As uncertainty continues over when and how children will fully return to the classroom, system ambitions must be set to support children with SEND.
Heather Sandy is the Director of Children’s Services for Lincolnshire County Council. IMPOWER have been supporting the council in relation to SEND since July 2019.
Like all local authorities, Lincolnshire has been working hard to implement the SEND reforms and deliver better provision for our children and families. Our last Ofsted SEND inspection was very positive, and we were one of only two shire counties to deliver our SEND support in budget last year. However, we were concerned about our spend trajectories going forward and what the future impact would be on the provision we can offer.
We also wanted to have confidence that the significant sums of money we spend are having a positive impact on the outcomes of children and young people, and that appropriate decisions were being made. We therefore asked IMPOWER to work with us – we had worked with them previously and had heard about the work they were doing on SEND in other local areas.
The first phase of our project provided us with a really clear articulation of the specific SEND challenge in Lincolnshire, with quantifiable, evidence-based analysis. This modelling highlighted our future challenges and allowed us to put figures on it, which helped us to communicate the issue both internally and with key stakeholders like schools.
We then started piloting IMPOWER’s Valuing SEND tool, which is enabling us to identify and measure the needs of our SEND cohort. It allows all the organisations and individuals in the SEND system to use a common language around the needs of the young person, the ability of schools and parents to meet those needs, and how progress can be measured.
We are piloting Valuing SEND in close consultation with our local parent carer forum and school leaders from a range of schools (specialist and mainstream, primary and secondary, academies and maintained) to ensure that we see how it works across a variety of settings. We’re starting to see a much more defined gap analysis, so that if schools say ‘we can’t meet these needs’ we can be specific about what the gap is and what can be done about it.
Previously, we were struggling to innovate in SEND, in large part because of the complexity of the system. Bringing about change was hard because of the number of different players involved – including the courts, schools, parents, parent groups and the Department for Education. IMPOWER’s EDGEWORK approach has been really useful for us. For example, the concept of the influenceable system showed me that although we talk about national policy, it is not in our gift to change it, so we must focus our efforts elsewhere and bring about change by influencing other actors in the system.
Using an EDGEWORK approach we were able to set an inclusive ambition for SEND in the county which stated that ‘Families and education, health and care professionals will work together to secure the best possible life chances, inclusion and independence for children with SEND.’ This ambition was developed with our partners in health, schools, the parent carer forum and representatives from our SEND cohort, so it stretches beyond Lincolnshire County Council.
When the Covid-19 crisis began, there was a temptation to suspend developmental projects, but the demands on our system are such that we can’t afford to pause. The space we have for constructive decision making is constantly getting narrower, so if we don’t continue with the work now, later we may not have the funds to make the types of decisions that we want to be able to make.
I’m happy to say that we are already seeing the impact of the work with IMPOWER on our decision making and associated costs. For example, the initial indicators are that decisions made by our SEND panel are starting to change – we are not moving children and young people into specialist provision where this is unnecessary, and are more likely than before to support them to thrive in mainstream schools. That is the kind of progress we can be proud of.