Welcome to the final issue of SEND news for this academic year. It has certainly been a year of change for Inclusion services at the Local Authority, and for me as the strategic manager for Inclusion Transformation. We end the year very excited about the work being planned for our next academic year and the impact we know this will have on children’s lives.
There is a real myth in the world of education that these last few days and weeks bring a sense of ‘winding down’. As a former Headteacher and now leader in the LA I know this could not be further from the reality, with everyone focused on ensuring everything is in place for the new academic year and with so many new beginnings for our children and their families.
As many of you will know, our inclusion service in the LA has undergone significant change this year with a redesign of structures and the posts within those structures. This redesign in inclusion aims to bring about improved outcomes for our most vulnerable children and young people. Those new posts commenced at the start of 2023, and our new transformation team has been all about capacity-building and evidence-gathering in order to initiate projects that will bring confidence that improved outcomes for children with SEND are achievable in this coming year.
This year has seen development work taking place that will transform the way in which we work together for children. Possibly our most significant development this year that we must celebrate is the implementation of the Somerset Inclusion Tool. More than 80% of our schools are engaged in this piece of work, which, for a county the size of Somerset, is significant. The tool will enable us to accurately target our support to schools and identify strengths within the system to share more widely. Although the tool (known as Valuing SEND in other authorities) is being used by LAs across the country, Somerset is driving the improvement of the tool’s capabilities to maximise its potential in developing mainstream provision for children with SEND.
Somerset is also driving the national development of information-sharing through a complex set of data warehouses. The council won a grant eighteen months ago to pilot ground breaking work that will enable schools to link with wider systems in understanding their cohorts and the provision which enable their children to thrive. This pilot work is due for full roll out during the next academic year, providing much needed support not only to schools, but will lead to parents decreasing the number of times they need to talk about their child to different services. The work has also led to developments in how our localities work around families.
There are many aspects of our work that excite me as we leave one academic year and plan for another, but most significant, I think, is the work we have planned around children who have needs related to social, emotional and mental health (SEMH). Having won a significant grant to support our work, this complex area will see an injection of focus and energy in the new academic year, and will be supported very much by every area across children’s services. This grant enables us to undertake projects with mainstream primary and secondary schools who are incredibly enthusiastic about working together and learning from one another to develop provision in this area.
Beyond the grant, we also have a new Trust working effectively with our current SEMH special school. Our Pupil Referral Units are working collectively on how they are able to provide expertise and capacity to the system, our new SEMH specialist free school is due to open, another SEMH free school application has been approved and our new area teams are pulling services and organisations together to work more closely than ever before around families most in need.
As you embark on this final edition of SEND news this year, I will leave you with this thought which I have shared with my team: transformation does not happen quickly, it is not easy but it will be the best work we ever do.
See you in September,