The clue to Nottinghamshire’s proud special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) history has less to do with Robin Hood, and more to do with his Merry Band. It is through the establishment and maintenance of collaborative working practices that success is being realised.
Nottinghamshire will shortly be publishing its revised SEND policy (2020-23). The opening commitment is a re-stated belief in inclusion, supported by systems which ensure that the majority of children and young people with SEND receive their education in local mainstream settings and access the resources they need without the need for an education, health and care (EHC) plan. This commitment to inclusion extends beyond statutory school age, with success being measured, ultimately, by transition into adulthood.
The standout data for Nottinghamshire include enviable rates of inclusion, low rates of permanent exclusion, very low use of the EHC assessment process, and a high needs budget which is largely under control.
All Nottinghamshire’s state-funded schools are organised in Families of Schools. A Family includes a secondary school and all its feeder primary schools, and the term Family is not accidental. A significant proportion of the High Needs budget is devolved to Families of Schools to allocate between themselves to support the inclusion of children and young people with SEND.
Special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCos) within the family work to agree the priority use of this fixed budget depending on where the children with greatest need are on roll, regardless of whether a pupil has an EHCP or not. SENCos also agree the priority for access to specialist teacher and educational psychologist support, again without the need for an EHC assessment.
This is in part why, in Nottinghamshire, EHCPs are not needed to access SEND provision or specialist SEND support in mainstream settings. In doing this work, SENCos collaborate rather than compete, and through the relationships which they establish with each other are enabled to provide support to each other.
At its best, it is a co-operative culture in which resources are distributed fairly, transparently and according to relative need – a process which Nottinghamshire’s legendary hero would be proud of!
The practice of collaboration and partnership working is well embedded in the systems and processes which operate in Nottinghamshire.
For example, the 10 core values/principles which underpin Nottinghamshire’s revised SEND policy were co-produced using an extensive and inclusive consultation process. The county’s SEND funding policy is the product of a longstanding, fruitful relationship between the local authority and the Schools’ Forum.
The challenge to bear down on an escalation in permanent exclusions was successfully met by the creation of local behaviour partnerships who had a devolved budget to allocate and who could agree managed moves between schools as an alternative to permanent exclusion.
By putting in place systems for local collaboration, Nottinghamshire schools have been enabled to find creative solutions to local, shared concerns.
The story of SEND in Nottinghamshire is one of an evolution rather than revolution of practice, and it is one which continues to evolve. The practices of today, and into the future, build on 30 years of responding to and learning from the legal and cultural changes in the field of SEND since the days of the Warnock report.
Nottinghamshire has identified six next steps it will take to realise the 12 essential outcomes by which its revised SEND policy will be judged. Nottinghamshire’s experience over the last few months has reinforced the value in maintaining and supporting local partnerships.
The further development of locality working will extend the responsibility for the collaborative allocation of resources to a collective accountability for the impact of this local decision-making, measured by outcomes at an individual pupil level.
In time, a reduced reliance on the use of costly independent non-maintained placements could result in that money being used to make better local provision which will enable young people to stay connected with their local community. The hope in Nottinghamshire is for the African aphorism that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ to become the reality that the whole village takes collective responsibility for raising all of its children.
Nottinghamshire’s SEND success has less to do with the swagger of a man in tights, and more to do with the design of systems and processes which build on strengths, and in particular the strength of collaboration, where relationships have been put back at the heart of SEND matters. Our revised SEND policy is proof of a commitment to continue to develop and grow so that more children can be educated in their local community.
It is work not yet finished, but as Robin might say: ‘Where do you think the Major Oak came from?’
Colin Pettigrew is corporate director, children families and cultural services at Nottinghamshire CC