By Jane Nolan
5 September, 2019
Originally published in the October 2019 issue of Early Years Educator (eye).
This month our new Director of Primaries and SEND appeared in the October issue of Early Years Educator (eye) magazine:
Regardless of background or ability, all children deserve to have the very best opportunities to achieve. For pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), it’s perhaps even more important that as leaders, SENCOs, teachers and practitioners, we effectively support and provide pupils with an inclusive learning environment which helps them flourish. Early identification and intervention is key to this.
As Ormiston Academies Trust (OAT)’s new national Director of Primary and SEND, I am passionate about championing the needs of pupils with SEND. While this is an area that undoubtedly faces its challenges, providing practitioners and teachers with regular, comprehensive training is vital if we are to provide truly inclusive schools which inspire confidence in parents/carers.
I have a strong background in both SEND and Early Years: following a psychology degree, I worked at the Institute of Psychiatry focusing on the cognitive development of the under 5s before gaining a Master’s in Special Educational Needs. I have held numerous Inclusion and Early Years posts in schools and for the last 5 years I have been Principal at Ormiston South Parade. As part of my newly established role at OAT, I will be driving strategy and developing knowledge-sharing across the Trust, with direct training and regional/national events for SENCOs and lead practitioners in all four of our regions across the country.
High on our agenda is just how critical it is that any additional needs are identified and supported early on. More and more children with high/complex needs are entering mainstream education, often without any formal assessments or attached funding. Schools want to be inclusive but can often struggle to understand complex conditions, navigate changing funding criteria or keep on top of the endless bureaucracy. This can put unparalleled pressures on the school system as schools try, but are often unable to provide adequate support. SENCOs feel overwhelmed, parents feel let down, children suffer.
It is therefore important for trusts and schools to implement a central strategy, as we are doing at OAT, for high quality training, expert guidance and support for all teachers and SENCOs. Schools also need to be aware of the complexities around SEND within each local authority and ensure that the SEND Code of Practice is fully and appropriately implemented. In an increasingly adversarial system, central support can be vital here.
The ability to understand the system from a parent’s point of view is also key. My son has additional needs and I therefore know all too well the importance of working in partnership with parents. My approach is always to treat parents as the experts – it’s our job as practitioners to really listen and work together to make the best decisions. Open and honest communication is vital but this is not always easy and SENCOs can often feel isolated in their role. Our regional and national networks are one way to address this.
As a sector, we must also deepen our knowledge of child development and the indicators of difficulties in the under 5s. For example, specific learning difficulties are often not recognised until Key Stage 2 or even 3 yet early signs are often evident to informed practitioners. Identifying comprehensive training opportunities to support early identification and to build informed practice is vital to ensure positive outcomes.
This is an exciting time for our Trust, and I am ambitious about what we will achieve for our children. My role will support OAT to continue to lead by example by championing and promoting the needs and therefore success, of all pupils, with a strong emphasis on addressing need in the Early Years. I am under no illusions that these are challenging times, but through effective training, support and collaboration I am confident that we can build a better, brighter and more inclusive future for all pupils.