Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) aren’t mere recipients of care and education; they are the authors of their own stories, with their own dreams and ambitions. Prioritising their voices and that of their families is vital for improving SEND provision in local authorities up and down the country – an ethos central to our approach here at IMPOWER.
While nothing new, child-centric and family-engaged approaches transform education into a collaborative journey of development. It’s a critical paradigm shift – we must see children with SEND not as passive beneficiaries but active contributors who shape their unique learning journeys. A good example is the adoption of Individualised Education Plans (IEPs) in schools, which factor in a child’s unique strengths, challenges, and interests, with both the child and their family actively contributing to the process.
Nonetheless, certain barriers can prevent these valuable perspectives being fully embraced. A lack of SEND-specific teacher training, for instance, can lead to misconceptions about a child’s unique capabilities, leading to an unsuitable learning environment. In response to this challenge, IMPOWER has assisted several local authorities in establishing SEND advice lines – a relational local offer that provides specialist guidance and support. This resource aids teachers and SENDcos in refining their inclusive practices, enabling them to meet the increasingly complex needs of their students with support and confidence.
The rewards of championing these voices and amplifying family engagement are plentiful. Let’s consider the example of a dyslexic child who loved storytelling but grappled with conventional reading and writing in my very first teaching placement. By listening to the child and working with the family, we at the school were able to introduce audio-visual aids and software, significantly improving the child’s learning experience and self-assurance. IMPOWER’s Valuing SEND tool, through its strengths-based dialogue, enables schools to routinely identify opportunities like this, tailored to each child’s unique needs and strengths.
Further, the Valuing SEND tool provides a consolidated view of a child’s needs and support, encompassing both home and school environments. This can be easily shared with and comprehended by all partners involved in the child’s life, underlining the crucial role of multi-agency collaboration across education, health and social care. For example, a child with learning difficulties and health challenges would benefit from an integrated approach involving educators, healthcare providers, social workers, and the family. The Valuing SEND tool’s radar chart offers a child-centred focus for such strategies. By understanding the child and their family’s aspirations, support can be customised accordingly, rather than applying a one-size-fits-all solution. This robust safety net ensures no facet of the child’s development is neglected.
To put it simply, it’s time we shift the narrative in SEND education, valuing the individual voices and dreams of every child. By embracing a more collaborative, inclusive approach, we can help every child with SEND author a story they’re proud to tell.