NAHT’s sold-out conference for special schools and mainstream schools with specialist provision proves great success
The biggest changes to SEND provision in 30 years were the focus of attention for those working in the sector, at the NAHT flagship SEND conference held at the Belfry Hotel, Nottingham on 28 February and 1 March.
Leading up to the conference Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, had framed the conferences’ significance when he said “New legislation means that SEND faces huge change. Reform of the funding arrangement for special needs is also causing turmoil. These will bring new challenges and opportunities for teachers, school leaders and pupils.”
Delegates were able to enjoy a blend of thought provoking keynote speeches, specialist debates exploring the key SEN issues and a range of seminars that addressed a variety of subjects, such as Ofsted, curriculum enrichment through music, autism and funding.
Steve Iredale, NAHT president, who promised that the “very special” event would be the first of many, welcomed delegates to the conference, which had been sold out just weeks after it was promoted. "This is a very difficult times for all schools, but there is a real sense of a turn of the tide. It's high time that the profession regained control," he said.
Lorrain Peterson, the chief executive of NASEN, proposed that changes to SEND provision in schools, contained in the draft Children and Families bill, have left schools in urgent need of guidance.
Lorraine raised concerns for schools around funding reform, local authority frameworks, curriculum reform and staff training. Funding was particularly problematic, she said, due to the lack of coherent messages coming from the government.
"We have to be very clear what money is coming in and how we spend it," she said. "Without accountability some of the money for our most vulnerable young people will get lost. The pot is not as big as it once was, and it has got to go further.”
Paul Williams, the chair of the NAHT’s SEND committee, echoed her concerns. There are now a massive range of initiatives and development around SEND, he said, but structure and coherence was lacking. "Schools need to understand the direction things are going in," he said.
Baroness Warnock, the architect of the modern system of special needs education in England, closed the conference.
In a well-received speech, the crossbench peer said she was optimistic that a new era of cooperation was being ushered in when it came to teaching children with special educational needs.
“A generation ago we tried to introduce a spirit of cooperation... it gradually withered away, and so I am happy it is back today,” she said. And she noted that she thought there was a lack of party politics in educational policy now – something she called a cause for “great optimism”.
However, when it came to the proposals for SEN contained in the Children and Families Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, she said she there were difficulties ahead.
“I have been urging a fundamental rethink of framework and provision for SEN, and this is the nearest we will get to it,” she said. “But what was promised as a huge change will founder on lack of resources.” She pointed out that she thought the proposed change from issuing statements to building individual plans for children would be “incredibly expensive”, and she criticised the Bill for not being bold enough, calling for a “radical change” in the way children with SEN are thought about.
As she finished her speech, she praised head teachers, urging them to be conscious of the very unique role they played in special schools, saying they “should blow your own trumpet loudly and clearly into the ear of ministers.”
Page Published: 13/03/2013