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.

Recruitment

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.

Activity:

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 www.teamadl.uk

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 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. Here is the link to SEND Leaders Appreciation Day 2021 #SLAD2021 – start nominating!

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

Disability, Leadership, Preparing for Adulthood, SEND

Special educational needs and disability: time to restore a differential diagnosis approach

By Anita Devi

In a previous blog, I have written about synthesis of assessment.  Today, I want to share my thoughts on why differential diagnosis is an important part of supporting children and young people with SEND and their families. To be clear, this is not a debate about the medical model or the social model of inclusion.  It is a conversation about ‘how’ we identify needs accurately, so that we can put the right support in place.  I will use examples from my own professional journey as a SENCO, SEND Advisory Teacher and SEND Consultant to illustrate some key issues.

Differential diagnosis is the process of differentiating between two or more conditions which share similar signs or symptoms. To be effective differential diagnosis requires three key components:

  1. Firstly – everyone round the table has a voice and difference is to be welcomed.  On many occasion, children and young people may present with some symptoms and behaviours in one environment and not in another.  What is relevant here is the difference.  By accepting both observations as correct, we are better placed to consider the environmental factors that are having an effect.  No one voice should be given more weighting than another and where possible, evidence should be sought.  Awhile back I was training panel members in a local authority to make consistent decisions regarding 9.14 & 9.54 of the SEND Code of Practice 2015.  An evidence-based approach is vital for consistency.  In one case that we reviewed, throughout the paperwork practitioners referred to a conversation where the child was said to have a diagnosis of X.  This conversation was repeatedly referred to as the primary need of the child.  It was a medical condition.  Yet, in fact there had been no formal diagnosis.  The comment (and subsequent basis for the plan) arose from anxious parents raising the possibility of this condition.  This possibility condition turned into, “She has …” in the reports and subsequent decisions (to the detriment of the child) were based on that possibility condition. Further investigations revealed the child did not have this condition and any support, intervention or treatment put in place had simply served to delay accurate identification and provision.  How different the story would have been if someone had asked for evidence of the diagnosis.
  2. Symptoms need to be perceived as holistic patterns in the current moment and over time (i.e. historical).  As a SENCO, I devised a form for teachers to record symptoms they were seeing in the classroom and over time / year groups. A symptom is a physical or internal feature indicating a condition or need. This form helped us collectively discuss with parents and understand the child’s needs better.  Too often, it is possible to consider only one or two things and depending on the lens adopted, a label is attached.  Two case studies edify how easy it is to misdiagnose.

Child A was presenting with symptoms that everyone including a private assessor diagnosed as dyslexia.  As a SEND advisory teacher, I met with the parents and ask them questions about Child A’s development history and daily routines.  Child A regularly bumped into things and presented with other co-ordination difficulties that the parents had assumed was Child A being clumsy.  Further investigation revealed Child A had dyspraxia. Whilst there is an overlap between symptoms of dyspraxia and dyslexia; the latter predominantly focuses on a difficulties in learning to read, write and spell.  Therefore, any interventions put in place may have missed other significant areas of need.

Child B was a bright year 5 student, who took part in several community team sports and orally was able to articulate high levels of knowledge and creativity.  The difficulties arose with reading and writing.  Parents engaged the services of a dyslexia specialist, who diagnosed dyslexia and suggested a 10-week intervention programme, that only the specialist could provide.  I undertook a reading test of real and nonsense words.  As Child B read, I noticed erratic eye movement.  Child B’s eyes would jump three letters forward, then two letters back.  A similar patter emerged when reading high frequency words in a sentence. I referred Child B to an eye specialist, who confirmed my observation and Child B was given eye movement corrective glasses. Entering Year 6 (with his glasses), Child B was a quite different student.

3. The third component is possibly the hardest for stakeholders to take on board.  Differential diagnosis works through 5 core thinking skills:

      • analysis
      • interpretation
      • inference
      • deduction
      • problem-solving

Therefore, differential diagnosis requires up-to-date knowledge of research and accepting the possibility ‘of getting it wrong’.  Child C was unable to access the maths curriculum.  Demonstrated ability placed Child C as working three years below his age.  One option would have been to place the child in an intervention group and support development of mathematical foundation skills.  However, the SENCO decided to commission a dynamic assessment test.  This basically assesses cognitive processes, in the moment i.e. as they are happening.  Child C was cognitively age appropriate.  However, a look through the historical records showed Child C had had many supply teachers for maths and as a result had significant ‘gaps’ in learning.  This was not a SEN issue.

As part of the work I do, I am often asked for a good-practice example of an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP) and 5-star examples of well-written outcomes.  I have yet to find one and I have worked across several local authorities.  The issue is the plan has become about form filling, not the connected bigger picture of understanding the child and presenting symptoms.    In one local authority project, I reviewed the Advices written for more than 30 EHCPs.  I also then reviewed the associated plans.  What was apparent was the reports by specialists focused on one or two voices, at the expense of their own professional knowledge.  When I then met these specialists, they then shared with me their reluctance to express their opinion, as it differed to others.  I regularly undertook statutory assessment of pupils and a key part of my report writing was to consolidate conflicting pieces of evidence to clearly discern the child’s needs and then the provision needed to be put in place to meet those needs (sometimes multiple).  On many occasions, less is more meant I had to acutely define a catalyst approach for supporting the child.  The current system (post SEND Reforms) shies away from difference and differing opinions.  I think this is a mistake and as a result, I am not convinced we are identifying needs and provision accurately.  The system is resources-driven, not identification-based from differing evidence-based perspectives.

One of the areas I lead training on most regularly is enabling SEND Leaders to discern ‘why’ an intervention / support is needed and ‘how’ it should be delivered.  The why and how are intrinsically linked.  To discern this knowledge, SEND Leaders need to look beyond the data and look at patterns across several factors. Knowing the why really does change the how.

What is needed for improvement?

I would suggest two factors are needed to drive improvement and ensure a better system for identification.  The first is ‘protected CPD time’ for SEND Leaders.  This is in complete contrast to current SENCO Workload Survey approach and I have written more about this here  The SENCo workload survey, mistakenly focuses on ‘protected work time’.

The second is a recognition and acceptance of difference at all levels.  This needs to be evident within settings and at local authority level. Only then can we begin to discern patterns, environmental factors, and historical issues for accurate identification of needs.

If both were in place, over time we would see a system where open conversations were prevalent and the single goal of ensuring the child progresses becomes the focus.  Naturally, this involves a conversation about defining progression.  However, this is the 21st century; young people and adults with an educational need and/or disability should be able to contribute to society through employment, they should be able to live independent healthy lives and be included in the community.  So, if we are serious about the ‘preparing for adulthood’ outcomes, we have a responsibility to employ a differential diagnostic approach to accurately identify need and the provision needed.  I would be interested in your thoughts, especially if you disagree with me!

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 her many other roles, Anita leads #TeamADL

To find out more visit www.AnitaDevi.com

#Curriculum, #Teaching&Learning, Disability

Scaffolding support in primary PE curriculum for SEND pupils into adulthood

Interview with Jonathan Bhowmick (JB)

With a renewed focus on curriculum this year, Anita Devi (AD) caught up with Actions Mats to ask more about how we support pupils with special educational needs and disability (SEND) in Physical Education (PE), as part of the inclusion agenda and active lifestyles.

AD: Hi Jonathan, thank you for your time today.  Tell us a little about yourself.

JB: Hi Anita Well, I am the designer and founder of Action Mats. My background is playground design and working with a school, I was asked by the headteacher to design a solution for engaging pupils for whom English is an additional language (EAL).  Hence Action Mats were born.  The mats are a unique PE and active-learning resource created for children between 4 and 11 years old.  The thinking behind Action Mats is to create fitness stations.  These can used in multiple configurations.  They enable ALL pupils to engage in the PE curriculum as well as participate in team building challenges and competitive games. What we have also discovered since from user feedback is Action Mats work well for pupils with a special educational need and disability.  In effect, we have fulfilled our AIM in creating Action Inclusive Mats.

AD: How long have you been operating?

JB: Action Mats was launched in October 2017 and we are now in over one hundred schools in four countries. They were originally created for EAL pupils.  Our vision is for them engage in the lessons and so feel part of the school community.  The unique feature of Action Mats is the simple, yet fun, instructional graphics and symbols printed on each mat. Children of all ages, from any country, can understand these graphics without the need for explanation or translation. This empowers children, giving them the ability to work independently or collaboratively, without the need for teacher/ adult input.  Action Mats are active members of Youth Sports Trust, the Association for Physical Education and UK Active.

Action Mats 1

AD: Did you test the mats with the children?

JB: We tested the Action Mats quite extensively.  In late September 2019, we ran a new trial session at a primary school in Hertfordshire to test our active-learning mats, which incorporate the literacy and numeracy packs.  Thirty-two children in year 4 (8-year olds) tested our level 2 challenge jigsaw race mats.  Each challenge includes sixteen activities.  The activity was delivered as a race.  So, the pupils carry random pieces jigsaw pieces over a course of fitness stations to reach the ‘build zone’. In the Build-Zone, pupils must connect the piece they carry to existing pieces already there. The class was a mixed ability group.

AD: Sounds like quite a high-pace activity?

JB:  It is.  However, from a designer’s point of view, the successful completion of the jigsaw is rather secondary. The objective is for pupils to engage fully in the exercises on each mat. We want our children to be active and see sport, as an important lifestyle choice. A secondary objective is for the whole team to coalesce in the jigsaw build zone to assemble the pieces as a team, collectively. The game fosters teamwork on two levels, during the race section and working together to achieve a common goal.  Ideally before the other team.

AD:  What did you learn from this new trial?

JB:  I was really pleased with how successful the game was. The rationale behind the idea worked perfectly and, as the photos testify, the children were completely engrossed in the challenge.  In particular, the children shared they preferred the numeracy tasks linked to Action Mats and found it helped their concentration.  School leadership commented, “We found the sense of purpose linked to PE activities helpful or children’s learning and we believe teachers could use this accessible resource in many different ways, to engage the children”. As a follow-up, Action Mats was invited to run an active session at a PE Conference in Worcestershire at which we invited twenty PE Teachers to participate in the same game.  There was some initial reluctance, but once the teachers got into it, they found it more challenging than they had originally thought.  Their competitive side also surfaced.  We found their feedback useful.

Winning is important to me, but what brings me real joy is the experience of being fully engaged in whatever I’m doing – Phil Jackson

Action Mats 2

AD: The jigsaw appears to also help the slow down rest period, after an intense period of activity.  Is that how they were designed?  What is the recommended warm up to the fitness stations?

JB: In this scenario, the objective was to race the other team.  However, it is possible to use the jigsaw for downtime.  The Action Mat stations are used for the warm-up through a circuit-based activity.

AD: Can you give us an example where the mats have benefited children with special educational needs and disability (SEND)?

JB: Action Mats are be used by some special schools and we have anecdotal feedback about impact for SEND in mainstream schools. This is an are we are currently developing.

Sports England 2018

(Source: Sport England, 2018)

AD: London 2012, enabled us as a nation to take sport to a new level. Our pledge was to “Inspire a generation”. Yet, in 2018 Sport England reported just over 40% of children in England do an average of more than 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Our Active Lives Children and Young People Survey (2018), which was the first of its kind carried out by Ipsos MORI, showed that around 3 million children (43.3%) lead active lives.  However, of that group, only 1.2 million (17.5%) are meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines of more than 60 minutes of activity a day, every day of the week.  So, there is clearly a need to do more. The report also concluded an insignificant difference in the amount of sport and physical activity that takes place inside school, compared to activity levels outside of school.  Both have a critical role to play. With 22% of children active for at least 30 minutes per day outside of school, while 28% of children do so in school.  How do you think Action Mats can contribute to the national agenda for children of ‘being active and staying healthy’?

Life need not have limits – Richard Whitehead, a British athlete and Paralympian

JB: Action Mats can be delivered through structured teacher-led pedagogy.  The mats come with easy-to-follow activity cards.  Action Mats can also have high impact through learner-led activities.  So, the mats cover both differentiation and personalisation.  In some schools, Action Mats have promoted Family Fitness Sessions, where parents/carers join their children for stay healthy exercise sessions.  This helps promote good family relationships and positive role models, as well active lifestyles outside school.  Action Mats are portal and on suitable external surfaces can be used outside, in the fresh air.

Sports England 2017

(Source: Sports England, 2017)

AD: At #TeamADL, our vision is ‘Everyone thriving in education, employment and life’.  We were therefore concerned when we read in the 2015/16 survey 51% of adults with three or more impairments are inactive compared with 21% of those without a disability. So, my final question to you, what can we do differently to increase activity for those with impairments?

JB: Take the principles of Action Mats and apply them widely.  In other words, simplicity, accessibility and inclusivity.  Richard Whitehead, a British athlete and Paralympian once said, “Life need not have limits”.  This is so true of the philosophy of Action Mats.  The mats are enablers for children to stretch themselves that little bit further, with the hope it becomes a lifestyle choice for their adulthood.  Do check out our video and hear what teachers and PE specialists have said.

AD: Thank you Jonathan once again for your time.  We wish you the very best going forward.  Keep us posted of any updates!

To find out more about Action Mats visit: https://www.actionmats.co.uk/

Chrispina Wilson from #TeamADL is also actively involved in supporting healthy lifestyles and reducing obesity for all children and young people. Contact us to find out more.