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“You can’t do SEND in a silo”

Rhian Williams explains how quality first teaching, combined with a team of subject specialist TAs, has helped elevate SEND provision at Henley Bank High School...

  • “You can’t do SEND in a silo”

In my experience, speech, language and communication needs is the main hidden disability that teachers will encounter at secondary school. Too often, children will be identified as ‘naughty’ or as having ‘behavioural difficulties’, when what they actually have is an underlining SLCN.

At Henley Bank High School, the SEND team consists of myself and seven TAs providing full-time support. The proportion of students on the SEND register currently wavers between 26% and 30%, amounting to a high level of need that we have to manage on a day-to-day basis.

Actionable steps

To do this, I employ a model, developed and used over a number of years, which begins with a robust and rigorous SEND identification process (including one developed by GL Assessment, among others) so that specific needs aren’t missed. 

Having a clear understanding of our cohort needs means that our staffing requirements can be identified and high-quality staff recruited, to ensure we have expertise across the four broad areas of SEND. We are also constantly seeking out exceptional CPD and training opportunities for those staff requiring further development.

We have been hugely successful in recruiting staff that possess degree-level qualifications and considerable relevant experience, including qualified teachers wanting to change their roles – to the extent that I’ve been able to delegate responsibility for cognition and learning, communication and interaction and SEMH to the most experienced members of my team.

We commission an external speech therapist for two days a week to meet the needs of our students with language difficulties, as well as those with social communication needs. So far this year she has assessed over 25 children, again, to make sure that we have an accurate and in-depth understanding of our students’ SEND needs.

Any successful SEND provision must start with Quality First Teaching, which is essential for every SEND child. Key to facilitating this is effective communication with class teachers, so that they’re aware of the needs of the children in their classes, as well as regular CPD opportunities aimed at raising their awareness of, and confidence in different areas of SEND.

Examples of this might include reminding teachers of the longer processing time that will be needed by children with dyslexia, how helpful it can be to use blue backgrounds on classroom display boards and how useful it can be to print off key slides.

When done well, QFT isn’t complicated. It’s something that we and other schools within the Greenshaw Learning trust do well through our regular CPD focus on teaching and learning, as well as our ‘DDI process’ – developmental drop-ins. Every class teacher and member of support staff participates in these fortnightly, and takes away with them one small, actionable step to ensure that their QFT continues to improve.

No one-to-ones

We are a very calm school, which obviously helps us meet the needs of our neuro-a-typical children who have ADHD, or who are on the autism spectrum. Additionally, our whole staff ethos is one where everyone genuinely wants to understand the needs of our children with SEND, which is something that we feel makes our school quite special.

When it comes to the nature of our SEND provision, however, we’ll never provide students with one-to-one support in class, outside of exceptional circumstances. I get profoundly annoyed whenever I see evidence of TAs being appointed to one individual child, because there is clear evidence from the Education Endowment Fund that it’s an approach that doesn’t work, creating over-dependence and a lack of resilience amongst more academically vulnerable children.

Instead, the members of our SEND team all support specific curriculum areas. I can’t know the curriculum for all subjects, but I can ensure that my team does. I currently have two TAs providing support in English through our MITA (Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants) process, who will regularly meet with class teachers to discuss the curriculum and assessment foci, as well as the needs of the children in their class.

That way, they can collaboratively agree on the most effective role for support staff within the classroom. Best practice dictates that TAs will ensure the majority of children understand and are on task, freeing up the class teacher to focus on supporting those children needing additional support.

Our TAs also oversee pre-teaching for core subject groups held in the mornings. Our TA subject specialisms presently span English, maths, science and humanities, and we retain an additional TA to cover the school’s remaining subjects. They all regularly attend departmental meetings and understand the assessment criteria, so it’s certainly not just a case of us following children without knowing what’s going on in their lessons.

The professionals within my team all understand the curriculum focus in their respective subjects, what the assessment points will be and the key terms students need to know. The latter will often be fed into the pre-teaching lessons led by our TA team or the school’s speech therapist.

Open for business

One particular challenge we’re managing at present is that presented by the small minority of children struggling to attend school in person for reasons related to anxiety – which seems to be most pronounced among students whose parents’ own mental health was impacted by the pandemic. Our Y10s were particularly affected by the third lockdown and the impact it had on their mental health. Despite them being a small year group, we saw a large volume of referrals to CAMHS and Young Minds Matter.

When I kept seeing it reported that ‘schools were closed’ it used to make me feel so cross, since we weren’t closed. We were welcoming over a hundred children on the SEND register into school each day by dispatching minibuses to drive them in and doing whatever else we could to get them attending in person.

At some point, every SENCo will have dealings with one or more families, individuals or children who take up more of their time, but thanks to my team’s effectiveness in dealing with the majority, I find myself better placed to dedicate more of my time to engaging with those children who need the most support.

Instant access

Having an excellent provision map can be a lifesaver for SENCos. I once had 60 children in Y7 who all needed SEND meetings to be scheduled promptly. The members of team each met with eight sets of parents and guardians, while I met with slightly more, after which we reached agreements and produced student passports outlining the type of provision that would be needed.

These student passports were written by my team in collaboration with our young people and their parents and contain important items of information class teachers need to see.

The software we use, EduKey, lets us give individual students their own dedicated progress page which parents then have access to. Instead of me overseeing our provision alone, everyone in my team – whether they’re running a language group, performing pre-teaching or any other intervention – will enter those provisions into EduKey, which then lets me instantly run a report on any child.

I’ll quality assure, check costings and ensure the correct funding streams are being used, but otherwise, come half term I won’t have personally had to enter much into our provision map. I can still examine and easily report on all the provision we offer at the school, thanks to the time we’ve spent training our team.

Embraced by all

We readily acknowledge the need to take advice from experts, but at the same time, a growing number of people are visiting us to see what our SEND support model at the school consists of.

In the short term, we want to further embed the practice of distributed leadership, since the combined responsibilities of a SENCo can’t all be covered within a single position held by someone hidden away in a corner of the school. With new classroom teachers and heads of year having recently joined us, I’ve been working with them to help them understand what good quality provision looks like.

In the medium to long term we need to recruit a further TA, whom I suspect will need to focus on language and communication, judging by some of the children we’ll have coming through next year.

The key element for me is that inclusion has to be embraced by all. It has been a constant source of frustration for me to see SENCos who don’t have a voice in terms of teaching and learning policies, or aren’t involved in conversations about the curriculum or raising standards.

SEND is intrinsic to all areas of a school. SENCos ultimately need to have a voice that’s heard across all areas, because you can’t do SEND in a silo. They need to play an important role in teaching and learning discussions with behaviour leads, and especially since the pandemic, with attendance leads.


TAs with a difference

  • Each TA at Henley Bank High School knows their specialist subject’s curriculum well, and will attend departmental staff meetings
  • I quality assure and provide each of our TAs with fortnightly individual feedback
  • Heads of department can embrace distributed leadership by joining me on my MITRE walks, where I’ll observe TAs, how they’re being used and the impact they’re having

Rhian Williams is SENDCo at Henley Bank High School; for more information, visit henleybankhighschool.co.uk or follow @HenleyBankHigh.

Henley Bank High School was recently honoured in the Secondary Provision category at this year’s nasen Awards – for more details, visit nasen.org.uk/awards.

Readers can download four documents used by the Greenshaw Learning Trust and Henley Bank High School to co-ordinate its SEND provision and the roles performed by its TAs from here.

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