Now – more than ever – is a really important time to be a SEND governor, a time to speak up and be curious

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Anne Heavey, Director of Whole School Send.

After months of disruption, and now new and different ways of working, children and young people with special needs must not be forgotten.

We’ve been speaking to SEND expert, Anne Heavey, about why SEND governors need to champion SEND pupils in their schools this year.

Anne’s day job is Director of Whole School Send but she’s also a trustee at a local MAT and special needs governor at a local primary school in Bedford.

So Anne, what should SEND governors be doing at the moment? 

Well a number of things. The first is making sure the SEND ‘lens’ is applied to everything

So for example, when you’re looking at the construction of bubbles, when you’re looking at how things are going – there’s just that constant, present line of inquiry, “...and how is this working for our pupils with special needs?

And within that, finding out about pupils at SEN support level as well as those with Education, Health and Care plans. Many SEND governors will have noticed that lots of pupils with SEN support were just completely absent from the narrative last term.

(SEN support is for pupils who are identified by their school as having an additional need which can’t be met by the regular curriculum. A SENDCo will then decide how to help and may plan for a specific intervention. If a child needs more support than this they may be referred (by school or a doctor) to be assessed by the local authority for an Education, Health and Care plan. This formal plan sets out their needs and how those needs will be met).

There was a lot of information about supporting pupils with EHCPS last term – but that group of children identified as SEN support, which is just over a million children, didn’t get a look in. A SEND governor can change that in their school by asking the questions and being curious.

Going into the specifics, a SEND governor needs to know how the school is adapting existing SEND processes and provision in light of COVID-19. One of the things I’m keeping an eye on is how we actually identify pupils with SEND when we have so little of the evidence we’d usually rely on. We’ve lost our SATs data, we’ve lost our statutory data, our attendance records will be all over the place, drawing on work completed during the last 6 months will be very difficult – and setting up new assessments will have an increased time frame. I think showing curiosity and support for getting effective identification in this new context is really important.

That’s a really good point. Schools will now be more reliant on classroom teachers to work with and feedback to SENDcos, and that needs to have been a well-trodden path? 

Yes otherwise children won’t get a look in. So it’s about thinking “How are we using the everyday systems to consider if a child has special educational needs?”

Conversely, one of the risks we’re keeping an eye on is an inappropriate use of the SEND register. Identifying things that are very much related to COVID-19 as a special need. For example – gaps in learning might not be to do with any inherent special educational needs but just the fact a child wasn’t able to access high quality learning at home.

There’s also been a lot of talk about a rise in social, emotional and mental health needs. Are these special educational needs that need to be supported through the SEND register or should supporting these young people be part of a whole school response which focuses on a healthy and safe return for everyone.

I’d be really looking with your SENDCo at any identification patterns and I’d be curious about any substantial changes to the previous year, particularly around social, emotional and mental health. What we don’t want to do is inappropriately identify pupils that simply suffered from the disruption but are actually best supported through excellent teaching.

I guess the issue this leads on to is SEND funding – the funding pot just isn’t big enough to cover additional things?

Yes so we need to – as much as possible – through our universal offer, through high-quality teaching and through excellent pastoral care – preserve our SEND resources for the pupils who need that targeted intervention.

Another question to ask your SENDCo and senior leaders – linked to how children are being identified – is “What is the evidence base for the interventions you’re using with your SEN support cohort and how do you know they work?”

If they can’t answer those questions, you need to ask why they’re deploying interventions if they don’t know the anticipated impact and the rationale for using them. Often it’s simply a case of what’s to-hand, or what was heard about on the grapevine.

Is that what you’d consider to be a really good quality SEND offer – a strong evidence base for interventions?

I think evidence can be really challenging in this sphere because contexts vary so much and individual learners are unique. A child with a diagnosis of autism or dyslexia is totally unique and you can’t generalise.

But there should be a very clear rationale and expected impact of any intervention, ideally evidence – so if you’re deploying a breakfast catch-up club and you don’t know what the targets for that young person are and you don’t even have a time frame – is it really a targeted intervention? Have you really thought about the impact it will have on that young person’s learning or happiness? Or is it a bit of filler because you’re not sure what else to do. You don’t want to be slotting the children into the interventions. Something I worry about is just because something is easy, and you have it to hand, doesn’t mean it’s right.

Do you think a dialogue with parents is important at this time too?

Absolutely. As a SEND governor, I’d be looking at being the advocate for SEND across the governing board. Making sure there is a SEND ‘lens’ applied to any direct engagement with parents. For example, if there is a survey to parents, making sure there are specific questions around SEND provision. 

An interesting question – and here you need to be careful not to overburden the SENDCo – is to ask how many families of children at SEND support level have had that one-to-one contact with the school? It’s something that can slip off the radar if SENDCos are up against it, if they’re fire-fighting. So actually monitoring and reporting on the percentage of parents who’ve had that regular contact with the school is important.

I also think the SEND governor could be extremely curious about how any work being set for completion at home is being made accessible for pupils with SEND. That’s been really worrying –  that there hasn’t always been differentiation or additional support provided. I would strongly encourage class teachers to continue to ‘own’ the learning of that young person or young child, with the support of the SENDco and other colleagues such as teaching assistants. But how have we made that learning as inclusive as possible at home? That could be an interesting discussion, because that’s hard – particularly for secondary schools.

The SEND governor can be really, really powerful in prioritising SEND in the school. I would strongly encourage all SEND governors to embrace the opportunity they have. It’s a real privilege and we know that when we get that privilege right it makes such a difference for those children, young people and their families. It’s needed now more than ever.

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