#Curriculum, #Teaching&Learning, Leadership, Learning, Preparing for Adulthood

Rebuilding Communities in Education – Part 2

By Anita Devi

I am grateful for the feedback, I had to Part 1 of this reflection piece. Leaders valued the list of questions and broader thinking.  Many could see how, for the benefit of our learners and within a culture of high accountability, we can still capitalise on greater autonomous leadership, at local level. Key actions and announcements by national leaders have also helped me realise, we have different perspectives on the construct ‘rebuild’.  In Part 2, I continue my thinking around the learners, the operational and the strategic.  However, I begin, by defining ‘rebuild’.

Rebuild is NOT about going back to what was, but defining the new; something better that meets the needs of where we are, not where we were.  I think we can all agree the experience of the pandemic (2020-21) crossing two academic years has changed us!  In September 2020, speaking on a radio programme about ‘Returning to School’, I talked about the ‘spectrum of experience’.  Lockdown and COVID19 may be part of the global vocabulary, but what they mean to each of us differs.  At one end of the experience spectrum is a positive experience – we have learnt new things, had quality time with family, perhaps and embarked on new online adventures of connecting, to name a few.  At the other end of the spectrum is bereavement, living in cramped conditions, no connection to people, no online access and so on.  We’ve all experienced grief and loss, as I shared in Part 1.  For most of us, our lockdown experience lies in the middle of the two extremes – we are weighing up multiple experiences and emotions, simultaneously. That’s taxing.  I recall Easter 2020 vividly. That weekend, usually a joyous festival for my family and community – I was informed of a few teaching colleagues who had passed due to COVID19 and the death of a friend’s sister-in-law.  Three months prior, this lady, a mother of two – she and I had been dancing at our friend’s 50th birthday party.  Equally on Easter weekend, I had a lot of online laughs and helped another friend surprise his wife on date night, as she is a medical key worker.  As Sunday night came to end, I was a bundle of emotions.  That was just one weekend of the many over the last year. It’s been a real mix.  I remember listening to a young man in America – during lockdown 1, he had lost 7 members of his family.  We cannot discount the personalised experience individuals have had.  The DfE guidance document on Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools (2018) would define the pandemic as an adverse childhood experience (ACE).  As such, our response to the rebuild, has to bear all of this in mind.

Learners

I have already considered aspects of mental health in Part 1.  In this section, I want us to focus on speaking and listening skills.  These are the root for learning – developmentally and socially. Learning does not happen in isolation.  In England, speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) has been a long-standing problem.

Source The Communication Trust

If you are interested in reading more on this, look up the reports A generation adrift (2013) and Talking about a generation (2017).  Even the most conversant families have shared that communication during lockdown has been challenged because there is little or nothing new to talk about at the dinner table.

As educators, I do believe we have a responsibility to restore and develop skills of oral communication.  This is a two-step process:

Step 1:  Consider different strategies to integrate institution-wide approaches to metacognition.  This is about giving learners a ‘language for learning’, so they can think and then talk about their learning.  The Education Endowment Foundation website clearly demonstrates that this is a low-cost intervention, with a potential 7-month gain.  The school year in England equates to 195 days.  That equates to 39 weeks and just under 8 months.  If metacognition recognises a 7-month gain, then surely an important part of the rebuild should include an intentional approach to metacognition.  Questions I raise in Part 1 of this blog are a starting point.

Step 2: Investing time in speaking and listening and not placing an over emphasis on writing.  Please do not mis-interpret what I am saying here.  Writing is an important skill.  However, individuals who think and speak with clarity often make the most effective writers. As a method of differentiation (high-quality teaching) the use of alternative method of recording has been considered a powerful tool for learners to demonstrate progress and achievement.

In 2010, The Communication Trust launched No Pens Day, now know as No Pens Wednesday.  No Pens Day Wednesday encourages learners to put down their pens and pick up their language skills by spending one day focusing on learning through speaking and listening.  You can find out more here and here. I’m certainly not advocating this as an everyday approach, but as a focus for returning to education in March 2021 or just after the Easter holidays, it would make for a way to get everyone talking and connecting. It’s a lot of fun too! Speaking gives a voice to the views, feelings and wishes of learners. Section 19 of the Children and Families Act 2014, makes this a statutory duty for us as educators.

Operational

It is the first day back – 8th March 2021:  How are you going to greet your learners?  Is it business as usual?  Or is there a need to listen?  I have been thinking about the power of stories and personal narratives.  Each one of us is part of the COVID19 story.  Each one of us played our part.  In the classroom, how can we utilise these historical lived-out narratives (possibly intertwined with the curriculum) to create a broader picture of the community experience, at large.

I have trained several new teachers and those new to leadership, throughout the pandemic, as well as those more experienced. Whilst it is a challenging time to be in education, it is also an exciting time to be part of the rebuild. As educators, how much of our own story will we share?

In 2014, I was asked to sum up the SEND Reforms in one word.  My word was: relationships.  Research has shown time and time again, the heart of good teaching, that has impact, is ‘relationships’.  The educator knowing not just their subject and effective pedagogy ,but knowing the learner too. It is the dynamic of these two that make the learning environment come to life.  Therefore, as you start planning face-to-face lessons consider using a one-page profile person-centred tool.  You can find out more here.  Also think about the different ways to differentiate and personalise.  Again, you can find out more here.

On a practical level, do look at the Public Health England (online course) on Psychological First Aid (PFA).  This is a straightforward way of delivering psychosocial care in the immediate aftermath of emergencies, including infectious disease outbreaks. 

Strategic

In my own mind, I am clear on the strategic leadership and embedding an institution-wide ‘new’ culture.  I led a roundtable with executive and senior leaders in education on this last week.  I do not claim to have all the answers, but certainly the framework of thinking I shared resonated with leaders in the field.   For this blog, however, I decided to revisit what the DfE has to say.  I was delighted to note … remarkably like my thinking.  In Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools (2018), it says (DfE, p9)

  1. Define the vision.  As leaders, what is your vision going forward?  What elements of pre-COVID19 will you keep?  What elements of the pandemic experience will you sustain?  How will these mesh together?  To give an example, I know some schools are considering an onsite blended learning curriculum from September 2021.  Recognition that online learning benefited some learners, due thought and consideration is being given to how this is fitted into the timetable.  Other schools have taken onboard how at the start of Lockdown 1, they did not know if the parents of their children were key workers.  These school leaders are looking into stronger home-school links.  This is such an opportunity for us to learn from the past and build anew.
  2. Emphasis on positive mental wellbeing for all (DfE p9).  Are there aspects of the organisation that lead to excessive stress for learners and staff?  What can be changed or undertaken differently?  How will high-quality teaching embrace a focus on positive mental wellbeing, not as an add-on, but a central theme for progress?
  3. Action 3 (DfE, p9) is a whole school approach to behaviour policy.  Yet in the current political thinking, this has been placed as a priority.  Can I be bold to say, what was before isn’t the same as is now!  I agree, we need a behaviour policy, but equally we need to recognise the experience we have had.  Behaviour (individual and collective) is born out of beliefs.  Have the beliefs of our community and world changed, because of the pandemic? What impact will this have on our behaviours?  I do advocate clarity on boundaries.  However, COVID19 has blurred the distinction on boundaries and barriers.  So collectively, we need to redefine (using a constructive theory of change) what we do and how.  Prior to COVID19, the focus on behaviour was (or certainly appeared to be) from a place of coercion and bringing institutions into line.  We are no longer in that space.

As learners return on 8th March 2021, reminding them and staff of the expected behaviours and boundaries is going to be vital.  The question is how it is done, to have impact, whilst still being sensitive of individuals coming through, what for many has been a traumatic experience.  Relationships of trust will need to be re-established. Plotting the academic calendar against the government’s four steps for coming out of lockdown is helpful for defining key time markers.

I started Part 1 with a quote from Nelson Mandela.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Nelson Mandela recently. Just over 30 years ago, he was released from a 27-year prison sentence, based on racial prejudice. On his release, in his first public speech, he cited a poem by Marianne Williamson called, “Our Deepest Fear”. This poem is from her book ‘Return to Love’ (Reflections & Principles of a Course in Miracles, 1976).

Born & brought up in London, I faced a fair amount of racial discrimination (overt & covert), during my childhood days. The ‘Our Deepest Fear’ poem had a significant impact on me, as a young adult at the time. It is something, I still revisit, as a reminder of what was, what is & what could be.  As we emerge out of the prison sentence of the pandemic, what will we share with world? What will be our Return to Love moment?

(For any readers who are not sure on what love has to do with leadership, I suggest you look up recent research (published in academic journals) on ‘Loving Leadership’ or even watch my presentation at the recent #GettingItRight Conference 2021).

It’s time for change!

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

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.

#Curriculum, Leadership, Learning, Preparing for Adulthood, Purpose, SEND

Rebuilding Communities in Education (Part 1)

By Anita Devi

At the start of half-term (February 2021), I woke up to a vivid dream, I had had in my sleep:  I was at an educational institution, I use to work at.  This was positioned in the future.  The place was buzzing! There was a real coming together of different generations all learning different things (academic, the arts, and vocational studies).  This institution was back to being the learning hub of the community.  Some of you might say educational institutions have remained the learning hub throughout COVID19 and lockdown.  To some extent, this is true.  However, equally we have lost much that we need to regain as well as define and rebuild a new world going forward. in this blog two-part blog, I hope to share some thoughts on rebuilding communities in education.  I do not claim to be an expert, but I have given this some thought and held roundtable table discussions with other thought-leaders.  In each part, I will focus on the learner, the operational and the strategic.  Both parts have a different emphasis, but I believe, it is this twin track of thought, that will enable us to rebuild together.

Nelson Mandela is often quoted as saying, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  COVID19 was a global war and this blog is all about how we find or re-establish peacetime.  SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19 has recently been reviewed in Forbes (August 2020) as to whether it makes for a good bioweapon.  Biological warfare and bioterrorism are not new.  Historically, the United States, Iraq, former Soviet Union, United Kingdom, Japan, and Canada all used to have biological weapons programs.  As a young adult working in London, I distinctly recall being involved in peace politics’ services to commemorate the 44th Hiroshima Day (6th August 1945).  Over a decade ago, training teachers in Vietnam, I visited The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Min City, where I saw how Orange Agent had led to an increase in disability amongst children and unborn babies. The impact of global events like this last and that is why it is important I feel, for us to start focusing on the rebuild.

The Learner

Over the episodes of lockdowns and reintegration, emphasis has been placed on mental health, particularly of learners. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states in its constitution that “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”  Globally, therefore we have been challenged by the pandemic itself, as well as the hidden consequential health symptoms.  As the vaccination programme is rolled out and we begin to regroup, it is this holistic dimension of health, we need to consider.  One bright young man in my neighbourhood is an avid cricket player.  Being denied the ability to play, meet with his team-mates and enjoy this past time has made him question the point of getting up each morning.  Equally, younger aged children from one of my networks are now determined to work in the medical field to find cures to diseases known and unknow to mankind.  The point I am making; this has affected us all differently.  Lockdown & COVID19 may be global terms, but what it means to each of us experientially will differ.  The differential is due to seen and unseen factors.  What I can say with certainty is, at some level we have ALL experienced grief and loss.  This is not just about losing loved one.  Though, that carries a deeper level of pain and grief.  However, not being able to do, say or relate in normal ways has been a challenge.

Recognising this loss and grief as a universal event, and yet a personal experience hopefully will make those of us who teach think about conversations and relationships in the classroom.  From an individual and community rebuilding perspective, we need to keep asking each other about our experience and what that meant.  This will not only help to unpeel layers, but it will aid the healing process too. Teaching in London, after 9-11, I made an independent decision to put the formal curriculum on hold and focus all learning on ‘I belong to a community, where I am loved and respected’.  The school was located in economically deprived area and my year group came from a mix of ethnic backgrounds, which included two Muslim boys.  We talked a lot during that time, we defined our dreams for the future, as well as gave voice to our fears.  It took three days of a variety of learning PSHE / Citizenship activities before the prejudice towards the two Muslim boys manifested.  The children wanted to blame someone, in order to make sense of their world being turned upside down.  As a community, we were hurting.  I am a Christian, by faith and we believe strongly that when one person is hurt, we (as a body) are all affected.  We addressed the misdirected views in a wholesome way and established a healthy learning community in the school, one again.  Imagine, if I had just done a tokenistic ‘how do you feel?’ mental health check-in activity and then moved onto the curriculum.  The prejudice and fear would have still existed and continued to grow undercover.  By brining it out into the open, we were able to challenge false beliefs and reunite.

Consider:

  • What beliefs (true or false) have the learners we care about developed regarding COVID19 and humanity, as a whole?
  • How will this experience affect their dreams for the future?
  • What questions do our learners have?

I am not saying we need to have all the answers, but we do need to make space for conversations.

Social emotional mental health does not happen in isolation.  The three dimensions are connected.  Too often, we just focus on mental health.  Yet, making time for the social and emotional will feed into better mental health.  Spend time exploring each and the interconnectivity between the three.  You can find a few ideas here

Before I move onto operational thoughts, I want to raise the point that there is a fine line between anxiety and fear, though they can both manifest similar symptoms.  The continuum of time (past, present and future) can trigger different stress responses.  I am no expert in this area, though I do have a basic knowledge.  What I can say, though in the days ahead we are going to need to be observant of our learners, noting any patterns, sudden changes and spirals of decline or unusual hysteria.  Critical to our observation antennas being acutely sharpened, it is important we establish good relationships with our learners.  They need to know there is someone they can talk to; someone who will listen, respect them and help (including signposting or referrals to specialists). As practitioners, we need to do this, whilst being mindful of our own mental health and wellbeing needs.

Operational

Two core elements of developing resilience are self-efficacy and social problem solving. Curiosity can be the result of interest and/or the lack of information, knowledge, and skills in an area.  As we connect back in our classrooms over the academic year, think about how the curriculum can be delivered through an increase in problem solving activities.  This will help our learners begin to re-establish a sense of agency and autonomy.  A few young people have shared with me their sense of helplessness during this pandemic.  For many they are filled with questions about identity and purpose.  Engaging young people in social problem solving, through the curriculum enables young people to make choices and think things through.

We need to identify gaps in learning and embed pathways for progress, but fundamental to this will be the learner’s own aspirations.  Aspirations connect the future, with core activity in the now.  Using classroom activities to demonstrate to learners they can make a difference and they can have an impact; we are establishing a foundation for dreaming and achieving.  A deeper skill involved in problem solving is the ability to choose and recognise the consequences of choice.  This involves a broader range of critical thinking skills, which in time will feed in academic attainment and achievement, as well as socialisation skills.  Choice is something, we can and should offer our learners with complex needs too.  Fixed choice questions (A or B?) is still a choice and it puts the learner in control.

Strategic

In Part 2 of this article, I will invest time in unpacking on how we collectively can define the new normal.  For now, I ask you to take a piece of paper, reflect and note down:  what lessons have you personally and professionally learnt from COVID19?

I recently read an anonymous quote, “education is the passage to progress”.  What a beautiful image and something real and tangible as we emerge out of this life experience.  Therefore, using the thirteen types of knowledge, I leave you with thirteen questions to reflect on individually and as a team.  To be clear, knowledge in my mind relates also to awareness and familiarity gained through experience of a fact or situation.  There are no right answers to any of these questions … it is just about your view and experience. Both of these will shape your attitude, beliefs and behaviours in the rebuilding of communities in education.

1) Posteriori knowledge:  What have you learnt from COVID19 and lockdown?  What are your three key takeaways?

2) Priori knowledge:  What elements of your worldview are you retaining from a time before COVID19?

3) Dispersed knowledge:  How would you describe your lockdown experience?

4) Domain knowledge:  What specific areas of learning have you developed and enhanced during the pandemic?

5) Empirical knowledge:  What are your observations about the impact of COVID19 on your community and circle of influence?

6) Encoded knowledge:  Looking back, what signs or symbols will remind you of the pandemic?

7) Explicit knowledge: What artefacts of expression do you have of the COVID19 experience?

8) Known unknowns: List three questions you have about COVID19 and another three questions about the future, as we begin to rebuild?

9) Metaknowledge:  Can you think of any metaphors to describe the pandemic experience for you?

10) Procedural knowledge:  In responding to COVID19, are there any procedures you have adopted that you would keep, or are there things you use do, which you will now drop or improve?

11) Propositional knowledge:  What fact-based information can you recall about the COVID19 experience?

12) Situated knowledge:  How has your community grown or developed through the pandemic?  What has been the greatest loss and the greatest gain?  How do you know?

13) Tacit knowledge:  What have you gained mastery over during this season and what impact has this had on your emotional well-being?

I constructed these questions to help us all reflect to rebuild.  You may have better ones.  Do please share these in the comments. This will help us grow together.  Some leaders may choose to use these questions to structure a staff meeting or even stimulate conversations with our learners.  Part 2 of this blog will be published on 3rd March 2021.  Till then, stay safe.

Postscript:  As I started writing this piece, I received instructions from the NHS, that I am required to shield until 31st March 2021.  I had my first vaccination on 25th January 2021.  I have not been asked to shield prior to this and receiving the communication did make me reflect on how much I value choice and my freedom.

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

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, 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 www.teamadl.uk

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.

Leadership, SEND

Successful SEND Leadership – Is it enough to just copy good practice?

By Steve Pendleton

Peer-to-peer professional support and school improvement are two different processes.  Naturally, there is some overlap, in terms of change management and transformation. However, in the current educational climate, we are seeing an increasing confusion between the two.  Peer-to-peer support is a process of cooperation between professionals who have interests in common and experiences to share. Specialist school improvement is where developments are planned, carried out and evaluated with external advice, and where there is clear accountability for outcomes.

In this blog, I unpack some of the myths around using good practice to establish high quality provision.  I do so, from a school development perspective and I will use the case study of social emotional and mental health (SEMH) provision to highlight the key points.

One of the things I have learned from working with school leaders over the past 17 years is that good practice in one place doesn’t inevitably lead to good practice somewhere else. Context is more important than is often given credit. Underneath the surface schools vary considerably.  Schools may have similar systems, classrooms, and curriculums, but function differently because each has a unique community culture which is strongly influenced by the organisation’s beliefs and values and the geographical location of the school.

A useful metaphor to explain this can be found in gardening.  Like transplanting a thriving plant from one garden to another, there are differences, invisible to the naked eye, that can cause it to struggle. The plant might need additional help to survive in its new setting because the soil may have a different level of moisture, acidity or minerals. To ensure a successful transplant, the soil may require additives. It is possible that the transplant may never be successful because the essential conditions cannot be recreated.

Differences between schools which appear physically very similar are hard to spot when you are a successful leader in one school and have developed systems which work well in that context. The benefit of engaging with external support and school improvement trained professionals, is that you can have your assumptions challenged. This is important when you need to see the interplay between the effective approach and the context in which it is working. An external view can help you establish whether you can provide the essential conditions for a new approach to be successful.

Case study:

Jane, the head of a highly successful Warwickshire primary school opened a SEND specialist resource provision for key stage one children with social emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs in October 2020.  Jane sought my input as school improvement specialist to help her discern between good practice (the seed or plant, to extend the gardening metaphor) and the culture (the soil and other variants, unseen to the eye).  As part of the preparation we jointly visited an award-winning independent special school across the border in Leicestershire. Places in this school are in high demand because of the successful outcomes and added value for children with SEMH needs This has helped transform the lives of the children and their families.  

Our intent was to distil the elements of good practice that could be applied to the new school in Warwickshire.  So that the children could experience high outcomes too. Clearly, the two organisations are vastly different and serve different communities. One is a mainstream primary in Warwick and the other is an independent primary special school in Leicestershire.

Five things we discovered through this process:

  1. Even though the age range for provision deferred, many of the children felt like failures at their previous school or setting. Many of the children had unmet needs, causing further distress and in some cases, leading to trauma.  This was common (to varying degrees) across both school communities.
  2. The Leicestershire school clearly has effective systems and processes that enable these vulnerable children to flourish.  However, these cannot simply be replicated, as they have evolved over time.  We had to flesh out the principles underpinning the systems and processes and ask key questions to understand the interplay of the whole system.
  3. When the Leicestershire school employs staff, it looks for people with the values and beliefs that will enable them to cope emotionally with distressed children. Jane will adopt the same approach for her provision. Staff can be trained on how to help children learn. It is harder to give them moral purpose.
  4. Leaders in the Leicestershire school prioritise their own emotional well-being by making sure they have access to external support. Jane and her colleagues will need to do the same. When the going gets tough, the leader is the last line of defence and needs to be available to help and protect staff.
  5. The Leicestershire school has found that traditional rewards and sanctions are not effective at helping children with SEMH needs to cope. This led Jane to wonder whether her school’s behaviour policy was effective. Replacing it with something radically different was a bold step and took courage. Jane needed reassurance that it was the right thing to do and the support of other leaders in the school to make it work.

We will continue to update you on the development of the school in Warwickshire.  In the meantime, a few thoughts for reflection:

  • What do you see as the main differences between peer-to-peer support and specialist school improvement support?
  • What are the strengths and challenges of each?
  • At this point in time, would your setting benefit from peer-to-peer support or specialist school improvement?  Further reflect on why.  We would love to hear your thoughts, so do feel free to comment below.

About Steve Pendleton

Steve Pendleton is a school improvement specialist for #TeamADL with expertise in the education of vulnerable and disadvantaged children. After a successful career as a teacher and leader in secondary schools, Steve became a school inspector, improvement adviser, virtual head, SEND Commissioner and senior leader for a local authority in the West Midlands. His specialisms include leadership development, and strategic approaches to impact delivery of provision for behavior SEMH, attachment and trauma needs.

#TeamADL is committed to ensuring everyone thrives in education, employment, and life. We stand up for people who are different because we are different. To find out more visit www.teamadl.uk

Early Career Framework, Leadership, SEND

SEND Leadership: a new way of working

By Anita Devi

Last week, #TeamADL jointly led a series of SEND Briefings with Tappter, because we believe this is a time for a new way of working.  In recent weeks, we have already started the conversation by talking about:

In addition, we are proposing a way of working that re-connects the sector.  For years, I have listened to people describe the SEND system as ‘fragmented’.  In truth, I have struggled with this level of negativity, not because I don’t’ believe there are things we need to address.  There are many issues we need to address.  My resistance to this comment was due to the dream I have in my heart and the joint up vision; I have in my head.

I envisage a system where there is a co-operative approach to the leadership of special educational needs, disability, and inclusion. Leadership is not just about those in post.  It is about teams and recognising the value each team member brings to the conversation. Parents and carers are very much part of the team, as are children, young people, specialists, teachers and community members.

I envisage a system where identification is both timely and accurate.  Identification has become a tick-box process, much to the detriment of the child and young person.

I envisage a system where resources are available to meet the needs of children and young people, not only in educational settings, but also in the community when they attend social groups or other community settings.  Reasonable adjustments need to become part of the norm.

So how can we connect the dots and make this a reality?

Co-operative Leadership involves mutual input from team members in working towards a common goal.  What is our common goal?  The best life chances for children and young people.  I believe many of us know this, but we possibly differ on how we get there.  It is for this reason, we teamed up with Tappter to create ‘SEND Leaders Connect’ and Advanced.  This is a safe platform for leaders, parents and carers to connect, talk and find solutions. 

A few years back, I started looking at the SEND Leadership Pipeline, in a more structured way.  I was humbled when in 2017, this work was recognised internationally at a conference in Cambridge.  The concept is simple – a thought through process of professional development from trainee teacher/educator to advanced SEND Leader.  Over the years, we’ve tested various points of effective CPD.  We have been working with different organisations such as NASBTT, Hays Education, Optimus Education and others to make this a reality.  Last Friday, a book I have been working on for two years was also published to support those in the early stages of their career.  My PhD focus enables those with experience and expertise to be retained in the profession, so we do not lose the tacit knowledge of practitioners.

Finally, as a not for profit organisation, I have had a dream for a long time about how we can fund resources differently.  I have some big and achievable ideas to make this happen.  However, we are going to start small. Settings that join our SEND leaders Connect (Advance) which includes access to Tappter networks and a termly online meet with bonus sessions will have the opportunity of receiving a resource worth up to £100.  My long-term vision is much bigger than this!  Many have questioned me over this … if we are to create a culture of abundance of resources to meet needs, it starts with generosity and the belief ‘there is enough in this world for all to receive’.

Over the years, I often been mocked for my out-of-the-box thinking around SEND, but just looking at how we have trailed blazed over the last 9 years (i.e. since the start of the SEND Reforms), we have a lot to be thankful for:

  • 2011 – to date Several local authority projects to challenge inefficiency, redesign simpler systems and establish a more conducive and integrated local culture of support
  • 2012 – to date High impact professional networks, including several during #lockdown
  • From 2012 The #TeamADL Provision Review model has been adopted by many as an agile approach to review SEND provision and ensure it is consistent, as well as cohort responsive.  The methodology also ensures everyone has a voice.  This, with other unique CPD packages became an accredited training course in 2020
  • 2012-3 We developed some insights around ‘outcomes-based accountability’ that shaped the SEND Code of Practice 2014/15 (Partners: Optimus Education)
  • 2014-5 Designed and developed the SEND CoP Postcard.  This is still used by many schools and part of teacher training programmes globally
  • 2014-7 Workshops on SEND Finance and reducing the paperwork load. The reducing paperwork and increasing impact is still part of our core work and many schools and leaders have benefited from this. Here is some feedback.
  • 2015 Launch of www.sendreviewportal.net that is all about choice and informed decision making around procurement and commissioning.  On that note, concrete strategies on effective commissioning were shared at The Academies Show in 2017 and have been used by many schools since.  Do look at our SEND Advocates page
  • 2016 We published Time Management book for SENCOs (Partners: Optimus Education) This subsequently evolved into the first SEND Leader Planner in 2018 and subsequent versions in 2019 and 2020
  • 2017 We were privileged to be involved in the SEND ITT Toolkit (Partners: NASBTT and other ITT Providers)
  • 2019 MK SEND Careers Events (Partners: Network Rail, RiX and Natwest).  In the same year, #TeamADL were shortlisted alongside Virgin Media and the BBC for a Disability-Smart Award
  • 2019-2021 Strategic leadership development for those leading in Post 16 (Partners: Derby College)
  • 2020 During lockdown, we provided FREE SEND leader coaching to many schools and settings in the UK and internationally
  • 2020 onward SEND Leaders Appreciation Day (Partners: Hays Education).  You can find many of the stories on Instagram @send-leaders

… and now SEND Leaders Connect (Advanced) with Tappter plus a NEW way of funding resources through a #GiveBack approach. We have connected with Tappter for 5 main reasons: privacy, security, simplicity, connectivity and distraction free. The project has been piloted and scored independently by reviewers. As part of the pilot, we presented our approach to SENCOs and headteachers.

“Our Trust chose to use the SEND Leaders Connect Advance package because it is a simple and effective way to bring together professionals from across our Trust. This includes our SENCOs, where some are very experienced and others newly appointed. The App enables them to ask questions and support each other with advice and resources. It also connects our leadership teams and eventually we will connect our governors, bringing SEND to the forefront. We also chose to use it because it allows us to liaise with other professionals and experts across the region, including experts like Anita. – LH, Director of Education

Are our ideas out of the box? For sure! But we know they make a sustainable difference.  And you know, we know SEND Leadership! Listed above, are only a small selection of the partners we have had the absolute privilege of working with over the years. You can find others on our website.

#TeamADL is committed to ensuring everyone thrives in education, employment, and life. We stand up for people who are different because we are different.

If you would like to find out more about our three-prong approach to reconnecting a fragmented SEND system or anything we are involved in … do please get in touch.  We are excited about the future and the possibilities that lay ahead of us for a better system.  Ultimately, our heart remains focused on ensuing nothing holds the next generation back.  What is your hope for the future?

We have put on an extra meeting on 21st September 2020.  Click here to register.

About Anita Devi

Anita has had an extensive career in education.  Her why is based around the ‘joy of learning’.  As such, she focuses on what enables learners and what hinders them and more importantly, what can she do to improve the system.  Amongst many other roles, Anita leads #TeamADL

To find out more visit www.teamadl.uk