The year 2020 marks a defining moment in time as a direct consequence of the global Covid-19 pandemic. The impact of the pandemic has been felt broadly across the full spectrum of society, but it is arguably those who were already the most vulnerable who have been hardest hit.
Schools remained open for the children of key workers and for vulnerable children, which included those with the most complex special educational needs or disabilities (SEND). However, it is notable that for children with SEND in England who did not have an education, health and care (EHC) plan (more than 1m children), the experience has been more varied with significant expectations in relation to remote education and support. Despite these challenges, the school workforce has consistently gone above and beyond to safely meet the needs of learners with SEND.
During 2020, nasen has led on several national initiatives designed to support Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinators (SENCOs) and the wider workforce. This included targeting some of the funding received from the Department for Education (DfE) on COVID-related resources. For example, through the Whole School SEND consortium, the Covid-19 SEND Review Guide was curated and a Handbook focusing on safe and successful returns to school was also published.
Similarly, the Whole School SEND consortium continued to publish resources as part of the National Health Service’s Ask Listen Do project, including the Returning to school after a period of absence leaflet, which was developed by families. nasen also targeted DfE funding to create resources for those working in the early years. This included a Resilience Development Pack, a set of family case studies and a series of recorded webcasts.
For those supporting learners with complex SEND, nasen worked in partnership with colleagues across the specialist sector to establish the National SEND Reference Group. I chair this group, which has continued to meet fortnightly during the pandemic to discuss effective risk assessment and the safe operation of specialist schools and colleges. Moving forwards, the remit of this group is likely to evolve further to ensure it has long term sustainability and impact.
Despite the pandemic, nasen has continued to publish a range of SEND research through its three peer-reviewed academic journals as well as a range of SEND books, one of the most recent of which is the Governance Handbook for SEND and Inclusion. nasen continues to foster thought leadership and policy research through its financial support for the National SEND Forum and the SEN Policy Research Forum. In particular, nasen’s partnership with Bath Spa University has already resulted in two reports arising from a national SENCO survey and the next report is due to be published in January 2021.
Reflecting on nasen’s journey to date and the challenges and opportunities we face as a sector, now seems to be the right time to share some of our thinking about how nasen can continue to support and develop the SEND workforce (which is essentially everybody, since SEND is everyone’s responsibility) in 2021 and beyond. In addition to ensuring that we become increasingly equipped to meet the needs of all learners with SEND, nasen will continue to act as a conduit between the SEND workforce and the wider sector.
It is essential that there is an equity of educational experience for all learners and nasen has a leading role to play in ensuring that the educational experience for learners with SEND is consistently as good as it is for learners without SEND. I want nasen to continue as a champion, friend and protector for the SEND workforce and to provide the information, resources, training and services needed across the sector.
In 2017, nasen introduced a tiered membership structure, which removed some of the financial barriers to participation and led to membership numbers increasing from around 4,000 to almost 30,000. In January 2021, nasen will remove membership fees completely, so that everybody can have access to the new membership benefits, such as the online version of the bi-monthly magazine, nasen Connect. Making membership free moves nasen more quickly towards one of its key goals, which is for every school and setting in England to have access to expertise in SEND.
To ensure that this new model of free membership is financially sustainable, nasen will introduce a suite of paid-for SEND services, including a SENCO Support Service, a Publications Subscription and an Annual Webinar Pass. We will also grow our international consultancy work, building on the work that nasen has recently undertaken in Pakistan, the UAE and the Netherlands. 2021 and beyond will also see an expansion in the nasen family as we look to offer support to a range of partner organisations across the sector.
As we approach some form of new normal following the pandemic, it is clear there will be an ongoing need to offer support to both learners and the workforce in relation to their wellbeing, so nasen will prioritise work in this area. Similarly, there is a growing awareness and demand in relation to supporting neurodiversity, which will underpin much of nasen’s work.
Within the next year, the SEND Review and the comprehensive spending review will take place and nasen will advocate for the sector to ensure there is sufficient funding and resources for the workforce to be able to undertake their roles effectively. Personally, I would like to see a funded full-time SENCO in every school in England…
Lastly, 2021 is a special year since it is nasen’s 30th anniversary. We will celebrate our birthday by doing more for the sector than ever before and by shining a light on SEND and inclusion excellence through events like nasen Live and the nasen Awards. This year’s incredible nasen Award winners have all shown their resilience and achieved fantastic outcomes for children and young people with SEND going above and beyond in these challenging times. The bar has been raised for 2021!
In this landmark birthday year, nasen will take the opportunity to recognise and reflect its history and to build on this further. We look forward to continuing to work with our members, partners and wider colleagues in the sector to achieve a more inclusive future together.