For a while now, a number of like minded Special School leaders have been discussing the development of a group to act as a conduit between Special Schools and policy makers. This included:
Penny Barratt – The Bridge School (Special Teaching schools Representative)
Sue Bourne – The Avenue School (Interim Special Academies Representative)
Mark Collis – Five Ways School (Special Teaching School Representative)
Chris Davies – Severn Dales School (SWALLS Representative)
Paul Holland (SWALLS Representative)
Simon Knight – Frank Wise School (National Education Trust Representative)
Graham Quinn – New Bridge School (SSAT Special Schools Representative)
Whilst there are a number of organisations who provide opportunities for wider discussions around SEN, it was felt that, at times, the voice of those working specifically in the country’s Special Schools was not being heard by those making decisions that affect the provision we offer.
In January of this year the following was sent to all Special Schools via email, although we are very aware that due to challenges around securing accurate email contact details not all schools may have received this.
It is of concern that the opinions and interests of Special schools, and the 3% of the student population for which they provide, may not be sufficiently heard within the context of the wider educational debate.
At present Government agencies (e.g. OFSTED / DfE) seek the opinion of some of the larger associations that represent Special schools, e.g., the SSAT, the National Education Trust and SWALSS and more recently groupings of special school academies, special teaching schools.
Could the voice of special schools be brought together, to have a more coherent and definite impact?
As representatives of these Associations we believe that the special school community should be at the forefront of re-designing and establishing a co-ordinating group that brings together key organisations to offer a point of reference for policy makers and government organisations.
It is our intention to consult with all special schools across the UK and thereby co-construct this “collaborative assembly” that has a single clear intention of offering a voice to special schools at this time of rapid change. The issues facing Specials school will be drawn together into a set of coherent themes, so that as a community we can we can be proactive, rather than reactive partners, in policy making.
We do not want to over ’specialise’ the debate, but at a pragmatic level there is often a special school ’take’ on issues that may otherwise go unconsidered.
The groups represented do not foresee any cost (for schools) for being associated with the Special Schools’ Voice. Schools will continue to benefit from their associations with the listed groups but will see this development as additional to their membership. We envisage that special schools that are not yet members of any of the listed organisations will not be disadvantaged and still, if they choose, make a significant contribution to the Special Schools’ Voice.
Representatives of the Associations propose to form an interim co-ordinating group, accepting that they will give of their time freely and not claim any expenses.
We anticipate setting up an e-mail communication strategy that ensures dialogue between schools and from schools to government agencies. Likewise we will endeavour to respond back to schools when issues have been raised. We will welcome the opportunity to share excellent practice and showcase innovation.
This was accompanied by a suggested approach for discussion and on which to base feedback. What was received back was very positive and supportive of the need for a Special Schools group and it was decided to constitute Special Schools’ Voice (SSV) with those currently involved acting as an interim organising committee. The constitution can be found below.
Following feedback from Headteachers to shape the agenda, we have recently held an initial meeting with Matthew Hopkinson of the DfE’s 0-25 Special Educational Needs and Disability team. This was an exceptionally constructive and positive meeting and will be leading to a further meeting with David Laws, the Minister of State for Schools, at some point in the early part of the Autumn Term. The agreed focus of this meeting will be the following areas:
Recognising progress and attainment of pupils in Special Schools
Implementation of the SEND reforms
Transition to Adulthood
Initial Teacher Education
So hopefully this is the beginning of the development of stronger relationships between Special Schools and stronger relationships with those who create and shape the policies which have such a profound effect upon our schools and the children within them.
In time we will be developing a website through which to better share information and receive feedback from Schools, but as this is all being done without dedicated funding and whilst fulfilling our school roles, it make take a little while to complete. In the meantime if you have any specific questions then please feel free to get in touch and I will do my best to answer them.