Last week, Axcis were proud to be headline sponsors of the SSAT leadership conference in Nottingham. With a range of notable schools sharing their fantastic practice, and inspirational speakers reminding us why working with vulnerable young people is of such huge importance (and not to get disheartened by ever-changing legislation), everyone surely came away with some brilliant ideas to share with their respective teams.
Jessica Nash, Head of Special Schools Network kicked off the day with a warm welcome (no pun intended on the hottest days of the year so far!) She introduced the pupils from Bennerley Fields School with their Headteacher, Debbie Gerring and Sue Morris-King (HMI and National Lead for Behaviour and Attendance). They shared their experience of involving pupils in their school improvement plan and discussed the success of their strategy. It was fantastic to see students so engaged with their school and positive about their futures, and that of their peers.
Next up, Catherine Taylor and Sue Allen from Oakfield High School discussed ways of making pupil premium effective, sharing plenty of ideas of how this budget can be used effectively. Looking around the room, you could see other school leaders nodding along in agreement with some of the excellent ideas being shared.
After lunch we were treated to a student film, followed by Professor Barry Carpenter discussing pathways to support pupil well-being and achievement. This was a useful topic since the change from EBD to SEMH has foxed many of us! He included plenty of poignant facts which really made you stop and think – such as:
- “Schools are now tier one mental health services” – reminding us of our new, enhanced responsibilities in this area as school practitioners
- “Anorexia and self harm have both doubled” (in the number of cases being reported in the last 4 years) – highlighting the need to understand and recognise these issues at school level
- “By 2020, depression will be the most prevalent childhood disorder”
He suggested some fantastic activities to engage young people with emotional wellbeing, such as simply writing down what makes us happy, and what makes us sad. If we understand how to encourage happiness and positivity in our students, and what helps to trigger it then we can help improve self image, self esteem and self concept (three areas which Barry argues are the foundations of personal achievement and fulfilment).
Barry went on to remind us that “Anxiety is a key block to learning and can prevent the imprint on the brain” – so basically, if our students are anxious, we can’t expect them to learn or remember what they’ve learned effectively.
When you consider that 1 in 5 children and teens will experience mental health issues at some point, and these issues do not discriminate between students who have SEND and those who do not, it becomes even more clear how important the role of schools now is as tier one mental health services for the students under their care.
Interestingly, Neuroscience and psychological research are now also beginning to confirm that recent trends of increased practical craft projects and hobbies may constitute a more comprehensive brain therapy than traditional pharmacological approaches. I personally found this to be both fascinating and important – after all, wouldn’t we all like to see children happy doing craft projects instead of having their happiness (or lack of mental illness) forced by medication?
Day 1 was rounded off by workshops, one of which was run by us at Axcis! We offered some useful insight into the recruitment process and how schools might be able to tweak their own recruitment methods to achieve greater success in this area. If you’d like a copy of our presentation, get in touch!
Jessica again kicked off day two, showed a student presentation film and then introduced Graham Quinn, Executive Principal of New Bridge Group and Chair of SSAT’s Special School and SEN Headteacher Steering Group. After he had spoken about The Special Schools Network, we were treated to a session led by a group of five special schools in Kingston upon Thames. They shared their approach towards assessment and measuring achievement against expectations for each individual – rather than against standards set by external agencies. Later in the day, other speakers continued to comment on how valuable their talk had been and how many of the schools present could certainly take home some of the outstanding ideas in practice in Kingston.
After a short break, David Cameron spoke about Meeting the Need – achieving the ambition. His humorous introduction with the song “Where is the Love” opened his talk with this poignant question which he felt needs to be asked and answered in all schools. He reminded us that schools are filled with individuals – and we can’t all be measured in the same way. He commented upon the need to measure each person in the context of the situation (and commented that Kingston schools are doing a fantastic job of setting the bar in this area).
David discussed how feedback is the most effective form of promoting progress. I found this to be an interesting statement because I have just completed a professional coaching course and I learned exactly the same thing in the context of business professionals – but we need to remember that children are people too, and it stands to reason that identifying your own areas for improvement, and setting your own targets will make you more likely to be positive and enthusiastic about reaching them than by simply being told what you are doing isn’t good enough!
David also suggested a fantastic leadership activity for a staff development session. He said that if you have an area you need to work on, draw up a graph, put effort and time on one axis, and impact on the other – get your team to write down ideas on post it notes and put them (roughly) onto the graph. Throw away the low impact/high effort-time notes and focus on the low effort/high impact strategies. Such a simple activity – but certainly one I can see the value in when we all live such busy, hectic lives and are in constant danger of stress-overload!
Jessica closed the conference by summing up all that had been discussed over the two days and thanking everyone for their patience on what had been (we now know) the hottest July days in recorded history – and we had been in a conference centre with broken air conditioning! The staff all held up incredibly well and did a fantastic job of looking after us – for that we are eternally grateful! We eagerly look forward to the next SSAT event and all that the relationship between Axcis and them has to bring!