Next week’s Annual NASS Conference sees the launch of a new book ‘Special School Leaders – Case Studies from Leaders of Independent Schools and Non Maintained Special Schools’. Published by NASS working with AKN Consulting this resource shares the experiences of school leaders who took part in this year’s NASS Leadership Programme.
School leadership can be a lonely place and it is well evidenced that in an era of limited time and funding leaders in schools often deprioritise their own reflection and development time to push resource to wider staff CPD.
The NASS Leadership Programme provided an opportunity for special school leaders to both reflect on their own practice and to work with their peers on areas of shared interest. With input from bodies including Education Endowment Foundation and Centre for Education and Youth participants worked together on addressing a key challenge in each of their schools. This short book captures and shares their learning.
Capturing the learning from special schools
It is well rehearsed that individual special schools have a considerable bank of knowledge and practice in improving outcomes for children and young people with SEND and that this is of value to the wider education sector – including other special schools, mainstream and alternative provision.
When setting up Whole School SEND, and rolling out a school to school support model using the SEND Review, the question of how we unlocked expertise in special schools was a key consideration. Early thinking was that special schools might review each other or, when they reviewed mainstream, that they would focus on SEND provision in those schools rather than wider school improvement. However, it quickly became clear that leaders of special schools reviewing their mainstream peers had much to contribute to general school leadership, curriculum design and teaching and learning that went far beyond purely those pupils with disabilities and SEN. This involvement of special schools became a core part of the Whole School SEND movement.
However – across the system – the engagement of special schools as agents in wider system improvement was, at that point, limited. On rare occasions when special schools were at the centre of Teaching Schools these tended to be focused purely on their SEND expertise and not wider school improvement. When Department for Education looked at work on behaviour the expertise of special schools was rarely drawn on and consistently education working groups failed to include special school leaders.
Lobbying by bodies, including NASS and Whole School SEND, has seen this position shift over recent years. Education Endowment Foundation launched their first SEND round earlier this year with an announcement due soon on successful bids. Research SEND has broken new ground on sharing research evidence and events such as the Festival of Education have increasingly included Special School and Alternative Provision Speakers.
Routes to sharing
There is a degree of braveness in sharing learning and credit is to be paid to all the leaders included in the book for both taking time to write down their journeys – both what has worked and what hasn’t - and being prepared to share them to support their peers.
Over the year of the Leadership Programme we have focused on the import of being an outward facing leader including exploring the potential and risks of social media, opportunities to speak at conferences and even running own events. Conferences such as New Voices are providing platforms for new speakers and digital routes provide new models for sharing.
As a network of over 300 special schools – connected into the wider SEND and education community – NASS is in a unique place to support the interaction of specials and mainstream provision.
Delegates from this year’s NASS Leadership Programme are continuing their outward facing work and support their peers across the sector.
Following an AKN Consulting Report last year NASS are working with the Young Foundation to set up the first incubator programme dedicated to scaling innovation from within special schools. See more about these recommendations in this report Getting the Special out of Specials.
And NASS continues to play a core role at the centre of networks such as Whole School SEND.
There is much to do to raise the voice of special schools but we hope this work provides some suggestions for next steps.