06 Jul

Our 1st weekly blog – by Graham Quinn (SSAT Representative)

Can I welcome you all to our new website. I hope you find it both informative and useful.

As many of you are aware, Special Schools’ Voice has been active over recent months. Members of the committee recently met in Birmingham to evaluate our effectiveness over the past year. We all agreed that many of our initial objectives had been met but we needed to ensure that our collective communication strategy improved. To that end we have redesigned our website to ensure it appropriately portrays our work. Our core purpose is to ensure our children’s voices, schools’ views and families’ needs are placed into the decision and policy making process. We also need to ensure that our schools are able to showcase innovative and pioneering practice.

We have a meeting scheduled with Sir David Carter in September and we would welcome your views on any elements of the white paper but particularly your position in relation to academy conversions. As I travel up and down the country, I still believe that there is a significant amount of scepticism around the benefits of our schools converting to become Multi Academy Trusts. I think this is evidenced by the fact that so few within our sector are choosing to convert. Many of our schools are inextricably linked to local authority processes and therefore many of our school leaders are struggling to see the benefits of autonomy that academy freedoms will offer them. Special Schools’ Voice is working closely with key agencies to explore how we could improve the perceived benefits for special schools. The key message schools keep asking us to promote to the department is to try to extend academies’ influence on post 19 provision. We continue to welcome examples of best practice. Minister Edward Timpson has been briefed about the challenges and has agreed to answer a number of questions (click here to view) that will be published on this site. Many smaller, rural special schools also report to us that even though they would welcome greater autonomy through academy status, the locations in which they operate make collaboration with other special schools almost impossible. They are concerned that if they became part of a MAT with mainstream schools, the budgets, over time, going to our children would be reduced. Schools need further assurances convincing them that academy freedoms will impact upon our learners.

We have also been asked to feed back on the impact of Education, Health and Care Plans (click here to view).  The majority of schools wholeheartedly supported the government with the ambitious reforms contained in the Children and Families Bill. In relation to the implementation of EHCPs, we have been given many mixed messages. At one extreme there are the schools that feel that all of the responsibility continues to lie with them and therefore perceive the EHCPs as glorified statements. On the other hand, some schools report that the joint working protocols have helped transform provision. We’d welcome the opportunity to share your experiences.

The proposed National Funding Formula announcement has sent shockwaves across the sector. Many of us are well aware that there is significant funding disparity across the country! Colleagues who attended the call for evidence seminars last year will be well aware of the complexities involved in developing a fairer formula. School leaders need to be at the forefront of the debate. Many schools report that they are either massively oversubscribed (or full!) and that the complexity of young people’s needs appears to be becoming more and more challenging.

Wendy, on behalf of the DfE, recently emailed you all to collect your view in relation to home to school transport (click here to view). We’ve yet to receive anything back. She also contacted you to get a view as to how schools that had foundation status (click here to view) were looking to move forward.

I would like to finish this first SSV blog with a quick note about our own school year. It has been a real joy to open a new school, Hollinwood Academy, the latest part of our Group. Our work internship and volunteering programmes have gone from strength to strength. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme has helped us transform our curriculum. We’re concerned about the ‘relegation’ of certain curriculum subjects – we were an active arts college! We continue to be challenged around the reporting of progress and achievement but I continue to be amazed by the skills of our wonderful team – they always seem to rise to any challenge. Our overall direction of travel remains strong and, I believe, we have a team to take us to the next level.

Please keep supporting our work – have a wonderful summer.