Our thanks to Pepe Erskine, Holy Trinity School, Crawley for hosting the Inclusion forum and writing this blog. It serves us well to remember Inclusion is increasingly a feature of a school’s performance measures and inspected judgements both in their own right (Closing the Gap, British Values, SMSC, Personal Development, attendance, exclusion, destinations data) but also in the wider support for students embarking on new courses with greater rigour, content and high stakes testing. At a time of so much change, ‘inclusion’ has never mattered more. Presentations from this forum are included at the end of this blog.
Running strongly through three very different presentations given in the final WSDN Forum of the year were strands which echo this year’s WSDN theme: values led leadership in a climate of high stakes accountability. All three presenters spoke of providing an education with highest expectations for every child, and how these expectations may best be realised through an education which addresses emotional as well as academic needs. An experience which is sensitive to students’ social and cultural contexts and which allows them to reach beyond the initial limitations. They equally spoke on the challenge of developing robust provision with accountability systems that acknowledge and report on the impact of the ‘soft’ interventions alongside quantifiable academic progress data.
The forum opened with Yvonne Watkins from the Bourne Community College speaking on Pupil Premium: Ensuring Successful Outcomes. Yvonne’s detailed, wide-ranging presentation reminded us of the importance of setting ambitious goals for all students, whilst being attentive to which subsections of our vulnerable groups are likely to underachieve and why. She explored our current and projected strategies for addressing underachievement and closing the gap. The centrality of early identification, followed by high quality teaching and learning, 1-2-1, small group and whole class, emerged very strongly from this – no surprises there maybe but Yvonne also emphasised the importance of systematic CPD; thorough staff training to ensure all relevant staff understand and can deliver agreed approaches effectively. She reminded us of the need to record all interventions funded by Pupil Premium and to track their impact, ideally through an audit trail that should be on display on the school website. The more detail, the better. Don’t forget to record and assess the impact of the ‘wider’ curriculum such as enrichment opportunities, personal, learning and thinking skills interventions, or life skills mentoring that PP may fund. If you are spending money on it, you need to be ready to account for why, and the difference it makes. Evidence does not all have to be in the form of progress tables, useful though these are. Don’t shy away from case study evidence, and/ or student voice surveys or interviews. Finally, Yvonne encouraged us to use new Curriculum freedoms to ‘Give a whole education’ that addresses the needs of the whole child; and to be prepared to work with families and the wider community to achieve this. Anecdotal evidence from delegates suggests recent Ofsted visits have focused on ‘soft’ as well as ‘hard’ data and interventions, which seems a step forward and we hope, may even be indicative of a more holistic and balanced approach from our Inspectorate.
Building on this theme of the wider inclusion Curriculum, Sarah Edwards and Hannah Kinchin-Frost then led a fascinating session on the application of Mindfulness practice in schools, illustrated by a case study of a project Hannah has run at the Weald this year. The session, neatly titled “Mind Full or Mindful?” opened with a reflection on what Mindfuness is and isn’t (its secular; not religious) This was followed by a practical demonstration of ‘Mindful’ breathing and centring, which, judging from the delegates’ responses, made an immediate positive impact on their own well-being. Sarah shared insights from the SSAT Mind the Gap Conference which offer a research based rationale for exploring Mindful approaches with students and staff. Growing levels of anxiety, stress in a lifestyle where it is increasingly difficult to switch off from technology and social media, are affecting students and staff’s ability to be self-aware and function fully effectively academically or personally. Mindful practice effectively ‘declutters’ thought processes, allowing a calmer, more centred approach which can lead to better focus, concentration and achievement. Hannah and Sarah were however careful to provide a health warning about the introduction of Mindfulness practice and approaches. It’s not a blanket solution or cure-all. Nor is it for everyone, staff or students, and needs to be rolled out carefully. In the case of the Weald, Hannah ran taster sessions for staff, followed by an ‘opt in’ for interested staff to be trained to use the approaches with classes or small groups. Although it initially, in students’ words, ‘freaked them out’ to encounter receptiveness and silence, Mindful approaches have been well received by students across the ability range. Some students took the ideas home to share with parents. In the Weald study, it definitely passed the Oliver Twist test – students asked for more. Sarah and Hannah presented a persuasive case that if used judiciously Mindfulness can offer a powerful contribution to high quality provision for personal development, behaviour, and welfare.
Our final session was presented by Emma Waldron, Barrister in Personal Injury and Education Law and a Governor at Manor Green College in Crawley. Emma started with the reminder the new legislation is vast; enough to fill two lever arch files when printed out and in an hour and a quarter she could afford us no more than a whistle-stop tour of the headlines. She drew our attention to two websites – The Special Needs Jungle and IPSEA which are both aimed at parents but are useful ‘go to’ sites for educational professionals, parents and legal professionals alike and which will help flesh out some of the detail inevitably left out of an overview presentation. Emma then took us through key aspects of the 2014 Children and Families Act and the new SEND Regulations, providing an impressively lucid and accessible overview of complex legislation in just over an hour. She emphasised that as well as placing the child firmly at the centre and ensuring integrated provision from Health, Education and Social Care providers, there is an expectation of the highest possible quality provision and outcomes so that young people ‘achieve the best possible educational or other outcomes’ what Emma termed a ‘Rolls Royce’ service for all young people. As yet there is no case-law to help define what ‘other outcomes’ may be. Concerns were raised by delegates that despite the emphasis on ‘integrated’ provision, once again schools were often left carrying the can for students with complex needs. Emma’s response was that the key term is ‘best endeavours’ within the finances available, and to ensure schools continue to liaise with County co-ordinators. No school should run the risk of providing complex care without properly trained staff. The ‘new’ Personal Budgets offer in the SEND regulations sounds more impressive than it is, in reality there is no extra funding. Emma concluded by referring us back to the need to ensure we’ve read the new SEND Code and to the two websites mentioned above. She is happy for delegates to contact her with any queries.
As individuals and professionals we cannot help but accept we are operating in times of high stakes accountability. We have not had the period of peace and calm we were promised post-election and there is no shortage of challenge for school leaders. It has never been more important to ensure that we are clear and strong on the principles and values that best support our students and our staff. To be clear on what we do, why we do it and with what impact. It really is a time for “values led leadership”.