It’s been what I call a varied week. I’ve met royalty, Lords, Ladies, gentlemen and an ex-prime minister, I’ve welcomed visitors from Northampton, I’ve had a meeting with the new SEND Ofsted lead and I’ve been brought back down to earth with challenges around staffing and numbers of children!
On Tuesday evening myself and Judith were invited to St James’s Palace in London courtesy of SeeAbility. As you will be aware if you have seen our facebook posts, New Bridge is one of only 10 schools nationally to work alongside this long established charity. To put it in a nutshell, they are able to offer specialist eye tests to all our young people, regardless of their needs. The outcomes have been quite transformational, with a significant number of our children found to need glasses which makes such a difference to their learning opportunities. Judith and I were invited to a celebration event and it was brilliant to represent our school, our trust and our town and promote to those assembled what our young people are achieving. I really love the SeeAbility strap line, ‘extraordinary every day’ – it captures our children and young people perfectly.
On Wednesday the lobby group I chair, Special Schools’ Voice, met with Matthew Barnes, the new SEND lead at Ofsted. We discussed many issues ranging from the SEND local area reviews, 3 yearly inspection cycles and safeguarding to the pressures the schools in our sector are facing. It struck me that, as the system becomes more fragmented and disparate, there is a real danger that organisations ‘bunker down’. We have grown our reputation and success by joint and collaborative working. At this point in time we need to ensure we do this all the more. Whether it’s by constructing a strategy with the local authority, working with other schools (this week it was Northampton), offering Ofsted advice or playing a leading role within the school-led system, our trust needs to be at the forefront. We have to shape the policy, we have to drive the strategy forward, we have to be ambitious for our young people – we have to be ‘extraordinary every day’.
So, on to our challenges! Last week our admissions panel discussed over 10 new children and young people. At times it feels that we are constantly altering and changing our classes, staffing and cohorts. All our schools can no longer ‘be full’ – the Department for Education has made it really clear that special schools cannot say they are full and refuse places for children and young people who have an Education, Health and Care Plan. To some extent I understand this position but on the ground it is not easy for any of our heads of sites to manage. Experienced staff do not grow on trees and we can’t extend or modify our buildings in an instant. It is becoming increasingly tricky to manage these situations – these decisions always affect families who are simply looking for the best school to meet their child’s needs.
To end this week’s blog on a positive note, I’d like to pay tribute to and thank our amazing team at Horizons. I met with them on Friday morning as they are also facing similar challenges to our school based staff. It’s important to remember that we started Horizons in 2011 with just 4 young people – to date we support over 80, a phenomenal increase in 6 years!! What a remarkable achievement for the town. What amazing opportunities for our young people. What a relief for families. I’d like to personally thank our staff for their commitment, expertise and skills. I’d also like to thank them for their honesty and ideas on how we can further improve our offer – I have listened and I will act upon your recommendations and ideas. Let’s make sure our offer gets even better!
You can find all Graham’s previous blog entries here