Setting the scene for SEND, the Autumn term and ahead

Date: Tuesday 15th September 3:30pm
Hosts: Pauline Holbook, Head of SEND, SSAT, Graham Quinn, CEO, The New Bridge Academy Trust

The aim of this webinar was to share our planning in respect of SEND specific events and programs planned for the coming academic year and to share thoughts and ideas for leading in these uncertain times. Unfortunately there was a problem with recording this webinar so the notes below are an effort to capture the discussion and should be read alongside the power point.

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Planned SEND specific activities:

  • Webinars throughout the year hosted by a range of schools covering a range of topics. These will take place on the third Tuesday of a month at 3:30pm wherever possible. The next scheduled webinar is on 20th Oct at 3:30pm.
  • Special Schools & SEND online conference 13th October – anyone booked onto the 6th May event which didn’t take place due to Covid restrictions will be contacted very soon and offered a place at this event. The conference will feature three keynotes and twelve workshops. All workshops will be recorded allowing delegates to access all at their convenience. We hope to make some available prior to the event whilst others will be released on the day and others after the event. The keynote speakers will be live however it is our intention to record the sessions and make them available after the event. Having everything recorded and available to delegates means even greater value for money than a face to face event where you can only attend a limited number of workshops. See slides for more info on speakers and workshops.
  • Leading Outstanding Special Schools Program Starts W/b 9th Nov. This programme was due to start on 30th April but has had to be delayed and is also going virtual. I know from conversations that some schools wanted to book places but travel and overnight costs were prohibitive. Hopefully by moving it online it will give delegates greater flexibility and prove even more cost effective for schools. See slides for more details.
  • Establish a virtual SEND steering group. In order to ensure that the activities we plan truly meet the needs of our members I am looking to establish a steering group to work with me in developing further activities and programmes. The group would meet 4 times a year (virtually) and in-between keep in regular contact with me updating me on key themes/information from regional and national forums they are also members of so as to keep all members fully updated. Graham Quinn will be the interim chair. Please contact Pauline directly if you are interested in joining this group. We are hoping to get a good geographical mix as well as a mix of school types.

Feedback from National SEND Reference Group

Both Pauline and Graham attend this virtual group which meets fortnightly. Thank you to everyone who responded to the recent survey about costs, time etc. The responses clearly show how usual PPE equipment such as disposable gloves and aprons are more expensive than pre-pandemic. Some schools reporting as much as 5x more expensive. All schools are reporting the need to use valuable leadership time to manage Covid including managing the carpark at the beginning and end of the day due to more vehicles and parents bringing their child to school. Most schools also have significant numbers of staff and students self-isolating.

  • Virtual learning – suggested direction of travel. Conversations have taken place with the group and DfE officials about the fact that not all learners can access virtual learning. There is an understanding of this and a move from the use of virtual learning to remote learning. We believe more guidance will be issued about this including how soon access to virtual/remote learning will need to be provided. This could be from the first day of absence. It may be prudent for schools to consider what is appropriate for different groups of students whether this be based on age, class group or cognitive level and place an addendum into their curriculum policy, Covid policy or other appropriate policy. During discussions in this webinar colleagues raised concerns over how they will manage virtual/remote learning if only one or two students not in school as staff needed to teach students in school and also questioned if a student is ill is it appropriate that they are given learning tasks at that point.
  • Mobile phone tracing app – from conversations we have had and from what has been in the papers we are expecting that the test and tracing app for phones will be rolled out shortly. Again, it may be prudent for schools to consider the impact of this on current policy for the use of phones in schools. Some schools embrace mobile technology including phones as learning tools whilst others request, they are handed in at the beginning of the day or not brought into school at all.
  • Tier 4 in local lockdowns – members of the National SEND reference group have expressed concerns to DfE colleagues about the wording that stipulates special schools, alternative provision and other specialist setting would remain open to all students. Whist we believe schools should stay open to as many students as possible it is felt that the wording in the current guidance could mean setting schools leaders in conflict with families if they are unable to remain open to all students due to staffing issues. Previous guidance which relied on the professionalism of the headteacher in undertaking detailed risk assessments which involved the family, LA and the student to decide what was appropriate was felt to be far better in determining who attended school at any given point. We asked for the wording to be changed to be more reflective of decisions being made locally rather than nationally.

Open discussion

The discussion on local lockdowns didn’t happen however, colleagues did raise issues around paying staff who are required to remain at home to look after their child who has been sent home from school to self-isolate. It was felt that this was a difficult situation and leaders felt that they wanted to be supportive to staff however, could see the potential of staff who have children in mainstream secondary schools where bubbles are larger potentially being at home more than in work. There was agreement that if the member of staff was self-isolating then they would be paid but that schools would need to discuss with their HR partners how to manage absences due to childcare (looking after a child who has been sent home to self-isolate).

This discussion then led onto problems with accessing testing for both staff and students. This is clearly an issue around the country and is hindering the smooth running of schools. Some on the call have already used their allocated test kits and are currently trying to register for additional kits to be sent to them. Some colleagues reported being on the phone for hours and hours to no avail.

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