When I joined Howbridge as headteacher in September 2019, I had already identified aspects of our SEND provision that needed attention. So when we received a ‘Requires Improvement’ grade from Ofsted, I was hardly surprised.
One of the main reasons inspectors gave us this judgement, and not worse, was because they agreed with my self-evaluation of the school.
The inspection also helped me realise that this wouldn’t be a quick fix. It was going to be a marathon not a sprint, so it was important for us to stay positive and patient in order to see noticeable change.
As Ofsted confirmed what I had already suspected, it was easier to keep a positive mindset throughout this process. If we wanted to turn things around, we needed to stay focused on long-term goals rather than short-term solutions, which is why it was crucial to collaborate with my new team and put a comprehensive plan in place.
Improving our culture
After the Ofsted inspection, we knew we had to change our processes and culture to ensure best practice. We started working on our relationships with parents and carers and becoming more open-minded with receiving support and help from specialists.
We asked for advice from anyone we could. We began with the inclusion partner from our local authority, Essex County Council, then we invited the specialist leader of education from The Vine Schools Trust to observe and advise. We also asked school nurses and specialist teachers for advice and began upskilling our team around effective support for all pupils.
One of the most impactful decisions was to appoint an inclusion lead who, as well as monitoring our progress, supports me as an assistant head. Around 18 months without a SENCo was challenging, so having the inclusion lead in place helped drive change within the school. And now that we have a SENCo, we can deliver training programmes for staff that cover all aspects of SEND.
Quality teaching first
In order to kickstart meaningful change, I wanted to focus on our day-to-day classroom support. We felt that significantly reducing classroom disruption for SEND pupils was a key priority, alongside enhancing the quality of our SEND delivery.
First, we decided to bring in regular assessments and reviews of how we deliver our support, which allowed us to identify issues and make improvements collaboratively.
We established there was a need for additional staff training. Around 16% of the country’s pupils are SEND pupils, which makes adapting delivery to meet the needs of everyone a significant challenge. Continuing professional development on SEND topics is a crucial part of ensuring our teachers can keep up with this demand.
We were able to keep SEND pupils in classrooms for longer by providing bespoke training and encouraging our LSAs to have a more hands-on role in lessons. Our LSA training has been based around a two-pronged approach with a particular focus on trauma perception practice and core subjects interventions. All the LSAs have the necessary training to ensure our pupils have access to the appropriate support during each school day. Our training interventions and teaching initiatives in English and maths have allowed us to support children with very specific difficulties to continue making progress in the classroom.
We’ve recently started using a new teaching initiative, Numicon, which is a published mathematics approach to teaching for particular SEND requirements that has proven to be incredibly successful in the classroom. These interventions are reviewed regularly and designed to stop pupils from missing out on valuable classroom time.
The LSAs aren’t fixed to one particular classroom or year group; they work across the entire cohort so that the whole school benefits from their expertise and what they can teach us, as well as supporting the children.
Making physical changes
It has been our aim to enhance our school so that we could also meet the physical needs of our SEND pupils. We recently installed ramps and built a second accessible toilet. We hope this will further reduce any barriers restricting children from enjoying their time at school.
We also have a quiet area in the playground which SEND pupils can visit when they’re feeling overwhelmed during breaks and lunchtime. This area isn’t directly on the playground but is still in sight of it; this way, pupils feel included at break and lunchtime but not isolated from others.
Depending on their EHCP or SEND plans, some children have one-to-one time with staff. These sessions usually occur during our nurture and gardening clubs. These clubs give children who have social, emotional and mental health challenges the opportunity to practise their social skills by interacting in a smaller peer group. Activities such as board games, Lego, marble runs, drawing and colouring are set up by staff to encourage social interaction. They also provides a space for pupils who find the playground a tricky place to negotiate, particularly those that struggle with social interaction when not under adult supervision. We allow the children to come and go from nurture club as they please, but our staff do direct certain pupils towards participation if appropriate.
Our future goals
In line with the government’s most recent review of the SEND green paper, Howbridge is committed to delivering an inclusive practice where our SEND pupils remain in the classroom and have access to the entire curriculum.
We’ve already taken several effective measures, including working closely with parents, carers and stakeholders, but we’re still on a journey to deliver an inclusive SEND provision and to be the very best for the children. At present, if there are special SEND needs for a pupil, we start liaising with the relevant infant school and parents up to a year in advance so that our assets can be in place and organised ready for their arrival. As a junior school, we don’t have long to build on that relationship with parents and pupils, and have to get in as early as possible to ensure best quality practice for our SEND pupils.
- a more structured approach to delivering a curriculum for SEND pupils
- keeping SEND children in the classroom
- development of an all-inclusive culture leading to more learning and progress
In summary: what we learnt
- Audit the current status of your school, warts and all. Whilst this may be painful, be honest with yourself and your staff. This way, you can pinpoint the significant challenges and prioritise them.
- Be clear about the quick fixes and make them positive things that people will notice. Increasing visibility will make it easier to spot changes and improvements throughout the school. These need some careful thought; a few may be inviting parents and carers in for coffee mornings for a chat or reviewing the effectiveness of your staff’s paperwork.
- Make sure your vision for your SEND offering is clear. Making links throughout your entire school can increase the clarity of your ambition. For example, if your subject leads and staff adopt ‘equity not equality’ this will ensure SEND pupils are included in the classroom and give them access to the entire curriculum.
- Consider supplementing excellent teaching and classroom support with activities that will provide a safe and quiet space for children to develop their social and motor skills.
- Be clear with your staff on the plan and where you expect to be in three or six months. Remembering changes and improvements during staff meetings and why these changes are happening is an excellent way to keep progress child-centred.
Lisa Dale is headteacher of Howbridge CE Primary School, in Witham, Essex