The Government has at last published its Green Paper on the SEND review. But, says Special Educational Needs, Disability and Inclusion consultant Anita Devi, we’re still not asking the right questions
The Green Paper by the UK government has been published and as I write parents, educators, health care professionals and others interested in the area of special educational needs, disability (SEND) and inclusion are all carefully constructing their response to the consultation. At the same time the House of Lords is requesting evidence for its inquiry into whether the Children & Families Act 2014 needs refinement. Everyone is asking questions. But… it’s 11 years since the last SEND Green Paper. So what progress has been made? What’s working? What’s not working? What needs to change?
The 2011 SEND Green Paper focused on five areas: early identification and assessment; giving parents control; learning and achieving; preparing for adulthood; and services working together for families. The ideals were noble and the aspirations genuine. But in the working-out of a new system, the tension between system and accountability remained unresolved. Instead of implementing a nationally consistent system with local accountability, we got localised systems, with national accountability that had no real leverage to drive change, just comment on it – especially when it wasn’t happening. So families had to rely on the legal system to pursue access to services. There’s a lack of resources too, of course, but this is a symptom of the system not the root cause.
Depending on our experience and engagement, each of us will have a different perspective. I don’t propose to put forward answers to what has been. Instead, the focus is on what could be. There is no one right question, but sometimes there is a better question.
I’ve been fortunate to be involved in special educational needs, disability and inclusion for more than a decade, seeing things from the perspectives of both education and health. I’ve worked with different stakeholders, and I’ve led many local, regional and national projects. More recently, I completed my PhD unpacking Regulation 50 of the Children and Families Act 2014. My conclusion was clear: legislation takes us so far, but it is the bridges we build between legislation, policy and practice that make the biggest difference. For that to happen, we need to ask a better question.
So, what might a better question be? Here are my top three starters: What would full inclusion look like in reality? How do we get there; in other words what’s our theory of change? And where do we start?
For me, full inclusion is about everyone knowing they are valued. Knowing you are valued is different to ‘feeling’ it. Knowing you are valued is an internal posture (thinking in your heart) that influences our external behaviours. In other words, our value, care and responsiveness towards others is driven by a recognition of the interdependency of humanity. This internal affirmation of being counted as an individual naturally lends itself to the multiplication of goodness for others.
Someone recently shared with me the statement, ‘Justice is public love’. I spent time pondering on this. Justice is something dear to my heart. I called my community interest company TeamADL, because ‘adl’ is the Arabic word for justice. I recently posted the following on social media: ‘Justice is public love. I agree, but public love comes from a deep inner well of being loved. Imagine a world, where everyone knew they were loved. Not because of anything they said or did; just for who they are. What a just world that would be. Today I choose love. Knowing I am loved and to love others.’
Or, to quote from the Bible: ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. [1 Corinthians, 13:4-8]
All of which is a beautiful ideal, but we have to make it real. So what does this mean in practice?
Our solution, which we recently presented at an RSA South East: Connect and Engage Meeting is 365 SEND. This project offers schools and colleges a three-year window to drive ‘cultural’ change, by gathering six groups (children and young people; parents and carers; leaders; governors and trustees; staff; SENCOs] to engage with five innovations.These include a technology voucher, two online accredited courses (one of which must be completed by a senior leader), seminars and webinars, printed literature to share, to digest and to apply; and the SEND Engagement Cafe. As school and college communities (six people groups) form their localised team, they collectively decide on what to engage with and when over the three years. They are in a position to plan together and hold each other to account, while planning how to meet growing need. It’s a package that addresses many of the original aspirations of the SEND Reforms in a practical way, with the logistics of delivery recognised as a shared responsibility.
Naturally 365 SEND then becomes a daily investment into SEND and inclusion. Costing £1 a day for three years, this becomes a first step vision that everyone can see, afford and engage with.
We’d love to know what you think as well as what part you think you can play. We’ve taken the concept into the community. Businesses have come to us and said: ‘We’d like to sponsor a school or college to do this…’ or ‘I’m going to tell everyone in my network, I know a few governors.’ On one occasion, we had just finished presenting and a friend of a friend called one of the team members and said (without knowing about their involvement): ‘You should get involved in 365 SEND, it’s so simple, yet profound in impact.’ The idea is spreading.
Sometimes we can look at complex situations and think we need a complex solution. Sometimes this merely increases the confusion and complexity. What is actually needed is simplicity by design, that focuses on what really matters – people and time.
Anita Devi is a former SENCO, senior leader, school improvement advisor and local authority SEND advisory teacher. In 2017 she was awarded the Influential Educational Leaders Award for her contribution to the SEND workforce pipeline strategy which supports the development of professionals from initial teacher training to advanced and experienced SENCOs. She has also recently completed her PhD on SEND Leadership
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