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Could Virtual Conferences Fill the Gap in Your CPD Provision?

November 1, 2019, 6:05 GMT+1
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  • Sal McKeown looks at whether ‘virtual conferences’ could provide heads with affordable SEND training
Could Virtual Conferences Fill the Gap in Your CPD Provision?

In June this year, headteachers warned of a crisis in special needs provision. The NAHT’s ‘Empty Promises’ survey found that 94% of headteachers felt it had become harder to meet the demands for SEND support, compared with 2017 (see Respondents spoke of overstretched teachers having to address the needs of children yet to undergo SEND assessments they were entitled to, alongside expectations that the schools in question manage said demand on ever smaller budgets.

We’ve since learned that there’s to be a new review into the SEND support system and more money for SEND provision in 2020/21, to the tune of £700m – but those problems won’t disappear. Teacher retention remains an ongoing issue, with schools having lost significant numbers of staff and TAs possessing valuable SEND expertise.

Expect training to be at a premium, due to the government now wanting all new teachers to receive enhanced training in behaviour and classroom management at the start of their careers. At the same time, Ofsted’s new inspection framework has placed more emphasis on inclusion, wellbeing, quality of the curriculum and behaviour.

Former headteacher and ex-CEO of nasen, Lorraine Petersen OBE, is keenly aware of the pressures headteachers are facing with respect to SEND training: “Budgets will still be tight, and headteachers won’t have the money to cover conference fees and travel costs. Sending one member of staff to an event, and relying on them to cascade information in after-school CPD sessions, just isn’t going to work.”

As a result, new training models are starting to emerge, one of the most interesting being the ‘specialist virtual conference’. These aren’t just webinars, but instead offer day-length CPD programmes that can be accessed live on the day itself or afterwards from home, school or another venue.

Dale Pickles is managing director of B Squared – a company specialising in assessment, evidence and tracking for pupils with SEND. In his view, “We have to raise the priority of SEND in schools, so training has to be affordable, accessible and easy to share with other professionals.”

Having embraced the virtual conference model, B Squared is due to hold its next VSEND Conference on November 8th 2019. Running from 9.15am to 4.15pm, it will consist of 12 sessions and feature contributions on the topic of SEND policy from, among others, behaviour expert Fintan O’Regan, Pat Bullen from the National Development Team for Inclusion and former nasen head, Jane Friswell. Other sessions will cover leadership, mental health, school refusal and working with families. Participation in the conference will cost schools £60, and include access to all slides, materials and videos.

“This is going to be a tough year for headteachers,” adds Lorraine Petersen. ‘They cannot just delegate responsibility for children with SEND to the SENCo – they need to train staff in-house and make sure everyone is up to speed with changes to SEND.”

For more details regarding the B Squared VSEND conference, visit