ESPCF recently attended the SEND (special educational needs & disabilities) inclusion conference, which is an annual event for school SENCOs, inclusion managers, and pastoral leads, organised by East Sussex County Council.
We attended the event as part of the ‘marketplace’, where organisations can share information and chat to attendees. We also went to some of the workshops; there were three slots across the day, so between the two ESPCF staff members there we managed to attend six different sessions.
Ahead of the event, we asked parent carers to share with us what would transform, or has transformed, the school experience for their child or young person with SEND, so that they feel a sense of belonging (which was the theme of the conference).
We’re very grateful to those who responded, and here are some of the key points and issues you told us:
- Communication: listening to parent carer concerns and requests for support; responding to requests for information and visits; comms between subject teachers within secondary schools
- Support for SEND without an EHCP (education, health, and care plan)
- Exam support
- Autism support in mainstream secondary schools
- Secondary school support in general – much seems to be geared towards parents of primary-aged children
- Trauma awareness
- Strategies for EBSA (emotionally based school avoidance)
- Pressures on SENCOs and being overwhelmed
The conference was an opportunity for us to connect directly with schools and share your views and experiences, and the issues and messages you shared with us in advance were very helpful in our conversations at the event. Of course, these issues also run through much of the other work we are involved in and are part of the parent carer voice which we continue to feed in across a range of our work.
We were approached by a number of SENCOs who wanted to find out more about what we do, and who would welcome us visiting their schools to connect with families. We’re pleased to have a couple of provisional dates for visits booked in, which we’ll share as soon as they are confirmed.
As mentioned, the theme of the conference was ‘a sense of belonging’. We were pleased to see this being highlighted, as we often hear from families that SEND children and young people are made to feel that they don’t belong, and this can be the case with their school experience.
There was a session for everyone at the beginning of the conference on the subject of inclusion and unconscious bias. It was a fascinating, important, and informative talk, with some powerful reflections.
The other sessions we attended were:
Supporting pupils with emotionally based school avoidance (EBSA), which highlighted the strategies in the EBSA toolkit (add link).
Successful transition into secondary, which looked at what could be done to improve the process: what can both primary and secondary schools do to make the transition better for children? We were able to highlight the parent carer voice here, including that successful transition to secondary school is about more than just the last couple of weeks of primary school and the first couple of weeks of secondary school; inclusive practice is crucial on an ongoing basis.
Youth voice and belonging, which was hosted by the participation workers from Education East Sussex and three of the SEND Ambassadors (who were from local secondary schools). They talked about the importance of listening to young people about decisions around their individual support, as well as how to engage young people throughout the school, such as on school councils. One of their key messages was the importance of children and young people understanding why a particular intervention or support is being given to them, as in their experiences this hasn’t always been explained.
Children in care, looking at how schools can ensure that the child’s voice is heard by all the professionals/carers involved in their care and not to add it at the end as a tick-box exercise. The virtual school had done a piece of work where they had asked for children to say what mattered to them most and they are now going through the data to ensure that everyone is following recommendations.
Positive relational change – video interaction guidance, this was run by an educational psychologist. It demonstrated the use of videoing interactions between a member of staff and a pupil and how the analysis of that exchange can be used to facilitate discussions around positive aspects of the interaction. The good aspect here was that only positive aspects are discussed – nothing negative at all. I was trying to think of other words for ‘interaction’
Overall, the event has given us some food for thought and we’re talking to key people in Education East Sussex about how we can ensure parent carer voice and key messages are included throughout the conference and workshop sessions in future years.