In April 2018, nasen was awarded the DfE SEND Schools Workforce Contract which will be delivered through the Whole School SEND Consortium. Dr Adam Boddison, chief executive of nasen, examines what the new contract aims to achieve
The Whole School SEND (WSS) Consortium is a growing community of practice of more than 4,500 schools, settings and providers that are committed to improving outcomes for children and young people with SEND. The consortium is built on the premise that much of the knowledge, skills and resources needed already exist within the system and that the answers can be unlocked through effective networking and collaboration between providers, schools, settings, families, children and young people.
The consortium was founded in 2016 by Anita Kerwin-Nye and was originally hosted by the London Leadership Strategy, building on their expertise in school improvement.
In January 2018, Dr Adam Boddison became the Chair of WSS and the consortium is now hosted by nasen with strategic partner University College London’s Institute of Education’s Centre for Inclusive Education.
The consortium represents an important alliance at a critical stage of the SEND reforms with the transition phase now completed and policy being developed to embed the reforms.
There is general agreement that the workforce is not yet where it needs to be in order to realise fully the ambitions of the Children and Families Act 2014 and the work of the consortium is currently focused on this area.
To date, WSS activity has been centred on embedding a reflective, review-based approach in schools through use of the SEND review tool and a suite of other review tools, including a MAT-level review guide and a SEND Governance Review guide.
As a direct result, WSS has been growing and developing a community of practice of schools and settings who are committed to prioritising SEND. Currently, more than 4,000 schools have pledged to prioritise SEND and inclusion and this number is growing daily.
SEND Schools Workforce contract
In April 2018, nasen was awarded the DfE SEND Schools Workforce contract worth £3.4m over two years and the delivery of this contract will be through the Whole School SEND consortium. The contract has four broad aims. The first is to drive education institutions to prioritise SEND within their CPD and school improvement plans including facilitating greater links between mainstream and special schools.
The second aim is to equip schools to identify and meet their training needs in relation to SEND.
The next aim is to build the skills of teachers working in mainstream and special schools and of SENCOs and teachers of classes of children and young people with sensory impairments by promoting best practice.
The final aim of the contract is to identify and respond to any gaps in the training and resources available to schools.
Underpinning these four aims are a number of key principles. Firstly, WSS will continue to grow the community of practice to reach 10,000 schools and settings by March 2020. To date, much of the work in growing the community of practice has taken place at a national scale, but through this contract WSS has been able to appoint 16 regional SEND leaders who can look specifically at linking together existing networks within their regions. All of the regional SEND leaders are school-based and are seconded out of school part-time to undertake these roles, similar to the model used for National Leaders of Education.
This regional school‑led approach also demonstrates one of the ways in which WSS is putting money from this contract directly back into the school system. Where the DfE have funded activity, WSS will continue to ensure that this available to schools for free.
Secondly, the SEND Schools Workforce contract will build on the previous work of the consortium, which includes sustaining the focus on a review-based, reflective methodology. By supporting high quality reviews and reflective practice, the intention is that schools and settings will increasingly see the rationale for prioritising SEND and inclusion. However, in creating this demand in the system, we need to be mindful that other schools and providers should be ready and willing to offer support where necessary.
This is where the model of a consortium of providers working in partnership with the wider community of practice can be successful as both supply and demand is increased within the system.
Thirdly, the importance of evidence-based provision and a fuller understanding of the drivers, supply and demand for SEND CPD is crucial for the work of the consortium to be effective. For this reason, there is a significant element of research and evaluation activity underpinning with work of WSS.
The consortium’s activity
The full list of activity to be delivered by the consortium is too lengthy to be included here, but here are the key highlights.
The first is the establishment of a SEND Index. This six-monthly state-of-the-nation report will be produced to provide some key statistical and contextual information about SEND and inclusion in schools in England based on data from the WSS consortium and the wider community of practice. This will allow us to track key trends and changes over time and to share them with policy makers and the wider sector.
The SEND Gateway will see further development. It was originally DfE-funded and designed to be a one-stop-shop for the SEND community and this contract will bring together research, resources and best practice from across the sector, including the development of a new platform to host the National SENCO Forum.
The suite of review guides developed to date will continue to be available for anybody to download for free and we will be offering reviewer training for our newer guides. We will also be exploring how well the existing guides work in foundation stage and 6th form settings.
There will also be a number of free conferences hosted by WSS, including research SEND and knowledge exchange conferences for special and mainstream schools. Similarly, we will be providing open-access to a selection of peer-reviewed SEND research as well as a developing a digital induction pack for SENCOs.
There will be a review of the learning outcomes of the National SENCO Award as well as a review of mandatory qualifications for specialist impairments.
A programme board has been formed to provide governance to work of WSS in relation to the SEND Schools Workforce contract. The board will include representation from schools, providers and parents and will be chaired by somebody with current or contemporary school leadership experience, which is again in line with the school-led approach of WSS.
If you would like to become more involved with WSS or nasen, there are a number of ways that you can get involved. You may wish to become a member of nasen (www.nasen.org.uk/why-join) or you can join the WSS community of practice (www.wholeschoolsend.com/join‑consortium).
You can also visit the SEND Gateway to download the suite of review guides for free, including white-label versions
(www.sendgateway.org.uk/send-review). The success of this work is reliant on both the reach and quality of the community of practice, so please do feel empowered to become more involved by sharing your expertise and by sharing the work of Whole School SEND more broadly through your own local networks to encourage as many schools and providers and possible to take part. It’s time to join up the sector.