How independent schools can deliver better SEND

Independent schools are in an unusual position when it comes to special education needs, says Elizabeth Stanley

Children, young people and their parents and carers are at the very centre of reforms to special educational needs and disability support, which encompasses ages up to 25 and includes support from education, health and social care.

Schools have moral, ethical and legal duties to ensure that children and young people with SEND are included within their settings, but independent schools in particular can find themselves in an unusual position when it comes to supporting these students. As independent schools do not have the same levels of funding and direct access to support from local authorities as maintained schools and academies, they are often in the position where they cannot as easily afford to outsource, for example access to specialist advice or Educational Psychologist Reports. There is much greater reliance on in-house expertise and knowledge.

This reliance on in-house resource can work well for some, but can lead to a piecemeal approach, with no one person assuming overall responsibility for SEND and the school struggling to keep up with the knowledge base required in what is currently a fast-paced policy landscape. I have seen how this can lead to negative feedback around support for students with additional needs from Ofsted during inspection visits.

I recently had a positive experience with an independent girl’s school, with ages ranging from one to 16 years; it was not particularly well funded and was fee-paying. To its credit, the school had an incredibly inclusive approach and welcomed students with additional needs, though in percentage terms the number of students in this category was low. The staff were enthusiastic to learn more about how to support students with SEND, in order to make progress.

Wraparound Partnership was called in to support them in preparation for an Ofsted inspection, with a specific focus on special needs provision, processes and systems robustness.

The school identified students with SEN based on primary information, which on some occasions they did not receive, meaning they needed to request outside assistance in identifying any suspected special needs. A quick fix was being able to advise the school on how to access that support for free in some cases, as well as how to engage with parents and carers better.

Using an ‘Assess, Plan, Do and Review’ cycle I was able to establish that the school had good systems and provision in place, but was lacking in its ability to self-evaluate and effectively track and monitor whether students with special needs made progress. Using this approach we could see how the school identified and assessed students who may need additional support, including the use of a SEND register. However, whilst they had suitable provisions in place to meet a range of needs, their procedures required improvement, which we were able to deliver by mapping their processes against the planning and review cycle. We also ensured they had fully-costed provisions for each student.

In terms of the ‘do’ stage of the cycle we could see that, in light of the statutory guidance, a new system was required for tracking progress of students who were disabled and/or had medical or special educational needs, one that also clarified the entry and exit criteria. These areas for development had implications in the ‘review’ part of the cycle.

In consultation with the SEN team, we also developed a SWOT analysis to help set the priorities for the school by identifying areas that needed immediate, medium and longer-term attention. This was then followed up with a whole-staff training day to make sure everyone was up to speed.

The Ofsted inspection resulted in a good grade for the SEN team – not necessarily because they were doing an outstanding job at the time, but because they were aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They had a clear plan in place to make significant improvements to provision for those with special needs. I have been invited back to host a progress review in a year’s time and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the changes have made a tangible difference.

Elizabeth Stanley is founder and director of Wraparound Partnership, a social enterprise working to help people with SEND reach their full potential.

www.wraparoundpartnership.org/about-us    

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