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The impact of Professional Development (PD) Groups – Timothy James

I applied to take part in the 2022/23 PD group at a time when I was considering and developing my action plan for last year. One of the areas identified for action was persistent absence and attendance rates for learners with SEND. We know that nationally, attendance rates for this group is lower than for other learners and this was also the picture in our school. The attendance rate of learners at SEN Support was 83%, and for students with an EHCP it was 72.7%. It was quite obvious that we needed to do something to improve attendance for these students.

The school improvement project enabled me to delve deeper into the detail. I had a one-to-one session with the Regional SEND Lead, Becky, around how I could look to improve the attendance of learners with SEND, and emotionally based school avoidance (EBSA) came up as part of that.

Follow up conversations with Becky, coupled with my subsequent research and the support of my PD group peers all really helped me. That professional dialogue helped me to look at what was happening at a wider LA level. We discussed selected strategies which we felt would work in my school environment, and explored how to put the theory into practice. These conversations led to me being able to implement a new EBSA provision within school with the confidence that I had planned thoroughly.

One of our team has a nurture background and uses a trauma informed schools approach. With their input, we started the provision in November, working with a group of 11 students who had been referred to us internally and were unable to access outside support.

We started with meeting the students and their families to explain the support that was on offer. The attendance of the group has increased from 11% to almost 40%. We’ve also seen that they are not only attending school, but also in joining lessons with their peers again. Their confidence and self-esteem has improved enormously, and they feel safer and more comfortable about being within the school environment.

Prior to getting involved, I’d expected the time commitment (6 group meetings, plus one-to-ones and the delivery of the project) would be a challenge. In actual fact, it was easy!

I found that once I had decided on the area of focus, I could really move things forward. There was enough time between meetings to implement some of the ideas that had been discussed and then feedback to the group. The group was really supportive and the content of the sessions made them really, really worthwhile, so it made attendance an easy choice – I wanted to be there!

Yes, of course it's it was at the end of the school day, but it was always something that I’d look forward to because I was making progress and I wanted to share that, to benefit from feedback from the group and to hear about what other people were doing, and to help shape that, as well.

As a result of the successful outcomes from my School Improvement Plan, we applied to be part of the BIG IDEA FOR SEND – another strand of the Universal SEND Services programme, funded by the Department for Education and delivered by nasen through Whole School SEND. Through this, we’ve been awarded a small amount of funding to help spread the word about our project with the aim of enabling other settings to implement EBSA provision.

We also now have regular contact with the LA around how we can develop provision further, and I’m now part of their working party for EBSA. We are constantly building on what we’ve done, casting the net wider and helping others to do more in this space.

All in all, there are lots of exciting things happening on all sorts of levels, but ultimately the most important outcome has been that attendance has dramatically increased due to the fact that we have this provision in school.

What I find most astonishing is that all of this came from the seed of an idea and a quick, informal chat with Becky! I’d encourage anyone to take part!

Timothy James is Director of Inclusion at Bedford Academy, where he leads on SEND, wellbeing, English as an additional language and – more recently - alternative provision and attendance. The school has approximately 13,000 students on role. 140 learners are on the SEND register and 32 learners currently have Education, Health and Care Plans.

Professional Development Groups are delivered as part of Universal SEND Services - an ambitious three-year programme, funded until 2025 by the Department for Education and delivered by nasen through the Whole School SEND Consortium in strategic partnership with the Education and Training Foundation and the Autism Education Trust. 

To find out more about our Professional Development Groups, visit  School improvement for SEND | Whole School SEND

Register your interest in taking part in the September 2023 Professional Development Groups: