05 Dec

Special Schools within a Schools Led System: Reflections

At a time when we can be sure of so little, the theme of a ‘schools led system’ remains consistently on the agenda. Originally articulated by colleagues such as Professor David Hargreaves, this is part of a move towards a decentralised system. As a sector and as individual schools we have embraced partnership, working with mainstream colleagues as part of an inclusive experience and often working with local networks of special schools with a school improvement agenda.

The MAT agenda is clearly one of the levers the Government is using to encourage more formal partnership by offering increasing self determination. Teaching school designation is another. The first round of designations was in 2011. Little guidance was offered, and indeed schools were encouraged to experiment. The system has matured and a clearer role is now emerging.

There are now 756 teaching schools (of which 88 are special teaching schools) and we are about to enter cohort 10 in which further designations are being sought. Complementary to this initiative, 1157 colleagues have been designated as National Leaders of Education. The school improvement function once held by local authorities has been or is being transferred to groupings of schools. Teaching schools, NLEs and local authorities are increasingly working together to plan strategically to focus school improvement to greatest effect. The commitment to be part of a school led system comes with a responsibility to have impact. Although apparently self evident, too often support activity can be short termist, self serving, poorly targeted or over ambitious. For a schools led system to have credibility, it must have impact. We must find increasingly inquisitive means of ensuring and investigating impact.

As a special school it is important to find your niche, your particular contribution to the schools led system as part of and/or with a teaching schools system. It is equally important that teaching schools work together as part of a local/regional network. We inhabit a system in which it is planned that we are all both givers and receivers of support. In principle, teaching schools are expected to be net givers although this is rarely the case. Surely in a mature schools system, we would all be aware of our particular strengths and areas of need and have developed sufficiently strong threads between us to connect the givers with receivers, to the benefit of the system as a whole.

It must be incumbent on us all to think of and be responsible for children beyond our school gates. This represents a mind shift that for many is counterintuitive. Our accountabilities drive schools to be inward looking. Special schools, on the other hand, have culturally had a more altruistic perspective, working towards a more inclusive educational system. For special schools, playing an active role in a schools led system is not too distant from our cultural roots.

Special schools are steeped in a culture of working with a wide range of partners in a way that is not essentially different to that expected within a schools led system. As a sector we have an opportunity to be an active player in a schools led system, taking a leading role in moulding the educational system of the future.