food for thought around the construct of administration, priorities and conflict.

Before I highlight a few red flags in the White Paper, let me encourage you to re-read my two-part blog last month on where have the SEND narratives gone? I started by focusing on inner elements of the system first. If we are to truly be driven by things that matter (i.e., hearts & minds) we need to reflect this in our approach. The government in their approach have reaffirmed their posture of outer to inner. The problem is you can get stuck in outer & loose the inner, as in the case of the Green Paper. This is possibly why there is such a disconnect between government & frontline practitioners. Don’t believe me? Look at the timing of the announcement regarding the new tutoring league tables – Bank Holiday Monday! Outer drivers of the recent by-elections possibly raised the priority of that announcement perhaps and inner drivers (educators are on leave) were ignored.

As an individual my strength is strategy. However, this by and large is delivered with the key aspect of the operational in mind (i.e., what difference does it make to those we serve?). So even when taking a strategic stance, it is possible to operate from inner to outer. That way ‘needs’ are at the core, not alongside! (p4, White Paper 2022). We can see on pages 54- 56 the priority Ensuring quality (and thereby E[quality]) is at the bottom of the ladder rung of the new system!  Sufficiency is placed at the top, followed by admissions, safeguarding, and attendance.  Surely if we got E[quality] right … the rest would fall into place !?!  However, focusing on these ‘other things‘, doesn’t necessarily mean E[quality] will follow.

The synergy between quality and equality (Devi, 2022)

My intent in this second part of the blog is to pick out just three red flags from the recent White Paper.  There are more, but hopefully these three will serve to highlight the key point I am making about administration, priorities and conflict.

Red flag 1:

Hidden within the Key Facts section (p5-7) is the ultimate driver behind the ‘new administration’:

  • Achieving our Levelling Up mission that 90% of pupils meet the expected standard of reading, writing and maths in key stage 2 is estimated to be worth £31-60bn for the wider economy for a single cohort in 2030.
  • Achieving our ambition of increasing the national GCSE average grade in both English language and maths by 0.5 is estimated to be worth £34bn for the wider economy, for a single cohort in 2030.

I have yet to meet a practitioner or parent, who’s sole purpose for educating a child is rooted in how this benefits the wider economy in eight years time!

Priorities: a power-based system vs a caring one (Devi, 2022)

You can read more here:

Economic benefits of meeting the ambitions set out in the Schools White Paper. (DfE, 2022)

Red flag 2:

Writing a new administration policy requires the authors to ‘select’ research, case studies and frameworks.  Let me highlight two selective aspects:

  • Research

The EEF research database used to justify tutoring programmes actually highlights a stronger evidence-based intervention, that would have a higher impact cost less.

Research priorities: a power-based system vs growth
  • Connectivity

Strategic thinking is NOT linear.  Yet the visuals on pages 13-15 of the White Paper reflect a process that has multiple points of failure and high dependency.

Efficiency: Initiatives vs outcomes (Devi, 2022)

Red flag 3:

The Parent Pledge on page 38 is a reaction, not a response built on relationship of knowing the child and family.  If a child is struggling in any subject, a seasoned practitioner would ask why, as the why determines the what and how any additional intervention is put in place.  This line of inquiry is based on relationships, not the meeting of standards, so processes can be activated. To illustrate with an example: gaps in conceptual curriculum understanding is different to a learning difficulty. Yet the symptomatic behaviours may ‘appear’ the same.

Power-based system vs a responsive system (Devi, 2022)

Learners, educators and parents are humans.  So, we operate from a place of envisioning a caring responsive, efficient and growing system. Yet we are led by those who prioritise a power-based system.  I’m hoping my thoughts on this will also help readers see why it is important to detach education (a human-focused endeavour) from politics.

What are your thoughts on the 3 red flags I have raised?  Can you share any others?

Disability, Diversity, Governance, Inclusion, Leadership, SEND, Uncategorized

The White Paper 2022 and red flags (Part 1)

By Anita Devi

Last month, I shared a two-part blog on the lost SEND narratives.  This month, I extend my deliberations to the recently published White Paper by the UK government.  Whilst this may seem England-centric, I believe there are core principles and questions that would benefit our overseas readers. Part 1, this month looks at the context of education and the tensions that exist in administration. Part 2 which will be published later in the week, highlights three red flags from the White Paper 2022.

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the government has a very different definition of theory of change compared to the rest of the world. For them I have noticed it means a list of activities or initiatives. For the rest of us it is about the inter-connectivity and relational aspects of humanity. Inter-connectivity breeds interdependence and understanding based on mutual respect and meaningful relationships. Whilst a list of activities or initiatives is all about spinning plates. Eventually the plates fall, and we see a mess around us. What also happens in this process is individuals within the system feel pressured to start spinning plates. This is why is it important to draw a line in the sand, identify boundaries and mark out the red flags. 

Let’s start by understanding what a White & Green Paper really is. The official definition:

White papers are policy documents produced by the Government that set out their proposals for future legislation. White Papers are often published as Command Papers and may include a draft version of a Bill that is being planned. This provides a basis for further consultation and discussion with interested or affected groups and allows final changes to be made before a Bill is formally presented to Parliament.

UK Government

In other words, a white paper signals a new approach to administration. A new order or way of doing things. A white paper is a stand by the government to say, “We’ve decided this, and it is not up for discussion”.

In contrast, a Green Paper is about “We think this is the direction of travel, but we are not sure, and we need you to endorse this or give us your feedback”. Usually when there is some controversy or unresolved issue.  It might be the government perceives this as a way of eliciting ownership of the changes they are proposing. Elsewhere, I have commented on how the challenged posed with a Green Paper consultation like this is the distinction between primary data (individuals responding) and secondary data (responses by proxy or third party organisations). The final data analysis has a high margin of error.

What is interesting about the dual DfE Papers of 2022 is the following:

1) The White Paper was published the day before the Green Paper. Thus, indicating the government has some level of confidence in the direction of travel, but not really. They want to be seen as coming from a place of strength. What if the Green Paper had been published before the White Paper – it would have signaled a genuine desire to consult & engage the sector. We’ve all met people, or sometimes ourselves been in a place where we mask what’s really going on & pretend to be strong. Yet authenticity requires humility. Coming from a place of sincerity & integrity.  It should be noted, the sector had been waiting for the Green Paper for over 24 months and even once published, there were versions missing that has led to an extended consultation time.

2) The White paper mentions special educational needs and disability (SEND) on page 8 (quality of teaching), pages 4, 17, 32, 37, 48, 51, 58, 60 9 the Green Paper), p17 (progress to date), p20 (teacher training), p22 (early years training), p34 (targeted support), p36 (challenges remaining), p37 (parent pledge), p41 (reform social care systems) and p49 (high quality inclusive education).

3) The White Paper & Green Paper are connected beyond simple referencing. The White Paper shapes the wider system within which outcomes of the Green Paper will function. So how can a government really be confident about the wider system & not one part? Surely a better position & posture would be to be confident about one segment (e.g. SEND), but require broader input into the wider system for it to be truly holistic and inclusive as well as the changes to be functional in reality?

In the Forward, the Secretary of State says,

My vision for this white paper and the SEND Review alongside it is simple: to introduce and implement standards that will improve children’s education, deliver the right support if they fall behind and give them the tools to lead a happy, fulfilled and successful life. (p4)

Rt Hon. Nadhim Zahawi

‘Alongside’ is an interesting choice of terminology. More importantly, the statement reflects a loosely defined cause and effect scenario. Apparently standards will lead to happy, fulfilled and successful lives. Personally I am intrigued by the Minister’s distinction between happy, fulfilled and successful. Listed in this order and separately implies a system based on extrinsic motivation. Let’s examine the construct of administration in more detail. 

Basically, administration is about how we prioritise things.  What if government policy was structured to look like this:

Priority order-reality schema (Devi, 2022)

This schema that I have devised is called a priority order-reality schema.  It can be used to define and determine policy and administration.   It can also highlight why there are often tensions between vision, values and priorities and different people groups.

Take the two scenarios:

Power-based vs caring system (Devi, 2022)

Can you see the tension?

How would you apply the priority order-reality schema to education e.g., government and schools/colleges or teachers and senior leaders?

What I am not trying to do here is create tensions.  However, to resolve conflict, we first have to understand the nature of it. A school leader recently said to me, “We need to build trust, so that we are comfortable in the conflict”.  Conflict is inevitable, but it can also be the source of greater innovation.  Different people produce different ideas.  How can we get the best of what is and what could be?

You might be wondering, does this really impact the the day-to-day context of education? The priority order-reality schema defines a lens, which constructs a mindset and determines the language we use. Let me illustrate with an example:

  • The government in recent teacher recruitment adverts use the strap line, “Every lesson shapes a life”. The quantifiable commodities here being time (a lesson) and curriculum content. That’s the political system and what has been paid for! In effect, the subtle message is ‘within a single and defined space of time, the knowledge and skills a learner MUST gain will be life-changing to meet certain standards of expectation’. Now imagine if that lesson was 50 minutes long and a learner has 6 lessons a day. That’s 6 life changing moments daily for 5 days of the week! Exhausting, to say the least, but also very little time to reflect, go deeper, explore, innovate, make connections, be creative and try new things! That’s a lot of pressure on the teacher and learner, but more importantly, it does not connect learning to a progressive process of many lessons or even consider the interactions of all involved within an educational community. The social capital of belonging has been lost. In short, it is macro-expectation, from a micro unit in time, based on content accumulation, not the process of learning or interacting.
  • If teachers and parents were constructing an advert, I believe they would most likely advocate, “Every teacher shapes a life“. Why? Because the focus is on human connection, relationships and role models. The research repeatedly shows healthy and constructive relationships between learners and teachers accelerates both achievement and attainment.

Can you see the mismatch? The former talks about ‘teaching’ (i.e. constantly doing), whereas the latter focuses on teachers and learners (i.e. being), which is all about identity. We are much more confident and engaged in what we do, IF we know who we are. Focusing primarily on what has to be done, does not lend itself to people knowing who they are or could be. It becomes a to-do list with many variables that constantly keep changing. Hence the current deterioration in good mental health for all in education. Is it any wonder, why teachers are leaving the profession and learners are not achieving their human fulfillment or potential?

Do let me know if the priority order-reality schema resonates with you or not.  I am more than happy for readers to question and challenge me, as I am certain it will help me grow too.

Part 2 will be published on Wednesday 18th May 2022 where I will specifically highlight three red flags. Look forward to your feedback.


The TeamADL blogs are written in advance, for the Editorial Board to review, refine and sign off. In effect, the blog above was composed some time ago. This postscript has been added, due to a recent event that is relevant.

Over the weekend (14th May 2022) the Secretary of State for Education spoke at The RSA Fellows Festival. The title of his session was: A Grand Tour – from the role of industrial policies to the lessons from the vaccine programme to the future of education – in the making of a good society. (Note the order and where education is placed i.e. as a consequence of something – not a driver!).

What this presentation title reflects is the lens through which policy is being made. It is about defining a vision for the economy and then using education as a tool to achieve it. It is what we call a past-present model. Leaders of today are using their experience/ lens of the past to define tomorrow by using the workforce of today. As an educator (and this may be just my view) I have a different perspective: I believe in the future generations going further than we can currently see, dream or imagine. That means I do not define the future for them to create it. It means I invest in them to create the future they define, design and want. So as an educator I’m operating from a place of present-future. Sure we steer, but we also give the next generation freedom to go further than our perceptual mindsets. It’s a subtle difference, but past-present keeps us locked in negative cycles of repetition, where as the present-future model enables all learners to thrive and create a world we haven’t even begun to fully dream of yet. However, the caveat is we need a curriculum that provides scope and space for creativity and innovation. Not one that is driven by and for standardisation, tests and data. Which do you choose past-present or present-future?

The Minister believes change is about scaling up. Actually that’s about influencing people to to ‘his economic agenda’. Real change is about enabling and transforming. Change isn’t based on numbers, but impact. Back to the priority order-reality schema shared above in this blog. The Secretary of State has his and as he said at the RSA Event, “Money is important“. The consequential change priority order for this government in terms of education is: skills – schools – family. I’m not The Secretary of State for Education, but my order priorities would be community – thriving – giving & growing. Creating safe communities that genuinely work together in wanting the best for everyone, enables all to thrive (in their own way). From a place of thriving, people can give and grow further together. That’s real transformational change and not a masked process of scale up of numbers.

Interestingly I have been into two political education events in the last month and at both influential colleagues used a catch phrase by the Education Secretary of State. The Minister repeatedly says “You can’t hug the world”. The first time I heard this, my reaction was why not? If we could, what would that look like? Hugging the world reflects a system of care. It is about community where one neighbour is thinking about the next. So it is possible, but it depends on our priorities. Having heard this phrase a second time I looked into the origins of this kind of thinking. It is based on a 1983 t-shirt slogan that said, “You can’t hug your kids with nuclear arms”. Really !?! Mr. Secretary of State.
Surely post-COVID the Minister has learnt it is not just about data, working to create stress or contracts for your pals. It is about people, it is about caring for one another, and it is about community. Nothing signals more internationally as a symbol of care than a hug. So yes ‘you can the hug the world’ and do not believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

Part 2 out on 18/05/2022

Disability, Inclusion, Leadership, Learning, Purpose, SEND

SEND: Where have the narratives gone? (Part 2)

By Anita Devi

Yesterday, I started exploring the lost narratives of SEND.  Today I want to explore the context of the narratives and how I have recently been challenged in my perspective.

In 2014, I completed my SEND Legal Foundations Training. I appreciate the law has a place, after all it is a set of rules that we are required to abide by.  These laws have been designed to work for the good of all concerned.  I’ve often heard others say, “If people just followed the law, things would be better”.  I agree, however there is the challenge of ‘how’ the law is applied.  Some would call this interpretation, others policy and practice.  Yes, the law is clear in black and white, but children, young people and families are not. Each family unit’s narrative is different.  So, when we try and apply a black and white context to diverse colours, there is a natural mismatch. It’s not about which one is right but may be its about how we utilise the law.  Let me explain.  What if instead of black and white, we perceived the law as primary colours.  The right combination could be found to match the diverse colour narratives of different families.  So, it would not be about a one size fits all.  I am not advocating breaking the law or bending it – just applying it better.   So much of The Green Paper (2022) focuses on accountability, rather than responsibility.  Accountability matters, but it can result in a one size fits all model.  In such a scenario, the individual narratives would be completely lost. Each narrative is a myriad of colours – as someone known as Butterflycolour in my field, I want children and young people to fly freely in the wonderous range of their own colours. That’s how we paint the narrative for all to see clearly. To be clear, by suggesting we see the law as a primary colour pallet, I am not advocating negotiation or any form of mediation either. Just finding the right mix of support required.

As such, a part of me has to believe there has to be more than just the law.  Wanting people to thrive is about love.  This love I speak of, isn’t airy, fairy or even abstract.  I spoke last year at an international conference on SEND Leadership: Leading with love.  I must strongly add, for me ‘Love has to look like something’.  It could be listening, understanding, supporting, providing etc.  Love is a much stronger driver for meeting the needs of people where they are at, not where we think they are at.

So, I’ve been reflecting on ‘the lost SEND narratives’ when @StarlightMcKenz challenged me on Twitter with two profound comments.  If memory serves me, then like me, @StarlightMcKenz was involved in the SEND Reforms (2011-2018).  @StarlightMcKenz is a SEND advocate and is passionate about fairness, transparency and accountability in SEN.  She believes in MANO – meetings are not outcomes (I agree!)

Statement number 1: “Where people live is irrelevant. It is individuals and culture, not location, that makes the difference for families. Creating a narrative of inequality ‘between’ SEND families covers up the real problem that is inequality between SEND and non-SEND families.”

I found this distinction helpful.  I think both exist, but the point @StarlightMcKenz makes is valid – are some narratives distracting us from other narratives thereby asking the pertinent questions that would make a difference?  What is also being addressed, I believe is ‘total acceptance’ i.e. inclusion as the norm, not the exception.  I started to reflect on my own understanding.  In my own practice, I have never distinguished between SEND and non-SEND.  As a teacher, I have a responsibility to teach all.  Which is why I do not like the phrase, “Every teacher is a teacher of SEND”.  Starlight’s comment made me realise this is not always the case and such distinctions do exist and affect the behaviour of others.  My lens had affected the narrative I was hearing / not seeing. I think she is also right in suggesting if we focus on this, other matters such as the postcode lottery would naturally take care of itself.

Statement number 2: “In many places with fewer resources, schools have just got on with it and can be found to be more inclusive. Families arguably happier. Many of the less affluent have not paid families to be sent away from their Outstanding schools and instead built capacity & expertise.”

I have always believed SEND should not be driven by resources.  In establishing TeamADL, I have been intentional that the fruit of our core purpose will help to resource schools and colleges.  In our own small way, we continue to do this every term.   There is a proportionate relationship here: the more we grow as a team, the more we give away.  Generosity is a foundational facet of love, and it is one of TeamADL’s core values.  So, more business for us does not mean richer directors, it means more for others. This is an important part of how we serve though love.

I do not have all the answers, in digesting The Green Paper, I am asking many questions.  I have submitted a response the House of Lords Inquiry about the Children and Families Act 2014.  A summary is provided below.

Summary of submission to House of Lords Inquiry 2014

The law will take us so far … there must be more!  We need to find and rekindle the narratives of SEND that genuinely help children and young people move forward and thrive, from their lens and experience.  I’m grateful to the many minds, hearts and thinkers who have contributed to this blog – directly and indirectly.  I am grateful to @StarlightMcKenz for questioning my premise of understanding.

Hopefully this blog will help you ask different and better questions, as you respond to the Green Paper consultation and reflect on your own practice.  Feel free to add any comments below.


I submitted my initial blog to the #TeamADL Editorial Board for feedback, comment and sign off before publication.  During this same period, two further dialogues evolved through social media.

Firstly, all narratives have an author and there is a close synergy in the root word between author and authority.  Personally, I would love local authorities (LAs) to be renamed as ‘Local Community Enablers’ (LCEs) – because that is what they are there for! To enable the local community. What do you think?

Secondly, Special Needs Jungle used a narrative metaphor in one of their tweets. 

Twitter dialogue 24th April 2022

My understanding, there is an appetite for a Damascus Road moment. In other words, a significant and drastic change.  This was when Saul (a persecutor of faith) had a moment of personal realisation. He went from focusing on the law, to recognising the power of love and relational narratives. Subsequently, Paul (his new name post-Damascene conversion) went onto establish the church, but more importantly promote and change a culture of privilege and discrimination to establish a global culture of inclusion for all.  This shift has stood the testimony of time, across many nations. Paul wrote letters to the people of Corinth describing how love has to look like something.

Love looks like something!

What are your thoughts on the law and love? Which is truly more likely to bring about lasting change?

#Teaching&Learning, Disability, Inclusion, Leadership, Learning, SEND

SEND: Where have the narratives gone? (Part 1)

By Anita Devi

I have been involved in education for a long time and I’ve been focused my energies on special educational needs and disability (SEND) equally for a significant part of my journey, as an educator. I’ve also had the privilege of working, leading, and delivering in a variety of roles around SEND locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.  I share this not to blow my own trumpet, but to position the lens through which I see things.  I do not advocate it is the only way to see things, but it is my lens borne out of experience.  I also come from a place that strongly believes education should not be like fashion.  Fashion trends can be cyclical.  The very nature of education implies learning, improvement and getting better.  So as educators, we cannot return to the same.  We have a responsibility to model the ‘doing it better’ approach.

The recent White Paper and Green Paper by the DfE (March 2022) has made me question many things.  I will address aspects of the White Paper in the May blog.  Today I want to focus on narratives.

Reading The Green Paper did make me reflect on the original SEND Reforms cycle (2011 – 2018).  I was there at the launch and worked on various aspects through to 2018 and beyond. At the start, like others I was hopeful of the possibilities that could come out of this process. I soon realised central government agencies do not get change management and so what is aspired for, may not manifest.  In truth, I was heartbroken.  I always felt a sense of urgency around the SEND Reforms, because my professional values stir up a deep desire within me for all children and young people to do better than we have ever done, to go further and dream bigger.   This isn’t just about going into employment – it’s bigger.  I want the next generation to have a better experience of life, in all its fullness and in terms of whatever is best for them.  Not everyone is designed to be an accountant, doctor, pharmacist, lawyer, or dentist – the big 5 constantly exposed to me as a child.  I want children and young people to thrive and experience fulfilment. This isn’t measured by standard assessment, but something much bigger. With a background degree in psychology, I get child development and expected milestones.  However, this is simply a framework, not a rule to live by.

Eight years on from the passing of the Children and Families Act in 2014 that sealed the SEND Reforms and we have failed.  For me, this felt personal.  Not from a place of blame or shame, but let down.  A child with SEND in Reception class at the start of the SEND Reforms would now be in secondary school and the system isn’t still working for them.  A secondary aged student or Post 16 at the start of the SEND Reforms in 2011 would now possibly be out of the system into adulthood and we failed them.  Please note my choice of words – “the system isn’t working for them”.  Leadership has to be about serving others for the greater good.

It’s 2022, Tribunals have increased, phenomenal amounts of money has been spent (sometimes unwisely) and we are no further forward. So, one of the many questions, I recently found myself asking was – where have the SEND narratives gone?  The ideals of the SEND Reforms were based on stakeholders working together to understand the cultural narrative of children, young people and their families.  Narratives, broadly speaking can be classified into three groups:

  1. Factual – a narrative of events that have taken place.  Whilst this is based on evidence of what has happened, it is important to remember different people will interpret those events differently.
  2. Affectual – this is about how the narrative affects stakeholders involved emotionally, psychologically, socially, spiritually, economically, and physically.  Naturally this depends on everyone’s interpretation of the facts.
  3. Ethical – this narrative is about the difference something has made.  It relates to affectual, but also draws on moral and ethical responsibilities to serve one another.

When & how did SEND shift to being about paperwork and resources instead of listening and hearing the narratives to impact change for the good?

All three types of narrative matter, as they are all interrelated.

How we respond to narratives also matters.  I believe parents/ families do not want a fight; they want a result.  That isn’t always about an EHCP or more funding.  We need to listen and respond not from a place of sympathy or pity, but empathy and compassion, as responsible practitioners.

In thinking about the three types of narrative, what resonates with you?  Have I missed something?  What are your thoughts on the SEND narrative? Share your thoughts below.

There is a Part 2 of this blog, which will be published tomorrow.

#Teaching&Learning, Learning, Neurodiversity, Purpose, SEND, Wellbeing

Who let the dogs in? The value of animal assisted therapy.

By Anna Ward-Murphy (Guest Blogger for #TeamADL)

“Do you know about autism? Let me tell you about it.”  

Whispers from the school corridors.

Recently, I was doing a little subtle eavesdropping as a Year 5 child was talking to Pepper, my therapy dog, during one of her regular visits to school.   The child in question has recently found out about his autism diagnosis and this was the first time he had mentioned it at school.   He went on to explain to Pepper that his diagnosis means that his brain works a little differently to some other people’s, but that this is a good thing and makes him who he is.   The conversation went on for some time, and as I listened, my heart swelled with pride for both of them.  It was one of those special moments at school – hard to capture or evidence, difficult to feed into any dreaded ‘data’ as a measure of progress, but so very, very valuable.   

Animal assisted therapy: what is it and why does it matter?

In the case of this young man, Pepper’s presence had offered him the opportunity to say what had been on his mind, to process his thoughts, and to be met with a non-judgmental, gentle audience.   Later the same day, he had the courage to chat to some of his peers about his diagnosis, comparing notes about their experiences.  I have no doubt that his conversation with Pepper played a part in this new-found confidence.

Animal assisted therapy, pioneered by Dr Boris Levinson in the 1960s, takes many forms – from highly structured to very relaxed.   Therapy animals visit schools, residential care homes, hospitals, hospices and prisons.  There are programmes for clients to visit farms to help to care for the animals, and assistance or therapy dogs are introduced into many families to support those who need it.     

The scientific evidence-base around animal assisted therapy is a growing field and studies are increasingly showing clear psychological and physical benefits.  Even at its simplest, research shows that simply stroking an animal can reduce blood pressure and psychological responses to anxiety, as well as encouraging social interaction.  (Hall and Malpus, 2000).  

Forging connections

Anecdotally, I have seen residents at a local nursing home cry happy tears as Pepper comes to them for a fuss.  I have seen dementia patients speak for the first time in months as she pops her head on their knee.   I have heard children read to her with a confidence that they never show with fellow humans, storytelling with excitement and gusto as she tilts her head to listen.  Or sometimes, falls asleep… but it doesn’t matter. They are both there, sharing some time, each letting the other be completely themselves, and that’s all that is important to either of them.   Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all adopt a little more of that open and accepting attitude?  


Top tips

If you are considering introducing a therapy dog into your setting,

  • Do your research.    A charity like Pets As Therapy is a great place to start.
  • If you are planning to introduce your own dog to your setting, ensure that you work with a qualified behaviourist with a focus on positive reinforcement.   Even for the most relaxed animal, visits can be something new and stressful.  The well-being of clients and dog must be considered and protected at all times.  
  • Remember to check your insurance and complete a full risk assessment (don’t forget to consider allergies).



G. Mallon (Published online 2015) :  A Generous Spirit:  The Life and Works of Boris Levinson.

Hall & Malpus (2000) Pets as Therapy: Effects on Social Interaction.

About Anna

Anna Murphy is teacher at a specialist hub for children with Communication and Interaction needs in the Midlands.   Following a long career in the Music industry in London and a short stint working In the charity sector, Anna started teaching 9 years ago, with a particular interest in supporting children with additional needs, and their families.   Anna has a passion for animal assisted therapy and outdoor learning.   Having worked as a SENDCO at schools in Birmingham, she moved to Shropshire in 2019 to enjoy more time around nature.   Anna lives with her fiancé and their two dogs.     

Diversity, Inclusion, Leadership, Learning, Purpose

No one has a monopoly on truth (small t)

By Anita Devi

This month #TeamADL have been considering the power of different perspectives. Cole Andrew kicked off the discussion in January for education leaders with the Power of Perspective (part 1) and part 2 followed in early February.  Jenny Bowers then considered the power of lens and zooming in or out and what difference this makes.  Today, I want to consider perspective and lens in relation to our beliefs about inclusion.

As inclusionist, I choose to be open to listening to different viewpoints.  This doesn’t mean I always agree, but it does mean I recognise difference and conflict as a means to enhancing understanding and trust.

Inclusionist (noun) a person who advocates a policy or practice of inclusion, (now) especially one of not excluding anyone on the grounds of race, gender, religion, age, disability etc.

Oxford Dictionary

‘That’s really obvious Anita’, I hear you say.  Is it?

Are we truly open to accepting different views to our own? Not from a place of validating our own, or even changing someone else’s views, but from a place of collective growth.  Let me illustrate with examples of what being an inclusionist isn’t:

  1. Universalism is based on the perception of a single reality for all.  This is where we have to distinguish Truth (capital T) and truth (small t).  Whilst some may argue, Truth (capital T) is true in relation to certain beliefs, global unity and spiritual love, this does not hold true for those directly experiencing a special educational need, disability or any other characteristic that distinguishes them as different or ‘other’.  I am using this language intentionally, as so much of the inclusion agenda does focus on ‘othering’.  Labeling is a by-product of ‘othering’ and many would argue, labeling is necessary to access resources. Is this really inclusion?
  2. Nihilsm by contrast is the belief no view is a true and valid perception.  In other words, everyone is wrong!  Not very productive dialogue.  I do often see partial nihilism when people are discussing inclusion.  This is usually when one group of people place a higher emphasis on their view as accurate and correct over everyone else who (they believe) is wrong or misguided.  Partial nihilism very much exists on social media.
  3. Idealism focuses on perfection and ‘how it should be’.  My question is who decides and what are the consequences of not matching up?  Idealism also exists in our culture, just look at social media!  Idealised lifestyles have created a culture of comparison and a perception that perfectionism (in all forms) is desirable.
  4. Particularism pays attention to the obligations of relationships and the ‘spirit of the law’.  If unchecked, this can lead to universalism and an emphasis on ‘othering’.
  5. Legalism, by contrast focuses on the ‘letter of the law’ i.e., strict literal or excessive conformity to the law or moral code.  This may achieve results for an individual or group of individuals.  This approach my also shape the system, but I have yet to see it improve it.  So, in the long-term, only a small group benefit.  This is not inclusion.
  6. Pluralism is the co-existence of difference within the same society.  In my experience though, pluralism doesn’t always imply inclusion. I grew up in a certain part of North London.  I co-existed with my neighbours, yet I was subjected to racist behaviours. I wasn’t included.

Yes, I have just condensed decades of deep philosophical debate into to six paragraphs and it’s possible readers may disagree with my perspectives.  I’m OK with that, although if I have made any factual misrepresentations, do come back to me.  My aim is not to dwell on these per se, but to highlight their existence and encourage us all to reflect on what really shapes our thinking during conflict conversations.  As an inclusionist, I am inadvertently accepting the norm of diversity.  When diversity exists, there will be difference and conflict. So how do we move forward and create trust in a situation of expected difference and conflict.

Inclusion is complex and we need to, I believe start with the purpose in mind.:

  • Inclusion matters to me because I value each person as a unique creation.

Rhetorical question:  Do we gravitate towards people like us or are we intentional in seeking out connections different to us?  When I set up #TeamADL I was absolutely clear, this would be a team of different individuals contributing to the greater good.  This still remains true.

  • Inclusion matters to me because I want everyone to succeed, in their chosen pathway.

Rhetorical question:  Can you say you are truly happy when others succeed? Whether teaching children or developing adults, I genuinely want people to go further than me.  This doesn’t mean I stand still.  It does mean I am comfortable with other people succeeding and do not see it as a reflection of me or my success. Again, my team are very aware of this.

  • Inclusion matters to me because understanding different perspectives enlarges my heart and mind.

Rhetorical question:  If none of us is perfect, then how much time do we dedicate to on-going transformation? I have never walked away from a situation of conflict or different perceptions the same way I entered it. Sometimes, my opinion has shifted, but more often than not my heart has got bigger, as I understand someone else’s perspective.  My mind has expanded though additional knowledge and insights.  This is why I do not see trust and conflict as opposites.  I can still trust someone, even if our viewpoints differ.

So how does this work in daily practice?

As a leader focused on special educational needs, disability and inclusion, I have found relativism helps me to gather different perspectives to create a deeper understanding of reality. Yes, that’s my 7th ‘ism’ in this blog.  Relativism accepts that people have different views of the same reality, and these hold true for them.  No one person or group holds the monopoly on truth. It is about perspective, not absolute certainty.  This doesn’t mean I have to agree with everyone, as my view remains valid for me. When we then position all of these multiple realities within the context of the problem we are trying to address or solution we need to develop – it no longer becomes about right and wrong … but how do our collective perceptions help us ensure everyone has what they need and each day we all take a step further to making the world a better place for everyone.

Next time you are in a conversation with different views and perceptions.  Stop for a minute and check out your lens, perception and expectation. Are you part of the problem or contributing to the solution?  How open are you to diverse views, whilst remaining trusting of others?  Can you walk away from difference a better person?

By the way ‘ADL’ means social justice in Arabic, and ‘tadmin’ means inclusion. I’m hoping this blog has challenged your thinking.  There are no easy answers, but we have to keep talking, asking questions and moving forward, as well as out of our comfort zone.

Next month:  a lighter topic … Who let the dogs in? by a guest blogger.

Till then. Be kind.


Let’s talk about pain

by Anita Devi

This might sound like a gloomy topic to start the year with, but bare with me. Towards the end of last year, I came across Dr Paul Brand. He was a UK citizen, who upon qualifying as a doctor chose to go and work in India.  His speciality was bone structures, but his journey took him to work among those excluded from the community. He chose to work with who suffer from leprosy.  It was reading about Dr Brand’s work that I came to appreciate the ‘power of pain’.  People who suffer from leprosy do not experience pain and this is what makes living so incredibly difficult and dangerous for them.  A person with leprosy could step on a piece of glass, not feel a thing and then walk for hours, whilst the injury got progressively worst and possibly infected.  Reading about Dr Brand and his work, helped me appreciate the value of pain in our lives as a signalling system.

At the same, I’ve been studying about self-harm and suicide prevention. Listening to the stories of young people and adults who have either self-harmed, thought about it or attempted it, two common themes emerge: the intense pain experienced and secondly negative thinking on a repetitive loop.  Maybe when I finish the course, I can share some of my learning in a future blog.  The focus today is on pain.

At one end of the spectrum, we have individuals who suffer with leprosy, who feel no pain and at the other end individuals who experience extreme, unbearable pain that they believe dying or harming themselves would be far better. Pain is a reality of life, something we have all experienced and will experience. We have no memory centre for pain itself, just the experience that led to pain or subsequent consequences.  The following monologue by the character Harry Dresden in ‘White Night’ by Jim Butcher gives us further insight,

“Sure, we’d faced some things as children that a lot of kids don’t. Sure, Justin had qualified for his Junior de Sade Badge in his teaching methods for dealing with pain. We still hadn’t learned, though, that growing up is all about getting hurt. And then getting over it. You hurt. You recover. You move on. Odds are pretty good you’re just going to get hurt again. But each time, you learn something.

“Each time, you come out of it a little stronger, and at some point you realize that there are more flavors of pain than coffee. There’s the little empty pain of leaving something behind – graduating, taking the next step forward, walking out of something familiar and safe into the unknown. There’s the big, whirling pain of life upending all of your plans and expectations. There’s the sharp little pains of failure, and the more obscure aches of successes that didn’t give you what you thought they would. There are the vicious, stabbing pains of hopes being torn up. The sweet little pains of finding others, giving them your love, and taking joy in their life they grow and learn. There’s the steady pain of empathy that you shrug off so you can stand beside a wounded friend and help them bear their burdens.

“And if you’re very, very lucky, there are a very few blazing hot little pains you feel when you realized that you are standing in a moment of utter perfection, an instant of triumph, or happiness, or mirth which at the same time cannot possibly last – and yet will remain with you for life.

“Everyone is down on pain, because they forget something important about it: Pain is for the living. Only the dead don’t feel it.

“Pain is a part of life. Sometimes it’s a big part, and sometimes it isn’t, but either way, it’s a part of the big puzzle, the deep music, the great game. Pain does two things: It teaches you, tells you that you’re alive. Then it passes away and leaves you changed. It leaves you wiser, sometimes. Sometimes it leaves you stronger. Either way, pain leaves its mark, and everything important that will ever happen to you in life is going to involve it in one degree or another.”

Everyone is down on pain, because they forget something important about it: Pain is for the living. Only the dead don’t feel it.

– Jim Butcher, White Night

However, it isn’t only the dead who do not feel it.  Those with leprosy don’t either.  Patrick Wall (a pain specialist) also gives examples of masked pain, delayed pain and phantom pain.  Often it is the anger around the actions that led to the pain (the past) and the worry about the consequences thereof (the future), that intensify the pain experienced in the now (the present). Think about the last time you did something foolish, that led you to experience pain. Were your thoughts locked in annoyance about the past (i.e. actions you or others did) and/or worry about what might happen (i.e. the future)? This isn’t always the case, but quite often.

So, what has this do with inclusion?

Interesting read …

I’m still on a learning journey to dive deeper in my understanding about pain. However, it strikes me, those who are on the fringes of society either experience no pain or excessive pain.  May be, instead of mental health and wellbeing we should be talking about pain.  The construct of ‘pain’ (as well as absence of) cuts across sensory, physical, emotional, mental, cognitive and linguistic dimensions of our being.  From the perspective of our skin, pain highlights discomfort in pressure, temperature or contact with chemicals and elements. From sensory dimensions, brightness, sound, tension and occupation. We cognitive and linguistically use the construct of ‘pain’ to communicate our affective state and use evaluative vocabulary to rate the pain (e.g. mild, intense). Can you see how complex pain really is?

Since I’ve developed this interest in pain, I’ve talked to friends and others in my network about pain and it has led to all sorts of interesting conversations.  The topic has given them space to truly open up and reflect.  It’s also helped me understand and share my construct of pain. In my life I have flitted, at times from feeling no pain (masked), to experiencing extreme pain, on occasions. I don’t have the answers, but if it is true that those on the fringe experience extreme pain or no pain, then surely talking about pain makes sense. By talking about it, we remove the shame and stigma around pain.  Isn’t that a method to including everyone more? Feeling pain isn’t a weakness and being strong isn’t always ideal or desirable. Feeling pain is about being human. As humans we are, I believe created to live in community. So talking about pain brings out the best of our humanity. It enables us to truly empathise and support each other. Just like the physical body adapts when one part is in pain.

What are your thoughts on pain? Feel free to share in the comments below or contact me for a conversation.

#TeamADL You know, we know SEND Leadership – subscribe to our blog and follow us on social media to keep up to date

About Anita Devi

As a former SENCO, Senior Leader, School Improvement Advisor, local authority SEND Advisory Teacher and Healthwatch Trustee, Anita Devi carries a wealth of experience in developing Leaders of Learning.  Her own teaching career spans early years to post grad in the UK and overseas and Anita lives her why through her belief in the joy of learning and the power of purpose.  In 2017, Anita was awarded the prestigious international Influential Educational Leaders Award for her SEND Leadership Pipeline strategy developing professionals from initial teacher training to advanced and experienced SENCOs.  Currently a PT PhD student, Changemaker Education Consultant & Founding CEO of #TeamADL (a not-for-profit) In 2019, the team were selected as finalists for The Disability Awards alongside some top multinational companies. More recently, working with NASBTT, Anita has written the first SEND book for Early Career Teachers.  #TeamADL have also launched in 2020 SEND Leaders Connect Advanced and SEND Leaders’ Appreciation Day.

#Teaching&Learning, Early Career Framework, Inclusion

Voices from the field: promoting inclusion with and through our trainee teachers

By Tom Molloy is the Primary Partnership Manager of the Tommy Flowers SCITT, Milton Keynes

Recently, a school-based leader of SEND was invited to speak to our Initial Teacher Training (ITT) trainees and was surprised at the content we were asking her to explore. “From my experience, SEND is just skated over during teacher training.” As a result, she was excited to be involved with the Tommy Flowers SCITT.

Genuine inclusion, where the needs of all children are met is hard. It takes expertise, knowledge, experience, commitment and understanding. Why would we not aim to send our novice teachers into their careers with at least the basics? ITT provision has a unique opportunity to promote inclusion with pre-service teachers at the start of their careers.

Milton Keynes is a diverse city. By 2020, the proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) children in Milton Keynes’ school population had grown to 45.5% with the percentage of pupils speaking English as an Additional Language (EAL) rising to 26.1% and 155 different first languages spoken (MK Council, 2021). 4.1% of children and young people in Milton Keynes have an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP) and 57% of these are educated in mainstream schools (MK Council, 2019). Given the nature of teaching in Milton Keynes, it would be foolish not to make inclusion at the heart of our curriculum.

The Core Content Framework (DfE, 2019) lists five core areas (pedagogy, curriculum, behaviour management, assessment and professional behaviours), but we feel that getting inclusion right is so important for new teachers that we have included ‘adaptive teaching’ as one of our six core curriculum areas. Adaptive teaching includes knowing and understanding the strengths and needs of the pupils in the class and applying strategies to different groups of learners so that natural diversity prevailing in the classroom does not prevent any learner from achieving success. In addition to their two placement schools where they build up their teaching hours to an 80% timetable over the course of the 10-month programme, all of our trainee teachers visit two of Milton Keynes’ special schools. The first is for children with a range of complex medical conditions, profound and multiple learning difficulties, severe learning difficulties and autistic spectrum condition and the second serves children whose primary need is social, emotional or mental health (SEMH).

Adaptive teaching includes knowing and understanding the strengths and needs of the pupils in the class and applying strategies to different groups of learners so that natural diversity prevailing in the classroom does not prevent any learner from achieving success.

Our trainee teachers spend one day per week attending our core training. In September, a SEND Specialist delivers an introduction to SEND to ensure our trainee teachers understand the main principles behind inclusive teaching: the key messages from the Code of Practice, high quality teaching for all pupils, the graduated approach and waves of intervention. Most importantly, we explore what it is to be inclusive and the importance of knowing all the children in our care. By the time the SEND Specialist returns in October, all trainee teachers have prepared a 20-minute group presentation and a handout on an area of need. At the end of this presentation day, they are equipped with an understanding of each area of need, signposts of where to go if presented with a child with that need, practical strategies and advice. To deliver these presentations, the trainees have accessed the literature, spoken to their school SEND Co-ordinators and gathered the perspectives of children with varying needs.

This foundation is built upon with further training sessions throughout the year, delivered in partnership with the Milton Keynes local authority SEND and Inclusion specialist team. Spaced throughout the year as the trainees gain experience in the classroom and take on more responsibility, these sessions develop practical skills, raise awareness of the importance of good planning and how to effectively strengthen understanding of effective support staff deployment.

A colleague, who has led EAL in a Milton Keynes school and is a publisher of EAL materials subsequently delivers two EAL training sessions that build on the recent EAL content recommendations of the Bell Foundation (2020). They explore the theory behind learning for EAL and provide context around the different types of EAL learners. The sessions focus on supporting teachers in working with children of varying stages of English acquisition. In many instances, trainees return to their schools armed with new knowledge and ideas to disseminate among their colleagues.

Do our trainee teachers conclude their training as experts in inclusion?

No, that would be impossible in 10-months. Like all teachers, we require the ongoing support of our expert colleagues, specialist teams, families and the benefit of experience, but at the very least, our aim is to produce new teachers who value inclusion, know their children well, understand the impact they can make in the classroom and know who to ask for help when they need it.


Department for Education, 2019, Initial Teacher Training (ITT): Core Content Framework.

Milton Keynes Council, 2019, Special Education Needs and Disability Strategy for Children and Young People 0-25 years, 2018-2023.

Milton Keynes Council, 2021, Equality and diversity in Milton Keynes.

The Bell Foundation, 2020, Designing New ITE Curricula: EAL Content Recommendations

Disability, Employment, Inclusion, SEND, Support staff

Voices from the field: I am a teaching assistant and I have dyspraxia

By Lee Maguire (Republic of Ireland)

Lee at a friend’s wedding

Yesterday, I turned thirty-four years old and for as long as I can remember Dyspraxia has been a part of my life! I was diagnosed with this incurable neurological condition when I was five years old and in the past three decades I have experienced the trials and tribulations that are associated with this condition daily. I have overcome a number of challenges connected to it. Throughout this time, I have created adaptations and support systems to assist me in this struggle.

Organisational skills are sometimes lacking in people with Dyspraxia. To compensate for this, I try to be organised, be it with my time, preparing lists be it to-do lists, shopping lists or the items I need to complete a task or recording my expenditure in various categories meticulously. I have also realised that two factors can lead to me feeling good about and within myself – a healthy and nutritious diet and a minimum of eight hours sleep per night. I have discovered that activities which involve me grounding myself in the present or de-stressing are invaluable to my physical and mental health. These include Emotional Freedom Technique which involves tapping positive affirmations into various points of the body, writing a journal nightly and meditating prior to going to sleep.

The world of work has proved challenging throughout my career. I disclose my Dyspraxia on my Curriculum Vitae, the application form and in the interview to minimise the pressure I feel when I try to conceal my diagnosis. I now realise that I prefer to work on a Monday to Friday basis with the same set hours each day. In the past I did shift work in both retail and call centres on five days out of seven which proved challenging to my health and physical well-being. Upon commencing a new role, I prefer to prepare step-by-step instructions on how to complete required tasks which I can use in future. In both Northern and the Republic of Ireland I have registered with organisations which support individuals with disabilities in the workplace. This support may involve further training or attending monthly reviews with my manager and I. After colleagues have got to know me, I disclose my Dyspraxia to them in order to gain greater patience and understanding from them.

In 2012, I joined Toastmasters International an organisation which assists in developing your communication and leadership skills. I remained a member of the Dundalk Club until 2015. In 2016, I became a member of Belfast’s Toastmasters Club where I am currently a member. In 2020, I assisted in the founding of a Toastmasters Club in Monaghan. As the brain of someone with Dyspraxia has a reduced, delayed or limited development, I have developed strategies to assist me in learning my speeches. Firstly, I write my speech word-for-word. Secondly, I divide it into paragraphs and finally place the key points of each onto separate memo-cards. Therefore, I usually have five memo cards with one for the introduction, the first point, second point, the third point and the conclusion. To enhance my leadership skills, I have served on the club’s committee voluntarily each for a one year terms. I’m currently the President of Monaghan Toastmasters Club. To further my growth and development as a Toastmaster, I often seek the invaluable feedback from more experienced members and I attend conferences regularly to learn more. I also act as a Mentor to newly joined members which is deeply rewarding, satisfying and a source of pride.

In childhood, I was fortunate enough to travel with my parents and my brother with our caravan to various parts of continental Europe and the United States of America. However, I always longed to travel solo and to date I have been to thirty-six countries – 75% of them alone. On my travels to date I have gained various coping mechanisms and strategies including pre-booking accommodation before arriving at your first destination to minimise anxiety. I separate my valuables including my credit cards and a small amount of cash in case I am pick-pocketed. To protect my precious photographs, I save images to my One-Drive nightly to ensure nothing is lost! I also prepare itineraries for each day and destination to ensure I experience as many things as possible. I record my experiences in my travel journals which I enthusiastically share with friends and family members regularly.

When I look back on the past thirty-three years, I realise what a journey it has been but I have not reached my final destination. Further obstacles need to be obliterated to oblivion, more coping mechanisms/strategies need developing and perhaps sometime I will be able to accept the fact that I have Dyspraxia rather than always trying to overcome it!

In a future blog, I will share more on what it means to have Dyspraxia and be a teaching assistant in the classroom supporting other children with their learning.

Lee travelling the world

#TeamADL is grateful to Lee for giving us a window into his life, his dreams and aspirations. We look forward to your follow-up blog.

Inclusion, SEND

Inclusion – what are your beliefs based on?

This month, the start of a new academic year – the #TeamADL Editorial Board has focused on hope.  Cole Andrew kicked things off with #Leader5aDay thinking about how we move forward this year with our hopes, dreams and reality. Jenny Bowers followed this up in #Senco5aDay with a flashback moment for SENCOs to grow from and let the light in.  My offering today is a reflective dialogue, based on a journey.

When I travel for work, I meet several fellow passengers who ask me all sorts of questions.  This is one such dialogue that took place:

Passenger: So, what is it you do?

Me: I work in education.

Passenger: So, you are a teacher?

Me:  Sort of … I work in the field of special educational needs, disability (SEND) and inclusion.

Passenger: What does that mean?

Me:  Well, it’s complex but basically, my team and I support and develop educational / employment environments that are inclusive.  Environments that enable all learners and employees to progress and thrive.

Passenger:  Aah yes, I’ve read a few things in the press about SEND … the lack of funding, needs not being met in schools and all sorts of other challenges for Post 16.  Not sure if the employment sector is any better. There is always a lot of comments on social media too.

Me:  For sure, the system isn’t perfect and there are many areas that still need developing or refining.

Passenger:  Is an inclusive progressive environment for all children and employees really possible?

Me:  I believe so, but it involves teamwork and everyone taking responsibility.

Passenger:  Hmm, I’m trying to imagine what that would look like.  I’m also curious, is your belief based on hope or optimism?

There you have it – the crux of the conversation!  Before considering this question, I should add, more often than not, when I tell people what I do they go on to tell me about their child, niece/ nephew, or grandchild with SEND.  It turns in a case-based dialogue about accessing services.  This conversation was unusual and thought-provoking.

My personal belief in inclusion is NOT based on optimism. Optimism is the envisioning of future success, akin to fingers crossed or wishful thinking.  It is based on chance. In contrast, hope is the anticipation and expectation for a particular thing to happen.  It is based on assurance.  This anticipation and expectation are positioned on the rock of trust and self-efficacy for all.  In other words, I believe there are greater things to come for all and that the best days are ahead of us!

I’ll be honest with you; it doesn’t always feel that way on a day-to-day basis.  But I know my beliefs are greater than my feelings, which are subject to change.  So, on the tough days and the rough days, I ground myself in my beliefs, not my feelings … which could sway me, this way and that!

I believe inclusion is a birth right and how we were originally designed and destined to live.

You may have a different view … and that’s OK.  Let’s chat.  I would love to hear your perspective about what your belief in inclusion means to you and whether it is based on hope, optimism, or simply human dignity?  Do add a comment below, to share your thoughts either on my conversation and follow-up thoughts or just your views on inclusion.

Till next time stay focused,


Leadership, Purpose, Wellbeing

Back to basics: Inclusion

by Anita Devi

June 2021 saw #TeamADL realign its editorial board; with Cole Andrew focussing on Leadership (#Leader5aday) and Jenny Bowers driving the dialogue on SENCO well-being (#senco5aday).  This left us thinking about our current #TeamADL blog.  Our vision is to focus this on inclusion.

In Arabic ADL means justice and tadmin refers to inclusion. Therefore, this blog will be known as #ADL_tadmin After much research, I chose ‘tadmin’ because the word in Arabic has a much deeper connotation than just inclusion. The word ‘tadmin’ embraces the active verb of being inclusive, through modulation (which includes intentional variation) and by considering the implications and thoroughness of being inclusive. In other words, it is the tangible and visible formation of the concept inclusion by all, and for all.  The construct of ‘implications’ matters here, as it relates to our lived-out vision and experience of equity of resources. You might be asking; how does this connect with the Leadership and SENCO wellbeing blogs?

Both the leadership and senco well-being blog emerge from a transformative synthesis of Foresight (2008).  They both focus on three elements of people, purpose, and place. The table below connects these concepts to #ADL_tadmin

#Leader5aday / #senco5aday#ADL_tadmin
Connectivity of Foresight (2008) principles with inclusion

In essence, inclusion is about being, becoming and belonging.  We started the dialogue around Leadership for Inclusion, back in January 2021, by discussing the importance of language in driving cultural change. Prof Tim O’Brien in his article on inclusion (2020) asks whether overtime, by adding layer upon layer, we have complicated the concept of inclusion?  I think we have.  In focusing on the details, have we lost sight of the bigger picture, the foundational principles and the importance of application and alignment.

Therefore, I want to bring inclusion back to basics and consider the implications for humanity and immediate communication, as well as leadership:

#ADL_tadminHumanity / CommunityLeadership
BeingAm I being true to myself? Who am I?Do I accept people for who they are? How do I embrace diversity?
BecomingWhat do we want out of life? What does success look like?How do enable people to achieve their dreams and goals? How, what and why do I give?
BelongingDo I/we feel / experience a sense of belonging?How do I make people feel welcome? How do I empower my team?
Reflective questions around inclusion experience and leadership

Each month, under this framework, we will unpick a different theme; we will hear voices from the field and together we will explore and discover new and different expressions of inclusion.  John Maxwell eloquently argues, “A leader is only a leader if s/he has followers.  Otherwise, it is someone just taking a walk”.  Leadership is not just about position – it is about influence. So, I think it is important we consider the synergy between humanity / community and leadership for inclusion.  I could have labelled humanity / community as ‘stakeholders’ – a common term we use in the field.  I use it quite a lot myself.  However, in this context inclusion is much than just about individuals who have a stake in something. There is an ethical and moral dimension that may emerge from altruistic engagement. Volunteers give of their time, not necessarily because they will gain ‘something’.  The joy of giving is reward enough.

This is a complex area and at times, we will probably hold different views.  That’s OK!  I am comfortable with difference, discussion and disagreement … as long as we keep talking.  None of us hold the absolute truth on anything and we have everything to gain from listening to each other.

Let me conclude by sharing a quote from Bristol (2015), who writes on ‘Leading-for-inclusion: transforming action through teacher talk’, in the Journal of Inclusive Education

“Leading-for-inclusion first moves the field of inclusion beyond the boundaries of disability to incorporate the recognition of social diversity amongst the learners, staff and community that composes the educational site and second, recognises and locates the ownership and responsibility for social justice in the domain of leading practices.”

So together, how are we going to take ownership and responsibility for social justice in the domain of leading practices?

3 Reflective questions, till next time:

  • Do you think inclusion can be defined by being, becoming and belonging?
  • What in this blog resonates with your own thinking?
  • Was there anything that you disagree with and if so, what and why?

[Do share your thoughts in the comments below.  As I said, I am comfortable with difference, discussion and disagreement.]

Leadership, SEND, Support staff

Voices from the field: Support staff #RDDR – recruitment, deployment, direction and retention+

By Anita Devi with Lindsey Kelly

It is that time of year, where we start thinking about staffing for next year. Over the last few weeks, conversations with colleagues have focused heavily on support staff. Broadly speaking, the conversations fall into four categories primarily: recruitment, deployment, direction and retention+. In this blog, Lindsey and I share a few thoughts on the subject.


Recruiting staff is not easy. It’s about a two-way match. It requires a lot of time input and sometimes the yield is not fruitful. Recruitment experts tell me time and time again, investing time in a clear Job Description (JD) and Person Specification (PS) saves hours of shortlisting and re-advertising when the pool isn’t wide.

Top tip 1:

I use to always ask someone external to the organisation to read my adverts.

  • Does the advert, JD and PS make sense to a stranger?
  • Does the advert evoke the right interest or is it too broad?

We know our organisations too well and sometimes in communicating who we are and what we do, we miss the obvious.

Top tip 2:

With the pressure of fulfilling statutory duties of support under Education Health Care Plans (EHCPs) the temptation is to appoint because we need someone in place. However, many experienced Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs) will share, it is better to wait and recruit the most suitable person, than just fill the role. The latter can be costly in the long-run.

The same is true of appointing SENCOs (and their equivalent job titles, including multi-academy trust wide SEND Leads). Sometimes, practitioners are great in the classroom – this doesn’t necessarily equate to being effective in leading on special educational needs and disability (SEND). At the interview stage for SENCOs, it is important to consider legislation, SEND knowledge and broader questions around leadership.

Top tip 3:

The Provision Review methodology developed by TeamADL provides governors and school/ college leaders with absolute clarity on bespoke high quality teaching, in their setting. The two page outcome document is powerful to include in any recruitment pack, as it stipulates minimum expectations succinctly. When recruiting support staff, further information is included on what success in supporting a learner looks like in the organisation.

Deployment and direction

Lindsey Kelly and I have been discussing recently the correlation between intentional deployment of support staff by leaders and effective directions by class/subject teachers in the classroom. Lindsey is currently undertaking a Masters degree at UCL, London examining how learners, identified as SEN Support also receive the support they need. As an Inner London Primary SENCO, this is Lindsey’s story of leading in the field: SEN Support – rethinking teaching assistant (TA) deployment:

SENCOs are highly knowledgeable about the children in their settings who have an Education Health and Care plan (EHCP), due to their invested involvement in both the pupils and the paperwork. Not to mention their sighs of relief and whoops of joy when a child’s EHCP is finally secured. Yet, in my experience, SENCOs, parents and teachers alike are often fixated on Section F of an EHCP and the number of 1:1 Teaching Assistant (TA) hours they are entitled to. This is completely understandable; parents want their children to have the best possible education and school experience, as do their teachers, and yet there is a misguided notion that 1:1 TA support enhances their attainment. Although understandable, this view may be questionable since the most qualified person in the room is often not working with these children directly. Additionally, and of equal importance, children with EHCPs are not the only children with SEN in our classrooms. What is happening for the children identified as requiring “SEN Support”? I am particularly interested in re-thinking school provision for these children, since they don’t have a dedicated TA to manage their timetable, tell them what work they need to do today, schedule their interventions and organise their lunchtimes for them.

We know through extensive research from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) on the effective deployment of support staff, that pupils receiving high levels of TA support make less progress than their peers. In fact, there is evidence of a negative impact on progress for pupils with more significant SEN, who usually receive the most TA support. In my experience, 1:1 involvement can often bring about learned helplessness. In a world where financing a TA is a luxury, schools and SENCOs need to re-think the allocation of resources in order to best support the needs of all their children with SEN. This is by no means easy, and a good working relationship with your headteacher is essential. With the National Statistics Office reporting 265,167 full-time equivalent teaching assistants in 2019-2020, an increase of over 1,000 on 2018, and the annual spend on these staff being in the region of £4.3 million, an average net spend of over £5,000 per pupil, now more than ever we need to show creativity and initiative when it comes to TA deployment.

In my two-form entry primary school setting, we did just that. Faced with an increasing number of pupils with EHCPs, as well as those identified as requiring SEN support, we realised that an ongoing increase in staff employment was not sustainable. Instead, when the next academic year was approaching, we asked our support staff who was interested in remaining as a regular class TA and who would like to be an SEN/Inclusion TA. This was insightful as we learnt that those who volunteered for this new SEN/Inclusion TA role felt that they had some agency and co-production alongside the class teachers, and were far more committed to the role. This led to a beneficial outcome for teachers, support staff and the students. As individuals we often thrive when we feel that our voice is heard or that our job has a positive impact, and in my opinion, the benefits of a considered approach to staff redeployment feeds into its success.

So what was this new role? The SEN/Inclusion TAs were class-based in the morning, when English and Maths lessons were usually taught, enabling an “all hands-on deck” approach. They were either allocated to a year group (across two classes), or to a specific class depending on the needs of the children in that phase. Instead of working 1:1 with the children with EHCPs, the Inclusion TA was able to move around the room and support any child with concerns around SEN. A lot of focus was placed on building up students independent learning skills. This included strategies when they became stuck, such as asking for help, asking their peers and moving on to the next question etc. On some mornings, the Inclusion TAs were fortunate enough to also work alongside a class TA as well as the teacher, but the expectation was that the Inclusion TAs would not be used for “regular” TA jobs, such as photocopying or checking reading books. Their primary function was to support the needs of children with SEN. The teacher allocated the Inclusion TA’s time accordingly, and as the SENCO, I was able to recommend short and effective interventions that could be done by the Inclusion TA in small groups. An additional advantage for myself and the students, was being able to share individual outcomes or targets for certain pupils which could be worked on with consideration by both the teacher and Inclusion TA. These were usually professional recommendations or taken from children’s SEN support plans, which reinforced better learning outcomes. In the afternoons the Inclusion TAs ran specific interventions across a phase group, such as Speech and Language or Zones of Regulation, or alternatively provided additional class support in lessons where needed.

Although this model may require further review and reflection, and its success depends on staff’s positive, aspirational attitudes towards pupils with SEN and good working relationships between teachers and support staff, it highlights one example of creative TA deployment. I urge other SENCOs and Headteachers to consider alternative ways of engaging TAs. After all, it is all staff’s responsibility to build a culture of best inclusive practice in the classroom.


As a school / college complete the following statements:

  • As leaders, our rationale for support staff deployment is …
  • Our expectation of classroom direction by teachers is …

As I have shared earlier, I’ve spent a lot of time recently talking through compliant models of EHCP support with schools, meeting the needs of SEN Support and also effective TA timetable monitoring. Simple tweaks have yielded significant returns. Even in a large secondary, with a two week timetable, there are simple ways of doing this to reduce workload and adapt for any absences. I’m a great believer in planning … so now it the time to start! Do get in touch, if we can help.

SEND Leader Planning Tools

One final thought … retention. It’s important to keep good staff, helping them to grow professionally and deepening their sense of contribution/belonging. How does the culture, ethos and vision of your school/college enable retention, at all levels? We have found, if there is clarity during recruitment, transparency in deployment and effectiveness in classroom direction, retention takes care of itself. Support staff not only stay, but extend their discretionary efforts; ultimately for the benefit of learners and the wider school/college community. That is why we call it Retention+

About the authors:

Lindsey Kelly graduated with a BSc in Psychology at the University of Leeds. She then went on to become a teacher in both mainstream primary and independent specialist sectors before establishing herself as a Primary SENCO in inner London. Lindsey was involved in obtaining IQM Centre of Excellence status for her setting and is currently undertaking her Master’s degree at UCL Institute of Education. Lindsey is passionate about reshaping policy and practice and believes that every child has the right to the highest standard of educational opportunities.

Anita Devi has held a wide range of SEND roles including SENCO, Senior Leader, School Improvement Advisor, local authority SEND Advisory Teacher and Healthwatch Trustee, Anita carries a wealth of experience in developing Leaders of Learning.  Her own teaching career spans early years to post grad in the UK and overseas and Anita lives her why through her belief in the joy of learning and the power of purpose.  In 2017, Anita was awarded the prestigious international Influential Educational Leaders Award for her SEND Leadership Pipeline strategy developing professionals from initial teacher training to advanced and experienced SENCOs.  Currently a PT PhD student, Changemaker Education Consultant & Founding CEO of #TeamADL (a not-for-profit) In 2019, the team were selected as finalists for The Disability Awards alongside some top multinational companies. More recently, working with NASBTT, Anita has written the first SEND book for Early Career Teachers.  #TeamADL have also launched in 2020 SEND Leaders Connect Advanced and SEND Leaders’ Appreciation Day.

#TeamADL You know, we know SEND Leadership – subscribe to our blog and follow us on social media to keep up to date

Governance, Leadership, SEND

Bugs, viruses and ransomware in the SEND system

By Anita Devi

SEND = special educational needs and disability

It all started back in 2014.  For three long years prior, we had dreamed, shared, debated and imagined a better way of supporting SEND learners into adulthood.  The Bill finally became an Act in Parliament, then the summer recess was looming, and the SEND Code of Practice 2014 was rushed through both Houses.  We knew there were bugs in the Code.  Some of us even highlighted it, the moment the final Code was published.  Too late!  If only they had checked for meaning, accuracy and shared understanding.  With the Code full of bugs … people and organisations already started saying it needed ‘fixing’.  Some, including myself were focused on enabling – change was happening fast.  Multiple cycles, on multiple timelines.  The truth is the system needed debugging.  The 2015 revision did not address any of the bugs; just added a few extensions.  Maybe I should have been more vociferous about the bugs back then.  The thing with bugs is all it takes is a character, a word or a letter out of place, and we are in the bug zone!  So many parts of the SEND Code would change if a word, letter or character was omitted, or even added.

Then came the viruses!  Implementing the SEND Code requires tacit knowledge, lived out experience, and an approach that does not solely rely on school-to-school support.  Without these and the addition of social media, poor understanding of implementation and bad information has gone viral. I started to notice this first in 2014.  The same errors of interpretation appearing in schools geographically apart and not connected.  The errors were extremely specific.  I followed the trail and tracked down the source.  As a teacher, I’m skilled at looking out for common errors.  Be that via copying or generic misconceptions.  It took the best part of two years.  A group of well-meaning professionals (with no background in SEND) all sharing the same incorrect information.  We tackled some of this by sharing knowledge and different ways of working.  In a system predicted on choice, we were offering ‘choice’.  Not everyone liked this.  Centrally funded projects were given precedence, though there was no robust quality assurance in place.  The myth of being ‘free’ was the marketing strategy.  It was not free – there was a cost.  Resources distracted from the front line and pollution.  These projects, in some cases accelerated the viruses.  Overtime, the viruses mutated and in 2021, we are seeing a new kind of virus emerge in settings and feeding those new to the profession.  Too much of our energy is spent on undoing the issues, rather than building new and different for generational impact.

Ransomware is when ‘access is denied’ unless a price is paid.  This became the norm, on so many levels. Local government, law firms and practitioners.  It was the learners who missed out. They missed out on the opportunities, the possibilities, and innovative solutions for supporting increasing independence.  Not all, but most. Ransomware is not just about funding; it also feeds off control and insecurities. It’s a subtle beast, so what ‘appears’ helpful may actually be doing harm and what appears odd, may be what’s needed.  The beast has no conscience and as such can attack individuals and organisations alike, with little thought to the consequences of actions.  Therefore, tacit knowledge and lived-out experience of SEND is necessary. Parents and carers bring their tacit knowledge and lived-out experience to the table, but it saddens me to say, not all practitioners or colleagues do.  Of the few that do, few discern consequential behaviours.  It is easier to play ‘here’s the problem’ on repeat, than find solutions of a win: win for all.  Having led a few local authorities change projects – some well, some not so well … I know how hard this is. However, when parents/ careers bring their subjective tacit knowledge to the table and practitioners bring their objective tacit knowledge, that is when there is really innovative thinking.  Each voice valued.  Each voice adding to our understanding.  No single perspective can determine or support special educational needs and disability.  We know that.

Review after review, we are stuck in a reboot time loop.  Things keep changing, so by the time a SEND review is complete … the system has morphed into the next hybrid, fueled by the bugs and mutated viruses, and transported to another dimension by ransomware. The complexity of stakeholder involvement, funding and the system has made it into a beast. And it all started with a few bugs.

Everyone talks about the SEND system, as if it is out there … here is the reality:  everyone of us is part of the system.  That is why blame and shame do not work. Each one of us is part of the problem and the solution. When we point fingers, we’re including ourselves and this debilitates our creative thinking for new solutions and the wider good.

There is hope …

Whilst it may seem overwhelming, there is a way forward, but it requires 5 things:

  1. A humble acceptance that each one of us is part of the system.
  2. A circuit breaker to unlock the SEND Review time loop. We need to try something different and fast.
  3. Leadership that is born out of experience, not position or power.
  4. A move away from fixating on the literal meaning of implementation to going deeper and finding new flexible solutions that support a wide range of needs and embrace the diversity of stakeholders.
  5. Trust.

The last one is the hardest, and the most important. It was the driver for the SEND Reforms in the first place.  However, if you examine The Lamb Enquiry 2009 it does imply, once learners and families received the support, they needed (not necessarily wanted), they were highly satisfied.  So, there are some seeds of trust in the system, which we need to build on and germinate.

In October 2020, my main PC system crashed. There was a lot going on and we were supporting (new and experienced) SENCOs and SEND Leaders deal with COVID19 arrangements of returning to a routine. There was no time to focus on what was not working, just doing what needed doing.  I started working off my laptop. This was fine, at first.  However, the smaller single screen and flat keyboard eventually led to other challenges.  Many IT specialists spent hours trying to reboot and recover my PC through remote access.  Nada!  Just before Easter, (6 months on from the initial crash), I decided to approach the problem from a different angle.  I isolated my laptop system and elements of my PC and then rebuilt different parts piece by piece.  It took 10 hours and required me to dig deep and use my O’ Level knowledge on coding – but it worked.  I broke the reboot loop and then rebuilt a new system.

We can do the same in SEND.  We need to isolate elements, focus on these to rebuild a new system.  We cannot rebuild the whole thing in one go.

I am no coding or computer expert.  But I do know SEND.  I have spent some time recently thinking about what we can isolate, rebuild, and add to shift the system much quicker than any review would.  For many the word ‘isolate’ will kick against their passion for inclusion.  I am not talking about isolating learners but isolating the bugs and viruses and shutting down access to ransomware viruses. It will require us to work together and differently. 

Are you up for the challenge of reboot, rebuild and reconnect, so this generation and the next have access to the support they need and deserve?  It is a choice we all have to make.

#TeamADL You know, we know SEND Leadership – subscribe to our blog and follow us on social media to keep up to date

About Anita Devi

As a former SENCO, Senior Leader, School Improvement Advisor, local authority SEND Advisory Teacher and Healthwatch Trustee, Anita Devi carries a wealth of experience in developing Leaders of Learning.  Her own teaching career spans early years to post grad in the UK and overseas and Anita lives her why through her belief in the joy of learning and the power of purpose.  In 2017, Anita was awarded the prestigious international Influential Educational Leaders Award for her SEND Leadership Pipeline strategy developing professionals from initial teacher training to advanced and experienced SENCOs.  Currently a PT PhD student, ChangeMaker Education Consultant & Founding CEO of #TeamADL (a not-for-profit) In 2019, the team were selected as finalists for The Disability Awards alongside some top multinational companies. More recently, working with NASBTT, Anita has written the first SEND book for Early Career Teachers.  #TeamADL have also launched in 2020 SEND Leaders Connect Advanced and SEND Leaders’ Appreciation Day. Here is the link to SEND Leaders Appreciation Day 2021 #SLAD2021 – start nominating!

#Teaching&Learning, Early Career Framework, Preparing for Adulthood, Purpose, SEND

I am a teacher. I teach.

By Anita Devi

“I know all those words, but that sentence makes no sense to me.”
 Matt Groening

It is no secret that I am not a fan of the clichés “every teacher is a teacher of SEND” or “every leader is a leader of SEND”.  In this blog, I will share my thoughts on why and how these phrases do not align with my values or vision.  To clarify, SEND here represents children and young people with special educational needs and/ or a disability.  The alternative title, I pondered upon for this piece was ‘It’s an injustice!’ As a fourth year PhD student in Education and Social Justice, I have spent a fair amount of time unpacking the different facets of social justice.  I do not claim to be an expert in this area, but what I have learnt is social justice is complex.  It embraces the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political, and social rights and opportunities.  How this pans out in reality is another story and one that needs clarity on defining a state of social justice and the means to achieve it.

An ageless dialogue has been the debate between “I am, therefore, I think” and “I think, therefore I am”.  My own leaning based on my background in psychology, my experience and my beliefs is in the former:  I am, therefore, I think.  If we assume, thinking is the basis for being … then what happens when individuals have learning or cognitive difficulties?  Do they cease to exist?  Not at all.  So, what has this got to do with teaching?  Looking across sectors, the most successful people are those who are clear on their identity – who they are.  From a place who they are, emerges what and how they act.

In defining a culture for change, language matters …

Every teacher is a teacher of SEND

This is an assertion about the current state of play, positioned in the present tense.  So, it is not entirely accurate.  The reality is, not every teacher is.  The statement itself does qualify the quality of provision provided by teachers.  Does it meet needs?  Is provision fit-for-purpose?  More importantly, it implies students with SEND are a homogenous group.  They are not.  They are individuals, each with distinctive characteristics, unique journeys, and futures full of potential.   Does the phrase also imply that teachers are fully knowledgeable about SEND?

I have been involved in SEND and inclusion a long time and in a variety of roles.  I do not say ‘I’m a teacher of SEND’ … as there is always more to learn and know.  As practitioners, we should not be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know, but I will find out’.  Saying ‘I am a teacher of SEND’ implies I know it all.  I do not.  What I do say is ‘I am a teacher.  I teach.’ That’s the foundation and implied within those two sentences is an invitation to ask, ‘Who do you teach?’  Professionally, I then have a moral purpose to reflect on whether I truly teach all children and young people in my care or am I selective?  By singling out ‘SEND’ as the focus of my teaching, I would be ‘pretending’ to be inclusive by being ‘exclusive’. A perverse injustice, surely?  Equally, I am aware there are specialist SEND teachers out there, who have extensively trained and researched a specific area or need.  That is different.  In my professional journey, I was at one point a local authority Specialist SEND Advisory Teacher for Cognition and Learning. It was a specialist role.

Some would argue the statement is aspirational – a desired state.  Does it truly reflect inclusivity and how do we know when we get there? The statement does not make it clear what actions and behaviours I would see and maybe for some, it creates an illusion of ‘I am there’.  The amount of inaccurate information around SEND on the internet has grown immensely over the years.  Individuals read a book / report and position themselves with a view. Suddenly they are leaders in the field!

Maybe a better way of expressing it would be “our aspirational vision is for all teachers to be responsive and inclusive of diverse needs”.  Not as sexy as ‘every teacher is a teacher of SEND’, but certainly much more wholesome and rooted in the reality of what is and what could be.

Focussing on being responsive brings in a quality element that can be evaluated.  Those who lead on SEND (at school / college level) can evaluate how responsive teachers are to diverse needs.  This is not about evaluating teacher performance, but about contribution to organisational goals on increasing inclusion and reducing exclusion.  The two are separate and interrelated dynamics.  However, reducing exclusion does not necessarily lead to an increase in inclusion and vice versa. At #TeamADL we have developed some structures, systems and solutions around this.  Maybe that’s a blog for another day?

Every Leader is a Leader of SEND

This is often cited as a motivational phrase.  However, just saying it does not mean things change.  As a consultant, I am generally called in when things are not working.  This is not about blame and shame.  The leaders have a maturity of perspective to recognise they need external input to align systems and structures to ensure all children and young people receive the educational experience, they are entitled to.  I have lost count of the number of times, I’ve walked into a school and a leader has said to me, “Every teacher is a teacher of SEND” and “Every leader is a leader of SEND”.  When I ask them what that means or looks like … they have no answer!  The children and young people we teach and the families we serve, deserve better than a few well-rehearsed catch phrases.

Effective leaders build diverse teams and come from a place of modelling good practice in their specialist field.  It is therefore helpful for those who lead on SEND to have experience on delivering effective SEND practice.  Otherwise, a lot of what is delivered is just theoretical knowledge.  SENCOs are required to undergo a specialist qualification, as part of their induction.  The content of this training is debatable and certainly my own research shows the courses lack pragmatism. Regulation 50 in the SEND Regulations 2014 defines the role of a SENCO.  I have written more about it here in relation to workload and assessment.  By repeating the mantra ‘every leader is a …”  we are undermining the role and value SENCOs play and we are not giving full credence to Regulation 50.   Like the cliché about teachers of SEND, stating every leader is a leader of SEND is inaccurate and does nothing to move us towards an aspiration of effective SEND leadership.

Ultimately, our goal is to deliver an effective educational experience for all children that prepares them for their future and adulthood. Using these cliches – it is an injustice! … and I would politely ask those using these phrases to stop or refine them!

Postscript (February 2021)

I’m grateful for the feedback I have received from colleagues who have read this post. A significant number of those who contacted me, agreed. There were a few, who felt we should remain aspirational and use the cliches to advance a bigger agenda. If that were possible, the world would move forward through memes, perhaps?

Another type of justification for using these phrases was shared with me; namely legislation. The comment was made citing mainly points from Chapter 6 of the SEND Code of Practice 2015 and in particular 6.4 which relates to assessment and identification. I have written about assessment and differential diagnosis previously. Hearing the arguments put across in relation to my comments above, I gave it considered thought and I still stand by my comments above. Here are my three reasons why:

  1. There is a difference between a leader of SEND and a leader for SEND. Reading a few books, articles and journals on SEND, doesn’t make someone a leader. It comes through the attitude and experience of an individual to articulate a vision, based on a core set of values and then be positioned to drive diverse teams through a change process for improvement. A leader for SEND is an advocate, not an specialist or expert. We need to recognise and honour the difference.
  2. If non-specialist leaders are going to be FOR something that positions them in the equality and equity dialogue, then it needs rooted in the broader context of inclusion, embracing not only SEND, but also ethnic diversity, gender quality, etc.
  3. The principles in Section 19 of the Children and Families Act 2014 provide us a framework to evaluate whether a leader is FOR inclusion. So we do have a legislative basis to challenge wider leaders, not because they need to be experts. More importantly they need to be advocates operating from a core set of values.

To re-iterate the final paragraph of my original post:

Ultimately, our goal is to deliver an effective educational experience for all children that prepares them for their future and adulthood. Using these cliches – it is an injustice! … and I would politely ask those using these phrases to stop or refine them!

#TeamADL You know, we know SEND Leadership – subscribe to our blog and follow us on social media to keep up to date

About Anita Devi

As a former SENCO, Senior Leader, School Improvement Advisor, local authority SEND Advisory Teacher and Healthwatch Trustee, Anita Devi carries a wealth of experience in developing Leaders of Learning.  Her own teaching career spans early years to post grad in the UK and overseas and Anita lives her why through her belief in the joy of learning and the power of purpose.  In 2017, Anita was awarded the prestigious international Influential Educational Leaders Award for her SEND Leadership Pipeline strategy developing professionals from initial teacher training to advanced and experienced SENCOs.  Currently a PT PhD student, Changemaker Education Consultant & Founding CEO of #TeamADL (a not-for-profit) In 2019, the team were selected as finalists for The Disability Awards alongside some top multinational companies. More recently, working with NASBTT, Anita has written the first SEND book for Early Career Teachers.  #TeamADL have also launched in 2020 SEND Leaders Connect Advanced and SEND Leaders’ Appreciation Day.