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Why Disability Matters in school governance

Richmond Walk Now For Autism Speaks at RIR by Donnie Gladfelter - licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Why Disability Matters in school governance

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Layla BrokenbrowLayla Brokenbrow is programme manager for Disability Matters and a member of the education programme team at the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health. In this guest post she gives an overview of the programme and how it can enable schools and governors to become more aware of, and responsive to, the issues faced by those who have special educational needs and/or disabilities.

2014 brought new duties on local areas regarding provision for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities [1].   The Minister of State for Children and Families then tasked Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) with inspecting local areas on their effectiveness in fulfilling the new duties, beginning later in 2016. Inspectors will be looking at two main areas [2]:

  1. How effectively your local area identifies, meets the needs of and improves the outcomes of the wide range of different groups [3] of children and young people who have special educational needs and/or disabilities as defined in the Act and described in the Code of Practice.
  2. The contribution of education, social care and health services to children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities, as set out in the Act, the Regulations and the Code of Practice.

As a result of the new inspection framework there are now some key questions facing educational settings, the answers of which should be of interest to all governors:

  • How well does our school identify and meet the needs of children and young people who have special educational needs and/or disabilities?
  • What do we do to improve their outcomes, in all areas of life?
  • How high are our expectations for this group of students?
  • Do staff feel confident to discuss their ambitions for the future, do they feel comfortable talking about their hopes or dreams?

A key aspect of the new SEND reforms is the shift from the medicalisation of disability to a person-centred approach placing the young child or person, and their carer(s), at the heart of all communication and planning for the future.

This is a long overdue response to the experience of many disabled children and young people, who have too often found the social and emotional aspects of their lives overshadowed by a pre-occupation with their immediate physical or behavioural care needs and a concern for the impact these may have on others or their own ‘performance’ in the classroom.  As a result, a disabled young person’s very real needs around social inclusion, emotional support and help with friendships, creativity, leisure activities or simply having fun can be missed.

Many young disabled people also report becoming the unwitting victims of others’ low expectations – where behaviour can go unchallenged, choices withheld and opportunities for social and educational inclusion missed or avoided.  As one young Disability Matters author told the programme:

“I only want my abilities to be celebrated as much as you would celebrate anyone else’s. At school, any results I got in tests meant that I was hailed as a genius because I got those grades ‘despite all the difficulties you have to face’.  Looking back, this makes me angry because I am pretty sure I could have achieved significantly more if I had been pushed harder by others.”

These issues of educational and social inequality remained largely unaddressed until the 2011 Winterbourne View Care Home scandal forced the government to act.  As part of its Transforming Care: A National Response document, the Department of Health identified funding to support the development of  inclusive communities bound by a caring culture, and in 2013 challenged the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and the 13 others partners it represented, including the Council for Disabled Children, to develop an attitudinal and behavioural change initiative that would make a real difference in the areas that mattered most to young people and their families.

The result was Disability Matters, a completely free online workforce development tool comprising 58 online learning modules for the health, education and social care workforces.  With its focus on the interaction between knowledge, skills, behaviours and attitudes, Disability Matters has quickly forged a reputation for engaging high quality learning.

Since its launch in early 2015 Disability Matters has gone on to be listed as a recommended training and development resource within the National Accountability Framework for SEND, the Association of Teachers and Lecturer’s Safer School’s site, UCL Global Disability Report, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and Compendium of Multi-Agency Learning Disabilities Training among others.

Of primary importance to governors is the Disability Matters training received by the new CQC SEND Inspectors in preparation for their first visits later in 2016.  Making use of the programme’s e-learning and face to face training resources, the inspectors received 4 hours of training on effective communication and working in a person centred way from representatives of the Disability Matters team.  The inspectors were delighted with the training, while the CQC have said:

“The Disability Matters learning resources, informed by the expertise and experience of children and young people with disabilities, their families and clinical leaders in paediatric health provide an engaging and effective means of learning. They help connect and orient our children’s inspectors to the key issues in safeguarding and promoting good health and opportunities for children with a range of disabilities and health conditions.”

Susan Talbot, Children’s Services, CQC

As indicated by the Inspection Framework and the CQC comments above, it is extremely important that everyone involved in the education of disabled young people seeks their wishes, dreams and aspirations; acting as a conduit and advocate for the young person in meetings about them, and for them. As Lynne Watson, our expert school nurse expands:

“This may mean directing the discussion to involve the young person, to actively seek out their voice and to challenge when other professionals are pushing their point of view rather than the young persons. This is especially important if we are to make a real difference in mitigating and reducing the attainment gap in children and young people’s education. Efforts to improve outcomes means involving children and young people in decision making, or acting as an advocate for them as appropriate. Disability Matters helps teachers and other school members to recognise a child’s individual strengths and positive potential, rather than focusing on a deficit model of what they cannot do.”

School governors & trustees can be reassured that the Disability Matters e-learning resources are evidence based and have been peer-reviewed by leading experts in the disability field.  Developed in full partnership with young people and parent carers, the e-learning is engaging and interactive and designed to support school staff:

  • Better understand the challenges and barriers disabled children and young people face
  • Build their confidence to adopt a whole person approach
  • Improve their communication skills
  • Develop their knowledge of transition in education settings
  • Understand the importance of placing the child and young person at the centre of discussions about them

The Disability Matters e-learning programme has a crucial role to play in everyone’s professional development; because our behaviour and attitudes are not a single entity, but a vital part of how we collectively treat and respect individuals.

Everyone needs to be challenged on their attitudes, behaviours and perceptions of disability regardless of how diversity and equality focused they think they are. No one, regardless of their disability is beyond the capacity to learn. How you support your students’ learning, how you reflect on your own and other’s experiences and how you can use this as a catalyst for personal and  organisational change is relevant to us all. Disability Matters e-learning resources are completely free and can be accessed via www.disabilitymatters.org.uk

Questions for governing boards

When reviewing your induction, staff training and inclusion policies, please ask yourselves:

  • Do we meet the Disability Matters Challenge?
  • Are we SEND Inspection Ready?
  • How well does our school identify and meet the needs of children and young people who have special educational needs and/or disabilities?
  • What do we do to improve their outcomes, in all areas of life?
  • How high are our expectations for this group of students?
  • Do staff feel confident to discuss their ambitions for the future, do they feel comfortable talking about their hopes or dreams?
  • Watch the video below. Could we as governors or trustees succinctly describe the value that children and adults with disabilities bring to our school, whether they are pupils, staff, parents or fellow governors?

References

[1] “These duties are contained in the Children and Families Act 2014 (the Act) and amplified in regulations and in the ‘Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years’[1] (the Code of Practice). The Code of Practice is statutory guidance published by the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department of Health (DoH).” Framework for inspecting local areas in England under section 20 of the Children Act 2004 (Local area SEND inspection framework April 2016, No 160025)

[2] Framework for inspecting local areas in England under section 20 of the Children Act 2004 (Local area SEND inspection framework April 2016, No 160025)

[3] These groups of children and young people are detailed in Part 2 of the ‘Handbook for the inspection of local areas’ effectiveness in identifying and meeting the needs of children and young people who have special educational needs and/or disabilities’.


Image credit: Richmond Walk Now For Autism Speaks at RIR by Donnie Gladfelter – licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

 


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