Ensuring a school has the right SEND expertise, resource and capacity to support each child’s individual needs is a complicated but vital task.
Whether a school is a special school, has a specialist unit or is mainstream, there is often a broad range of students with diverse and sometimes conflicting needs.
Learning in Harmony Trust (LiHT) has been developing our SEND strategy to ensure we offer each pupil the most suitable and specialised support. A fundamental part of our ability to build this strategy is being able to draw from the expertise of our JFK Special School.
JFK was rated Outstanding by Ofsted in 2017 and supports our mainstream schools in transforming their SEND provision, and working with JFK staff has shaped the way that we view SEND provisions in mainstream schools.
Our SEND strategy features three key priorities:
Creating an effective and collaborative admissions plan. This looks at the needs of individual students, and not their disability alone. We support parents in placing their children in the best environment for success.
This plan also supports the local authority in signposting students to the right schools, and has created a great opportunity for our Trust to help the local authority make a meaningful difference for SEND children.
Sharing best practice across our family of schools. This is a network of highly trained experts who are able to share best practice, ideas, resources, present case studies and problem-solve as a collective.
A central team of SENCo leaders from JFK and the mainstream schools meet once a week to enable mainstream schools to discuss challenges and seek support. It has led to formal opportunities for professional development, as the network has run its own training sessions, and middle leaders from JFK have worked alongside teachers in mainstream schools to help upskill them.
Establishing specialist classrooms in mainstream settings. The support of JFK has enabled us to expand our specialist provision offers into our mainstream primary schools, through the creation of specialist classrooms.
These settings are an important way of offering pupils exceptional engagement opportunities that can have a huge benefit for a child’s social and emotional development.
Specialist provision in mainstream classrooms
When setting up a specialist classroom, it’s more valuable to recruit a teacher who has the experience to effectively deal with any initial challenges, than appointing a less-experienced teacher from within the school.
These classrooms are not the best fit for every child - some do better in all mainstream classes, while others may thrive in specialist schools. It’s important to focus on the combination of specific needs when determining the mix of pupils.
Teachers must understand why each child is being placed in these classrooms and how it supports their development.
Smaller class sizes are the most effective, with an average of eight students and four adults who are teaching a highly-personalised curriculum. The classroom should include spaces that are designed for pupils with sensory-specific needs.
We also ensure that learning for each child is personalised. A specialist classroom does not mean “one size fits all”. We address this with the careful planning of motivating and purposeful learning activities.
One challenge we faced during the initial set-up of these classrooms was apprehension from parents, which was overcome by building on existing strong relationships, allowing them to express their concerns and addressing these individually.
Parents meet the teacher leading the provision so they can explain her vision for the child, receive feedback and make necessary adaptations.
Sharing our vision
We are now looking to use our experience to open more specialist provision schools to support the most vulnerable children within our region, and working with the local authority to support planning for 2024 admissions to combat the increasing shortage of secondary schools’ spaces for children with SEND.
As part of our wider commitment to improving education nationally, we have been working beyond the Trust to improve opportunities and outcomes for children with SEND.
JFK, as part of the Teaching School Alliance, has undertaken school-to-school outreach work to assist SEND departments through CPD courses and support packages. We are also building a new and innovative model that supports underrepresented cohorts in accessing mainstream secondary settings.
It has been extremely rewarding to be able to leverage our structure and the depth of SEND expertise we have across the Trust to create exceptional learning facilities for these children.
Ashley Eastwood is executive leader at Learning in Harmony Trust.