CfESEND blog: The impact of specialist staff from a parent’s perspective

Blog by Sam Mayhew, Dean of Faculty at Weston College, for the Centres for Excellence in SEND programme.

Highly effective specialist learning support programmes are delivered through an empowerment-based specialist support model, which promotes a whole-organisation, sustainable approach to inclusive practice. Intensive individualised programmes are delivered by highly qualified SEND practitioners that challenge and enable learners to develop sustainable, transferable skills and strategies to progress onto higher level courses, employment, or independent living.

Simultaneously, the specialist staff collaborate with the teachers to develop the skills and knowledge needed to deliver inclusive learning within the classroom, addressing the needs, aspirations, and vocational focus. Learners work with the specialist staff to develop strategies to accommodate their learning differences and inform others how they learn most effectively.

The case study below shows the impact this approach has had on our learners.

Jack’s story

When Jack* first enrolled on the Re-engage Programme, he was a very depressed and anxious boy. He’d failed his GCSE’s due to his mental health and had given up completely on a career and in fact, life.

Although he desperately wanted to attend College just the thought of walking in through those doors would send his anxiety level through the roof and cause a panic attack. So it was suggested by the team that he attend the YMCA for a hour a week just to introduce him to other learners and get him mixing. He started with around 20 mins and built up until he was mixing for around an hour. Some days he couldn’t attend as it was just too much, but the team never made him feel like he’d failed. They always spoke to him in an encouraging way, and reassured him it was fine and that we would try again next week.

He got stronger for a while but when the Covid-19 pandemic hit he got very depressed, and his sleep pattern became so erratic his Mental Health Team at CAMHS had to increase his medication. Again, his tutors never forced or pushed him to attend online, always encouraging and reassuring him.

Now 2 years in he has been accepted on a business course in September 2021. He is 100% better and determined to make up for lost time. This is with a lot of hard work from him but also the staff team. I can’t praise them enough for the help and advice they gave him, the compassion they showed, not only to Jack but also myself as a parent of a boy who was extremely ill and unhappy.

Some days he didn’t have a voice, just talking to anyone was too much so they allowed me to talk for him. For that I’m very grateful as this gave me the opportunity to not only explain Jack’s situation on that day but that I could also go back and tell him, it’s ok they understand tomorrow is another day.

I believe Jack is ready to now face the challenges of a full time course but if it hadn’t been for the re-engagement programme and very knowledgeable staff that supported him to stay in education and also get well at the same time, his story would be a lot different.

As a college you should be proud, the compassion you show to young people who are struggling with life. Jack and I both owe you our sincere thanks for believing in him.

*name has been changed to protect anonymity

Centres for Excellence (CfE) in SEND Phase 3 launch

The SEND Centre for Excellence at Weston College has been extremely successful in raising the profile and importance of whole college inclusivity, creating sustainable motivational SEND carers structure to improve outcomes for learners with SEND as a catalyst for change. Creating ambitious ethos and efficient support models where empowerment and independence are key drivers. The Mental Health, Social and Emotional Wellbeing of staff and learners remains a priority of focus, ensuring the furthest away from education are central in strategic planning.

Interactions, feedback, and data/intelligence collated during the last year of delivery have been extremely positive and we have been in open dialogues with colleges and employers through the leadership hub and communities of practice. We will continue to deliver our activities through a combination of; 1:1 strategic discussion, focus groups, webinars, conferences, virtual and face to face visits, case studies, high needs (HN) funding analysis, spotlights, vlogs and toolkits and the creation of a SEND Helpdesk.

To inform our programme of development opportunities, we have conducted a recent short survey through our communities of practice. This has revealed the subjects most pertinent to colleagues in other organisations, within the sector. We are in the process of devising a full programme for the coming year, considering the most popular, suggested topics, as well as listening to the suggestions for new direction, whilst maintaining our focus on ‘People’.

Phase three will include further core topics and developmental focus through:

  • Engaging with senior leaders, managers and practitioners to share good practice on the organisational wide approach inclusivity.
  • Developing and maintaining a sector wide efficient and transferrable model of practice to supporting learners with SEND across the education sector creating a motivated SEND workforce.
  • Raising the profile of SEND Specialists across the education sector and the need for a nationally recognised ‘SEND Specialist Practitioner’ role that provides a sustainable framework to upskill, develop staff expertise and ensure parity that is employer led.
  • Increasing specialist provision within general FE colleges to provide opportunities for learners to remain in their local areas, with their peers and families.
  • Focusing on developing inclusive organisations which recognise disabilities (including hidden disabilities), mental health, wellbeing and staff/employee welfare as central to the success of the organisation.
  • Exploring key aspects of strong and aspirational transition into and out of school/college settings for SEND Learners and Whole School SEND.
  • Supporting the Preparing for Adulthood agenda, building effective collaborative partnerships with Local Authorities to ensure transition into the next stage of their journey is seamless.
  • Expanding the SEND helpdesk to include employers, a specially resourced point of contact and support for practitioners and now employers to discuss and engage with queries they have around individuals with barriers.
  • Supporting collaborative discussion regarding the SEND and HN Review 2021 once formally published. We will support the sector in adapting to changes in processes, systems, responsibilities and expectations as the review attempts to end bureaucracy and improve consistency across Education, Health and Social Care from 0-24.

We will be advertising our full programme on the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) Booking System in the coming weeks and would welcome further suggestions from colleges and providers.

In addition, the Leadership Hub will continue to support senior leaders and the first webinar will be addressing the ‘Whole college approach to inclusive practice’. Taking place on Friday 11 June, all three CEO/Principals will impart their knowledge which has put SEND learners at the heart of the college and demonstrates the benefits that this step-change brings to staff, learners, and the wider community. Further details and booking can be found by following the link below:

Inclusive leadership – Enabling for step-change

Key Contact Information

Please get in touch if you would like to find out more about the work of our Centre for Excellence in SEND (People). We are keen to hear from anyone who would like to work collaboratively with the CfESEND, so please do contact us with your suggestions and ideas: CfESEND@weston.ac.uk.

Bookings for all courses and events are via the ETF Course Booking System which can be found at ETF Course bookings.

For further details of the ETF Centres for Excellence in SEND, webinar recordings, resources and toolkits visit the SEND Excellence Gateway

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