Professor Adam Boddison highlights the importance of the triangle of SEND leadership.
The Children and Families Act 2014 and the SEND Code of Practice 2015 established the principle of every teacher being a teacher of children and young people with SEND. However, for this to be realised in practice, every leader needs to be a leader of SEND. In a school context, such leadership arguably begins with governors and trustees, and there can often be a focus on the role of the SEND Governor. In particular, the interplay between the SENCO, the Headteacher and the SEND Governor can be thought of as a triangle of SEND leadership, which has learners as its core focus.
Families and the Triangle of SEND Leadership
An important feature of the effective leadership of SEND is co-production with families. The reality is that parents and carers of learners with SEND have often spent years refining strategies that work for their children. Meaningful co-production between families and the triangle of SEND leadership allows this knowledge to be shared at the highest levels, so it can inform strategic decision making.
A concern that is sometimes vocalised in relation to every leader being a leader of SEND is that of duplication. The extent to which the SENCO, the Headteacher and the SEND Governor are operating strategically or operationally in their individual roles is a key factor in determining whether such tensions exist in practice. When co-production with families is factored in, the way in which the four roles work in combination deserves important consideration.
A co-produced strategic approach involving families and the triangle of SEND leadership can be a powerful driving force in improving the quality of SEND and inclusion across a school. This is not about all four stakeholder groups duplicating each other’s efforts. Instead, a strategically coordinated approach is most likely to be successful through working in a complementary way; in harmony rather than in unison.
To exemplify this concept of complementary interactions and behaviours, it is worth considering the principle of ‘Think SEND!’ as a feature of effective SEND leadership. Essentially, ‘Think SEND!’ involves proactively considering the impact on learners with SEND for every strategic decision that is made.
For example, suppose a decision was being made in relation to reducing staff to pupil ratios across the school by decreasing the overall number of teaching assistants. In applying the principle of ‘Think SEND!’, the Headteacher might be considering the impact this has on the ordinarily-available provision at the school and whether or not it would affect the volume of quality-first teaching available to pupils at SEN support level.
The SENCO might be concerned about the reduced capacity to offer individual interventions for learners with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP). The SEND Governor and indeed all governors might be assessing the extent to which the number of teaching assistants influences the inclusive ethos of the school. Parents and carers will probably have a good understanding of the likely impact for their own children and might have useful insights into how such a decision could be implemented in a way that minimises disruption and unintended consequences for learners with SEND more broadly.
The point is that each of the stakeholder groups will have important contributions to make as individuals, but the combined effect has the potential to be far superior in terms of its impact. In co-producing strategic decision making in schools, there is an amplification of the inclusive ethos, both as a consequence of the specific decision that is made and also its subsequent operational implementation.
The Role of the SEND Governor
The nominated SEND governor has three core elements to their role:
1. To monitor the school’s arrangements for SEND.
2. To provide a voice for the SENCO at board level and to ensure the needs of learners with SEND are considered as a part of strategic decision making.
3. To support and challenge all senior leaders (including the SENCO and the Headteacher) to verify that the needs of learners with SEND are being met effectively.
With these responsibilities, it would be extremely challenging for a SEND Governor to discharge their duties in the absence of partnerships with families. In practical terms, such partnerships may come via the SENCO as they will likely have the closest working relationships with families, but there are numerous ways in which this could happen. For example, the Headteacher may have close and excellent links with the parental community, or the SEND governor may be an elected parent governor, giving them other useful insights.
SEN Information Reports
The SEN Information Report is a document that schools are expected to produce, with the primary aim of providing families with the information they need to understand how the school implements its SEND Policy. However, a high-quality SEN Information Report can support both families and school staff. Whilst for families it should answer many of the questions they may have in relation to SEND provision at the school, for staff it should be a useful reference document for the practical implementation of areas such as the graduated approach.
The SEN Information Report should be a document that is both informative and celebratory. It allows the school to provide clarity about how they meet the needs of children and young people with SEND, but it is also a mechanism for schools to celebrate their successes in relation to SEND and inclusion.
In schools where co-production is central to the leadership of SEND, it makes good sense to include this as part of the SEN Information Report.
For school leaders and school governance professionals, it is worth reflecting on the extent to which meaningful co-production has a central role in relation to the leadership of SEND. In some schools, strategic co-production will be routine and impactful, whilst in other schools there may be much more that can be done. Every school can reflect on their current approach and there will always be something that can be done to improve things further. In the words of the ethical expert Michael Josephson, ‘You don’t have to be sick to get better’.
Professor Adam Boddison
Professor Adam Boddison was the Chief Executive of nasen - a charity that supports and champions those working with, and for, children and young people with SEND and learning differences.
Follow nasen on Twitter: @nasen_org
Follow Adam: @AdamBoddison