Posts Tagged ‘SEND’

An outstanding college, and a chance to complete the Digital Skills Survey

Monday, November 18th, 2019

We heard this week that Newcastle and Stafford College Group (NSCG) have become the first Further Education (FE) college in England to be judged “Outstanding” across all areas by OFSTED.  This is a major achievement, only 3 years after the amalgamation of Newcastle and Stafford Colleges.  The offer of high quality academic and vocational education and training is key to improving the prosperity of individual residents and Staffordshire’s economy.  The Local Industrial Strategy, which is in its final stages of drafting, makes great play of providing more, highly paid and highly skilled jobs.  NSCG are very much playing their part, and we are very fortunate to have them in the county. 

Talking of skills, we have a Digital Skills survey that is now live to support a Learning and Development offer. The survey is open to the whole workforce, to gain an insight into the current digital skills level of our workforce when using technology and software. The results of the survey, which closes on 27 November, will help us identify a suitable and targeted learning offer to help develop our colleagues.  The links for the Leadership Teams and the  Wider Workforce will take you straight there.  Please take a little time to complete it – it will help us to focus our efforts in this vital area.

It has been pointed out to me that I omitted a specific mention of children with disabilities in my piece in last week’s blog entry on SEND.  Clearly, providing the right support for children with disabilities, with the aim of enabling them to live as independent lives as possible, is our focus in this vital area.  As with those with Special Educational Needs, the focus of our efforts is to allow them to be educated in mainstream settings with the appropriate support, which benefits not only the children with disabilities, but also wider society through greater inclusion.  I am happy to correct the omission. 

Remembrance and SEN

Monday, November 11th, 2019

Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith of the A Team in the 1980s’ TV series had the catchphrase of “I love it when a plan comes together”, and I did feel that way after an excellent discussion with Julie Day, our newly appointed lead for Vulnerable Learners, and attending the Special Educational Needs (SEN) Hub for South Staffordshire on Friday morning.  I’ve long believed that the role of the senior leader is to create the conditions in which good people can achieve their greatest potential; with SEN, it’s taken some time, but it does feel that that is now happening.  The SEN Hub is one of the key elements of the Local Offer, and it is worth describing.  The Head Teachers of the district’s mainstream and special schools meet on a monthly basis to discuss cases of children with SEN – in this case about 20 children were discussed in detail.  Also in the meeting are County Council SEN specialists and representatives of the children’s services.  What struck me was the open and engaged nature of the discussions, with all parties offering advice and suggestions of different approaches and therapies to get the right solutions for some children with very challenging conditions and behaviours.  The patience and resolve of all involved was inspirational.   I passionately believe that the best solution is for as many children with SEN to be educated in mainstream settings with the appropriate support to ensure that they live as independent lives as possible.  As we roll out the Local Offer across the rest of the county, it will adapt to the local conditions, but it certainly looks like the right solution to a very complex set of issues. 

I am writing this on Remembrance Sunday before attending a service in Stafford; tomorrow I will lay a wreath in Chadsmoor in Cannock at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 101 years after the end of the First World War.  It is remarkable and humbling, as a veteran, that the country makes such an effort to remember the service of our Armed Forces.  We often focus on those who died, and sometimes we focus on those who bear the mental and physical scars of their service, but I would ask you to consider all of those who have served our country in your everyday activities.  We are just ordinary people, who joined whichever branch, regiment or corps of our service, and we return as civilians to the communities that we left.  I count myself as enormously fortunate to have moved into a challenging and rewarding job, but not everybody is so lucky.  It is a reality that the Armed Forces in the UK are dearly loved, but not very well understood; the preconceptions often get in the way of veterans establishing second careers.  I would ask that, if you are ever hiring somebody, take a little time to understand a veteran’s experience and potential.  The chances are that he or she is just like you, but with a slightly different set of education, training and experience, and it might be that their potential will add real value to your team.         

Supporting children with special educational needs

Monday, April 8th, 2019

I spent Monday afternoon taking part in the Minister for Children and Families Roundtable in London.  Nadhim Zahawi MP chairs a group of civil servants and local authority chief executives who advise him on the best options for Government policy towards children’s services. 

I consider myself very fortunate to be include in this grouping, given that I do not have a professional background in the area, but I have been more vocal than previously in my view that very often the narrative around children’s services is negative. This not only impacts on team morale, but also on recruitment and retention.  We are fortunate in Staffordshire that as an authority, our teams are well supported both by their senior leaders and political leaders. Across the country this is not always the case. 

We talked for much of the session about Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND). The Children’s and Families’ Act of 2014 set out an aspiration to consider education, health and care needs in a joined-up way, but many local authorities have struggled to make the theory work in practice. 

This is exacerbated by the way support for children with special educational needs and disabilities in schools is funded and recognised as part of the school inspection regime. Currently, head teachers fund the first £6000 towards the cost of supporting a child with special educational needs and disabilities from their school budget. OFSTED inspections focus heavily on attainment, not inclusion or progress as a measure of success. This means that when school budgets are tight, they face difficult decisions with regards to the balance of support they provide to pupils with and without additional needs.

If our societal aim is to support people with special educational needs and disabilities to enjoy fulfilling and independent lives, we need people to recognise the positive contribution they make to our schools, communities and workplaces, as well as understand the challenges they face. For example, GCHQ has recognised that people with autism are very effective in the complex role of code-breaking, and actively recruit them.  But for this to work well, they need colleagues and bosses who are familiar with the attributes of people on the autistic spectrum. Some of this can come from formal training, but the foundation of this kind of understanding comes from breaking down barriers and children with mixed abilities growing up and learning together at school.  The Minister recognises this, and is currently reviewing the OFSTED inspection regime to ensure that inclusion and progress are as much a measure of success as overall attainment and exam results. Overall, it was a fascinating afternoon with people who really want to make a difference.