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Working together to help children

As the NHS prepares to mark its 70th anniversary, we recognise and celebrate organisations and practitioners who embrace feedback from people with a learning disability or autism, their families and carers, and create innovative new approaches for care such as the National Special Educational Needs and Disability Leader at Whole School (SEND):

The effective education of children with Special Educational Needs and Disability is undoubtedly a collective responsibility.

It’s one that works best when driven by high quality partnership in which all those involved are seen as having an equally valuable contribution to make.

This intention is threaded through section three of the Code of Practice, but it is characterised formally, with reference to ‘duties’ and ‘commissioning’, using a narrative voice that is heavy with professional language. The separation of partnership between services (Section 3.13) and the relationships with children, young people and their families (Section 3.18) is indicative of a system that has yet to fully demonstrate an understanding of the importance and value of the voice of those who access SEND related support and their families.

The feeling that this is a system led partnership is never far away, missing the point that meaningful collaboration needs to be built with the person at the centre rather than the process.

And yet there are some good examples of professionals and families working together in order to ensure that children and young people get access to the very best. Promoting this approach is something at the heart of the Whole School SEND mission.

As an organisation, we know that we can always improve the quality and impact of the involvement of children, young people and their families. However, there are a number of Whole School SEND projects that have been materially affected by ensuring that the voice of those identified as having a SEND and their families are integral to the process of development.

Trying to ensure that co-production isn’t treated as a tick box exercise, in which approval is sought at the end of the development process, has helped to make sure that the materials we produce have the concerns of learners and their families at their heart.

And yet, despite our ‘best endeavours’ we haven’t always looked to work with families across the three areas of Education, Health and Social Care, instead often working with families on activity that is solely education related.

This isn’t a conscious decision and one we are keen to change, recognising that drawing on the shared expertise of professionals, along with the expertise that exists within families, is likely to enhance what we do and support better outcomes for young people.

One example of where we have been working in partnership beyond the realms of education, is a recent leaflet that we have produced in partnership with NHS England’s Ask Listen Do project.

During the development of our SEND Reflection Framework, the learner and family voice was central to the drafting and editing process and led to a significant section on relationships with parents and carers within the document.

As part of the wider consultation process the draft was then shared with a number of additional families, many of whom also held additional roles in third sector organisations or academia. The lived experience of the family was crucial in shaping the language, content and the structure of the final review framework.

Despite this, not all the potential uses for the content we had created were identified. It took another parent to make the connection that the affirmative statements we had produced to support school staff to reflect on their own practice, could be reversed to create a question bank for families.

This idea of finding a way to enable families to ask effective questions that all schools should be able to provide a clear answer to, was one which found a happy home at Ask Listen Do.

Following initial discussions, it was decided to bring together a group of parents and construct a simple document that would support constructive, mutually respectful, communication between families and schools.

The intention was to set out the value of open, honest and frequent communication and how this may reduce incidents of conflict or confrontation resulting from dissatisfaction with the educational opportunities on offer. By asking questions such as:

  • What resources and/or information are being used to help support my child and how does this support my child’s happiness and learning?
  • How will my child be enabled to participate fully in school life, including trips and activities?

Families can acquire the information necessary to reassure themselves that their child is getting the education they require. If this information is not available or not of a sufficient quality, then this can open up a conversation about what may need to improve or change.

The point of highlighting this work and the way it has been constructed is to draw attention to the value of true collaboration and the impact that it can have on the development of resources.

After all, the vast majority of us want the same thing, better outcomes for children with SEND and it is through meaningful, purposeful partnership that we are most likely to achieve this.

Simon Knight

Simon Knight is a Special School Leader and National SEND Leader at Whole School SEND, a consortium of organisations committed to enhancing the quality of education for learners with special educational needs and / or disabilities.

He has sat on the Department for Education panels developing both the Professional Standards for Teaching Assistants and the Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development.

He writes features for the TES and regularly contributes comment and content to other publications and conferences.

Follow Simon Knight on Twitter: @simonknight100

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