Author: Chris Rossiter, Chief Executive of Driver Youth Trust and Chair of Governors of Oaklands Infant School
I hope the presence of Damian Hinds and his Labour counterpart, Angela Rayner, at NGA’s recent conference will put to bed any suggestion that governors and trustees are not worth their salt. Yet, even I was surprised to hear their calls for better governor learning and development, especially in relation to Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND). In my experience such calls are long overdue.
Fortunately for us at Driver Youth Trust this could not come at a better time as we prepared to launch a brand-new resource for governors; the SEND Governance Review Guide.
A practical resource
The idea for the guide came about following my personal experience of being the ‘SEND Governor’. Given my professional background the role was a natural fit, yet I struggled to get to grips with a complex area which rarely featured as a priority.
My most valuable lesson has been the power of effective questioning. Although you might ask dozens of questions as a governor, do you really understand the value and power of questions for SEND? It strikes me that the benefits of effective questioning are abundant, and this will be a theme I will be picking up at the NGA SEND conference on 7th July. I believe that we simply do not ask enough questions in relation to SEND.
I suspect my questioning was rather tiresome for my headteacher and yet it raised the profile of those children who showed consistently lower progress and attainment, not just that year but over a much longer period of time. As Chair I spend as much time planning my questions as I do reviewing content in meeting papers.
Six features of effective governance and SEND
Whilst it would be easy for me to list reams of example questions to ask the leaders of your setting, it is precisely this approach I found most frustrating as a SEND governor. Example questions already exist, such as NGA’s SEND guidance. However, in order to be truly effective, you need to be able to judge when the response to a question is appropriate, backed by suitable evidence and explicit enough to understand the nature of the ‘problem’, whatever they might be.
The Guide draws heavily from the governance handbook and competency framework. We wanted to use the language you will already be familiar with. Below I highlight some questions which reflect the content of the guide and cover the six features of effective governance, so that you can ask yourself how well you’re doing:
The Governance Handbook says that there ‘should be’ an individual board member or committee who is responsible for the oversight of SEND provision. However, there is a risk that this role is seen in isolation of other functions, such as finance. The Guide takes the view that the education of young people with SEND is the collective responsibility of the board, as a corporate function. The needs of this group must be prioritised appropriately in a settings strategic approach and vision, so how good is your knowledge of SEND and do you model your settings values actively?
Regulatory accountability for SEND provision is weak so governors should play a crucial role in making sure that they offer suitable internal challenge and support. One way of doing this is making sure that educational outcomes are clearly articulated. Presenting data can really help in this way, especially given the relatively high number of young people with SEND who may also have additional pupil characteristics, such as pupil premium, LAC and EAL. Can you clearly identify learners with SEND in your data sets and their other characteristics?
The Guide itself does not address compliance for boards. It is assumed that governors are familiar with the SEND Code of Practice and relevant legislation such as the Equality Act (2010) and Children and Families Act (2014), are you? A more comprehensive list is provided as an annex and provide a useful benchmark.
Structures and processes
Are you clear about how things really work, who is responsible for what and that you have a policy that is fit for purpose? Young people with SEND are likely to come in to contact with a number of different members of staff or departments. If your setting is considering something like a fixed or permanent exclusion of a young person, are you aware of whether SEND is part of this picture? Data from the Education Policy Institute suggests that young people with SEND are seven times as likely as others to be excluded.
All of us are operating in a time when budgets are under greater strain. If that is the case where, or rather, who, will you decide to cut? DfE data shows that 2,800 teaching assistant roles have gone in the past year and Rob Webster of the Institute of Education, has argued that this could represent as many as 6,600 TAs, who will most often work with young people with SEND. It isn’t difficult to envisage who is going to miss out and how you could hold leaders to account for this.
How much time do you actually spend on evaluating your own effectiveness and do you do this annually or throughout the year? The guide provides you with the perfect opportunity to look back and reflect on to what extent you have considered the impact of your decision-making on young people with SEND and what you might do differently next year.
Asking these questions of yourself and your board and then relating this back to your setting and its leadership, can open up many more lines of questioning than I could list in a blog. Practising and testing approaches to questioning is, in my experience, one of the best things a governor or trustee can do to improve professionally, but crucially is going to raise the profile of your young people with SEND. Ultimately, I hope, this improve their outcomes in the longer term.