It is now widely recognised that every teacher is a teacher of SEND. Isn’t every leader a leader of SEND as well?


Numerous discussions and debates continue on the staggering number of fixed-term and permanent exclusions for pupils with special educational needs and with SEN support. Regardless of the changes to the National Curriculum, Statutory Assessment and accountability through Progress 8 and Attainment 8, this is not a new profile of pupils. The new SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) Reforms introduced in 2014 follow years of policy. It has embraced previous challenges by resolutely placing parents and pupils at the heart of the policy.  For a system that has sincerely invested in meaningful SEND legislation which actively develops over time, what is going wrong? 


Isn’t our role as school leaders to navigate the every-changing system with fundamental questions that will always remain anchored in the role of every school across this country: What is our curriculum developing in our pupils? What are we preparing them for? Will they have the knowledge and skills to transition successfully into their next phase of education? Most importantly, will this equip them to lead their role in the wider community? These questions apply to every pupil within the schools we lead, not a group that can respond to a ‘one size fits all’ model of education.


SEN can too often become a label that defines the identity of those pupils. Instead, it should be a lens which school leaders use to forensically consider personalisation of curriculum and assessment systems. It is not merely about adaptation. It is about an honest acceptance of the priorities through evidence-informed knowledge of the barriers to learning. This creates schools which are active professional learning communities, seeking new approaches to pedagogy which will meet the pupils at their point of learning. They are confident in exploring the potential through exploration of what learning can be, instead of a deficit model harnessing everything the pupil is perceived to be doing wrong. We are responsible for their preparation for adulthood, which needs to be driven by who they are beyond that label.


It is now widely recognised that every teacher is a teacher of SEND. Isn’t every leader a leader of SEND as well? Without this commitment from the top, middle leaders can hit a glass ceiling as they embark on personalising their curriculum area for that all important bigger picture. The knock on effect is teachers with meaningful practice having a limited impact because the potential for contextualised progress can’t be pursued. Leadership teams that embrace that vision of aspirational outcomes pave the way for innovation and creativity at classroom level. The development of growth mindset, sense of self, perseverance, resilience, and peer learning prepares every pupil for their future. Great teachers are weaving it into their approaches to teaching and learning because it does support behaviours for learning. Why should this be separate from our assessment system? The principles outlined in the Assessment without Levels Report emphasises the responsibility we have in developing a fit for purpose assessment system which is led by a meaningful curriculum.


 We need change, those exclusion statistics need to drop. It does not need to be about starting from scratch because the answers and ideas are sitting in schools right now. Schools with monitoring and evaluation processes that respond to the priorities arising for groups, instead of generating reports that state ‘underperforming’. Schools with meaningful assessment which gives a rich picture of holistic progress to pupils and their families through formative assessment captured across the year. Teachers and teaching assistants that are passionate about personalised learning and bring specialist approaches into their daily practice. There are developments taking place to ensure SEN is no longer in the periphery of teacher training, so that SCITTs, HEIs, and Teaching Schools are equipped to place it at the heart of the development programme. 


Our school system can increase its capacity. We need to look inside our classrooms for answers as we enhance teacher training and the approaches to continuing professional development and learning. We know these exclusion rates are not acceptable; we also need to be that fundamental fulcrum for change for genuine preparation towards adulthood. 


Vijita Patel

Principal, Swiss Cottage School, Development and Research Centre

Director, London Leadership Strategy

Vijita leads on LLS initiatives SEND LeadersThe SEND Review and Whole School SEND.



9th March 2017
Posted by: 

subscribe to our monthly newsletter