The following is the text of David Bartram OBE's speech at London Leadership Strategy's SEND Leaders celebration event at Mercers' Hall on Tuesday 27th September 2016.
I was walking the dog on Sunday night. This was an activity that I used to do on my own, but the arrival of Pokemon Go has meant my children suddenly have an interest in joining me - no illusion that it's for my company. And my 6 year old turned to me and and said: ‘Dad, why have you got a scrunched up face?’ I replied saying 'I’m thinking about a talk that I’m doing on Tuesday'.
Joss replied, ‘Do you get scared?’
‘Yes - sometimes when there’s lots of people and its about an important subject.’
Then she said: ‘Don’t people get fed up with you talking all the time?’
‘Probably’, I said.
‘But you work with some good people don’t you.’
‘Yes,' I replied, 'I work with some good people. Some really good people.’
And in many ways, good people is what this project has been about. I continue to be struck by the quality of teachers and leaders of SEND in schools, yet too often the centre of our focus is on finding fault. This project has been about having a little more faith in schools and in teachers. It is not about pretending that everything in schools is perfect and seeing provision through rose tinted spectacles, but it is about supporting teachers to find a little more professional courage and validating, noticing and celebrating great practice where it exists.
Sir Tim Brighouse, in a keynote speech in 2013, spoke about collecting ‘butterflies’ of good school practice – which derives from chaos theory, that if sufficient butterflies whirr their wings in the Amazonian rainforests, then it can set off a chain of climate change that eventually can cause a tornado in the United States. Put another way, butterflies ideally are small actions which can have huge impact.
This theory has sat the heart of what we have tried to do in this project. It was about defining some of the high-impact, low-effort, often low-cost ideas, principles or practice that make a real difference to improving outcomes for children and their families.
The big question was, where do you find those ideas? Where do you start when trying to collect those butterflies of good practice in SEND? Well, actually you start with the people in this room.
You start with people like Malcolm Reeve and Hannah Wilson who have the vision to see the benefits for developing SEN provision of working not just within Trusts, but across Trusts. You start with people like Bethlyn Killey, whose openness during this project has helped us to see how we could learn from a system that had resulted in eight school placements for her son in just six years. You start with people like Matthew Parker, Angela Kendall, Vijita Patel, Maria Constantinou, Amanda Desmond, Alison Beane and Kat Dockery who think nothing of getting up at 5.00am and driving half-way across the country to share their experiences and improve provision in schools less developed than their own.
You start with schools like The Bridge School, Frank Wise School, Southfields Academy, Woodfield Special School, Foxfield School, Lilian Baylis, Aylward Aademy, Alexandra School, Mary Rose Academy, Pimlico Academy, Stanley Primary, Carwarden House Community School, Greenwood Academy and many others.
You start with real advocates for children with additional needs. People like Anita Kerwin-Nye, Barney Angliss, Susan Douglas and Margaret Mullholland.
We would like to say particular thanks to the Minister, the Right Honourable Edward Timpson and the team at the DfE, particularly Chris Eridani-Ball and Stuart Miller for their support and enabling us to put some of these ideas into practice.
And these ideas and these people often sit where you least expect it. They are not always in our Outstanding schools - I was in a school in Special Measures recently where, because of the work of the AHT, SENCO and her team, pupils with SEN were making better progress than pupils without additional needs.
And as leaders of SEND in our schools, we should be leading the way in modeling what a school-led approach to SEND looks like, not, as so often in the past, waiting for SEND to catch up with wider policy developments.
The biggest and most underused resource that schools have when trying to improve provision and practice in SEND is each other. In truth, we have not come close to realising the expertise that already exists within our schools and the benefits that school-to-school collaboration in SEND can bring.
This has never been about claiming one approach is superior to others. There is no perfect model of SEN provision, certainly no perfect leader of SEN and no one solution. So there should never be one approach. Far better to ask, ‘Under what conditions does this approach work?’
The SEND Review Guide really is just the beginning of a process that we hope will provide the opportunity for ongoing dialogue and partnership that will provide schools with a foundation to collaborate and build communities of practice that really do place improving outcomes for all children, including those with special educational needs, at the centre.
David Bartram OBE
London Leadership Strategy Director of SEND