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Preview: Special Schools, Specialist and Alternative Provision Conference 2017


In March – spanning the evening of Thursday 9 March and throughout Friday 10 March – NAHT is hosting the annual Special Schools, Specialist and Alternative Provision Conference in Birmingham.

For 2017 the title ‘Creating stability in changing times’ aims to sum up what needs to be achieved in the current climate. Following the biggest changes to SEND for a generation via the Children and Families Act in 2014, and reform of SEND funding for pupils with high cost SEND, school leaders have a great deal to consider, and this event is designed specifically to motivate and offer practical advice for those on the frontline in special schools, specialist, and alternative provision. You can find information on the seminar and workshop programme here. A major coup is having Diane Rochford, author of the influential Rochford Review, involved in this event. She will be leading one of the workshops and sharing her knowledge and expertise with delegates.

“NAHT’s conference working group, chaired by Paul Williams, has worked tirelessly to bring together the leading lights in SEND to share their ideas and knowledge,” says Dr Rona Tutt OBE, who is also a member of the group and a past president of NAHT with vast experience of SEND. “Wellbeing of staff and children is a massive consideration for teaching leaders, and those working in SEND have a vital role to play of course. Unfortunately they can feel isolated, so it’s been very powerful over recent years to use this conference as a platform to bring special needs out of the shadows and give them the support and recognition they deserve.”

Creating stability when supporting children with complex needs

The next big focus must be on stability she says. “With funding issues to address and increasing numbers of children coming through with complex needs such as dual or even more than dual diagnoses, we really need to be prepared and build effective practices.”  

Paul Williams is head teacher at Shaftesbury High School which is a special needs school in the London borough of Harrow. He’s also chair of the SEND Council at NAHT, a member of the NAHT National Executive and chair of our conference working group. Paul believes the power of this event is its ability to bring SEND colleagues together to “talk about issues and areas of mutual concern”.

“For people who come along it’s a very helpful reminder that they are not alone. It’s confirmation for them that the concerns faced around the country are not dissimilar,” says Paul. ‘Stability’ is difficult to achieve when there are unanswered questions around SEND assessment and high needs funding, he acknowledges. “There are also unknowns and therefore instability around the neurological reasons why children have difficulties. All of these issues will be tackled in the presentations and workshops during the event.”

Keynote speaker Will Ord: Developing growth mindsets

A highpoint will be Will Ord’s keynote speech. Will is founder of Thinking Education Ltd, and he specialises in helping schools to develop Philosophy for Children (P4C) and Growth Mindsets.  At the Special Schools, Specialist and Alternative Provision Conference he will explore the value of focusing on thinking and communication skills, and explore the ways Growth Mindsets can be practically applied within both primary and secondary schools.

Will says he’s expecting this event to “celebrate the wonderful and challenging work of SENCOs and teachers, and support their future developments”.  His hope is that delegates listening to his presentation will begin to think about “effective school evolution”.

“By this I mean there are ways in which schools can effectively and humanely evolve themselves to better support growth mindsets,” says Will. “If there is buy-in from the school leadership team and a shared focus across the school, children can be encouraged to perceive themselves as improvable and changeable, to see things as possible and to have really positive attitudes to learning.”

Research has shown that if children have a fixed mindset – and perceive themselves as having a fixed capacity to learn - it can create a false ceiling on their potential. Instilling a culture of Growth Mindsets brings a “buffet of possibilities” to the classroom, says Will, with children starting to think more widely about what they can be good at, developing their resilience and independence.

“Small, quality steps can make a big difference to the way children learn. It’s about working smarter to get results,” says Will. “For school leaders and their teams it’s important to acknowledge the difference between ‘schooling’ and ‘educating’. The former is about working through the curriculum, the latter is about developing the person, motivating them, engaging them and helping them develop as an individual who is open to learning.”

He’ll touch on mindfulness too at the Special Schools, Specialist and Alternative Provision Conference, exploring the latest research into “the process of being, rather than thinking and doing”. “Mindfulness is about training the mind to be fully present and aware, so that individuals have better attentiveness, are engaged in the learning process, and retain information more effectively. There is a lot of very interesting research going on, into the possibilities mindfulness throws up in the world of special needs education.”

New format for the conference

Another coup is having Diane Rochford, author of the influential Rochford Review, involved in this event. She will be leading one of the workshops and sharing her knowledge and expertise with delegates.

To make it as easy as possible for delegates to attend without disrupting their week too much, this conference has a new format for its fifth year of operation.

Now running over one day, with the option to attend a dinner and networking the evening before, this new arrangement means NAHT can offer the same high quality of workshops and speakers, but at a lower rate than before.

If you’re joining on Thursday evening you can put your questions to panellists for the question and answer session; Panellists will include NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby, and NAHT president Kim Johnson, among other expert speakers.

The conference working group is confident that delegates will leave this event feeling inspired and better equipped to meet the needs of SEND students in all phases. “The great ambition of educationalists working in this field is to give these young people an inclusive, fulfilling childhood and a good education,” says Paul Williams. “They must feel part of the education system and not simply an add on, and it’s imperative that events like this help talented school leaders overcome challenges and concerns, and help SEND students realise their potential.”

Seminars and Workshops

Delegates will also need to choose carefully between the eight workshops, designed to inspire, stimulate and empower those working with pupils with SEND. Workshops are booked during the conference booking process. They include:

1.         Ofsted update      

2.         Assessment for SEND students from the outcomes of the Rochford Review, led by Diane Rochford  

3.         Securing stability through the introduction of the National Funding Formula for schools and high needs

4.         Engaging your students in Parliament and democracy

5.         The SENCO as a Manager and Leader - how to lead SEND provision effectively in your schools

6.         Restriction and Deprivation of liberty: Ofsted's interpretation and the law

7.         Engaging learners with complex needs; From Neurons to Neighbourhoods

8.         Coming to the Tribunal: Naming a school in an EHC Plan

To find more details and to book onto this event, please go to the conference page here



Page Published: 21/12/2016