Portrait photo of Abigail Grey.

A guest blog by Abigail Gray.

The day before the new SEND Improvement plan was published, I was at the Outstanding Schools Conference at County Hall with leaders of international schools. There were delegates there from all over the world: India, Ukraine, Greece, The Netherlands, France, Dubai and, of course, the UK.

My good friend Louise Dawson, a passionate advocate for inclusion and an international SEND consultant, had invited me to her session on putting SEND policy into practice. It involved a hilarious pass the parcel activity, but typical of a great SEND practitioner, there was deep intent in the fun. There were presents but also questions instead of forfeits. School leaders quickly began an animated conversation about the challenge and opportunity of an inclusive school. What are the things we need to change? What needs are hardest to meet in the classroom? How do we fund effective support? What is included in our universal offer? How do we meet and manage expectations? This list went on.

One of the words that Louise used repeatedly in her presentation was ‘intentional’. She made it clear that inclusion doesn’t happen by accident, it happens by design. I think she’s completely spot on.

It’s long been my observation that no new plan, no law, no regulation, guidance or policy enacts itself. Writing it down doesn’t make it so. It takes people to do that.

It takes people to firstly be aware of what it is that they need to do, then work out how it might best be done. It takes action and courage and stamina and commitment. It takes personal and professional integrity. Every head teacher, every local authority officer, every teaching assistant, every teacher, every educational psychologist, every one that makes it happen. All of us.

All this talk of transformational plans, while the transformation yet to take place in education is the one that genuinely places children with SEND at the heart of what we do. At the heart of our inspection frameworks, our performance measures, our planning, our pay spine, our conscience. Not only do we need to be absolutely clear in understanding our obligations but, as Louise rightly says, of our intentions.

It’s always very clear to me when this has happened in a school. When a school gets it right for children with SEND, everybody benefits.

There is a sense of ownership and pride in the relationships that exist with families and children.

There is an understanding of the law and its importance in protecting the rights of the most vulnerable.

There is a willingness to listen to all feedback.

There are opportunities to try and sometimes to fail in pursuit of something better.

There is a shared belief that all children can achieve and thrive at school.

There’s a transparent approach to funding for SEND and to establishing value for money.

There is realism in recognising the limitations of both people and resources.

There is a genuine interest in staff well-being and development.

The graduated approach, we hear so much about for students, is in place for us and our own systems.

There is collaboration.

There is laughter.

There is success.

I know. I’ve been there and it was great.