A group effort
Kate Browning explains how schools can work together to respond to the SEND reforms
Redrafting the SEN policy is a vital task for schools this year. This policy is the most important document that a school develops when determining how it will embed the principles and prescriptions of the new Code in day-to-day practice in order to realise the aspirations of the reforms for children and young people with special educational needs and their families. Given the importance of this task and the fact that it is very likely to be on every headteacher’s to-do list, the Countesthorpe Family of Schools in South Leicestershire decided to make the commitment to produce a joint SEN policy. Ensuring continuity in policy aims and objectives across the geographical area was felt to be important to build the confidence of parents of pupils with SEN. The Countesthorpe Family of Schools benefits from an already well-established and committed SENCO group led by Tracy Withers, Headteacher of Cosby Primary School. The group consists of both experienced SENCOs, those who have been in post for a few years and four new SENCOs currently undertaking or just completing the National Award for SEN Co-ordination.
The redrafting process
The SENCO group was allocated four half days over four weeks to complete this task. A local SEN adviser was asked by the headteachers to facilitate the group’s work and to provide support, challenge and technical advice throughout the process. The structure of the meetings involved using an existing policy which was then split into sub-heading sections, each section being given to a SENCO pair to consider, discuss and redraft using the nasen helpsheet for reference. Amendments were then taken away and collated by the SEN adviser, ready to be shared at the beginning of the next session by the wider group. At this point, questions and debates ensued to ensure clarity of both principle and practice that was truly and accurately reflected in the final rewrite. The final draft policy was then taken away by each SENCO, back to their own schools for further consideration and reflection by the school staff, governors and, most importantly, parents.
Benefits of the approach
The benefits of this collaborative endeavour extended far beyond the completion of the task. For both experienced and new SENCOs alike, a new SEND Code of Practice can temporarily shake professional confidence, so this collaborative approach provided a supportive forum where discussion and debate could take place and good practice could be shared. It is fair to say that most SENCOs feel it has been a challenge to get their own thoughts in order regarding the expectations and refreshed ways of working, let alone be confident enough to drive the strategic lead on reforms for staff in school. However, Anne, one of the group’s most experienced SENCOs, states, ‘I am beginning to feel that I have more confidence to work with class teachers, helping them understand their role in making sure all the pupils, including those with SEND, get the best possible experience of learning.’ Luckily, this group was able to hit the ground running with this endeavour as they already had an existing effective professional SENCO network with the Family of Schools. This association has grown stronger through the process, as Vanessa, one of the new SENCOs, remarks, ‘We are now in regular contact with one another, which enables us to share ideas, questions and resources and to discuss and share other issues such as the local offer and education, health and care plan writing.’ Kirstin, a SENCO in her second year, also reflects, ‘It has brought the local schools together, which echoes the ethos of the new Code of Practice with its strong emphasis on partnership.’
Where are they now?
Well, this dynamic SENCO group doesn’t sit still for long! They have already begun to make headway in reviewing the range of assessment materials to ensure that their schools have the tools and expertise to identify and address needs quickly and effectively. Tina, one of the group’s SENCOs sums up, ‘As a group, we now have a greater coherence, mutual trust and an openness in sharing best practice. This inevitably benefits the children in our care.’
THANKS TO THE GROUP
Kate would like to thank the headteachers and SENCOs of the Countesthorpe Family of Schools, in particular:
- Tina Holmes
- Vanessa Toon
- Kirstin Rudge
- Alison Cunningham
- Anne Wilson
- Maxine Young
- Sarah McHugh
- Clare Adams.
Kate Browning is an educational associate of nasen specialising in school improvement for SEN. Kate has over 10 years’ experience of delivering training and providing support for schools.