FestABLE – UK’s first National Festival of Specialist Learning

FestABLE – 2nd June 2018

This year is an important year in SEND. April 1 marked the deadline for Education Health and Care Plans, the very foundation the Children and Families Act is built upon. Aspirational in nature but seriously affected by central Government’s austerity programme, it has had a deep and long-lasting effect on children and young people and their families.


That alone is more than enough reason to launch the UK’s first National Festival of Specialist Learning which will be held on Saturday June 2nd at National Star College in Cheltenham.


The one-day festival, called FestABLE, is responding to the growing desire to talk about what will work better for young people with disabilities and learning difficulties and how all of us – professionals, parents and young people – can make difficult things possible.


FestABLE will be an opportunity to talk about what’s challenging all of us involved in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and find paths ahead for all learners and their families.

Something for everyone

The festival is for everyone – young people, professionals and parents. It’s an opportunity for people to be informed by leading professionals in the SEND world, to share experiences and to join in discussions about the future.


Award-winning writer and actress Sally Phillips will be one of the special speakers. Sally – who fronted the BBC documentary A World Without Down’s Syndrome? – will deliver one of the keynote sessions.


Having starred in Smack The Pony and the Bridget Jones trilogy, Sally waded in to the emotionally-charged debate about a new screening test that is said to detect Down’s Syndrome in 99 per cent of pregnancies and explored the effect the test could have on society.


Her appearance will be profoundly important, not only to the hundreds in the audience at FestABLE, but also to hundreds of thousands of people around the country who care passionately about education for children and young people with disabilities and special needs.


Her personal experiences speak for all of us in some way, and at the end of a momentous day at this inaugural event, her humour and compassion will be of immense value as we take forward the ideas and inspiration we have shared.


A host of other excellent speakers

Dr Adam Boddison (right) will be speaking at FestABLE. Pictured here with Axcis manager Mat

Dame Christine Lenehan, author of the review These Are Our Children, along with Dr George Julian and a senior executive of the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman will discuss the concerns, highlighted by the Review, around the rights and aspirations of young people with disabilities at a time when systems and services seem to count for more than the voices of those who use them.


Four professionals, including Renata Blower, from Special Needs Jungle, and Andre Imich, will discuss the impact of the Children and Families Act 2014 – its good points and its negative ones. Attendees will be able to ask questions.


Professor Caroline Rowland will discuss her research on how children acquire language. Her data suggests the quality of language input is of great importance in children’s later language development. Her work explores how the child’s environment promotes and shapes language growth. Prof Rowland’s Language 0-5 project is the largest of its kind in the UK.


A range of evidence shows that speech and language therapy impacts positively on learning outcomes, behaviour and self-esteem. But will this evidence drive the changes we need to see in speech therapy practice and teacher training? Keynote speakers will explain this in detail.


Sarah Driver and Chris Rossiter from the Driver Youth Trust will debate the need for more integrated thinking to drive good quality SEND support in mainstream schools and a less fragmented offering.


Dr Adam Boddison, Chief Executive of nasen – the leading membership organisation for education professionals working with learners who have additional needs – will present the national picture of assessment, inclusion and learner choice, arguing that the notion of ‘outcomes’ must be broader than just qualifications.

A chance to celebrate SEND

Take a ride in an accessible hot air balloon, if you’re feeling brave! Credit Flickr

As well as the presentations, discussions and workshops there is also an opportunity to celebrate all things SEND and to enjoy yourselves. There will be accessible sports and craft workshops, a chance to try out the latest communications technology and, weather permitting, an opportunity to go up in a wheelchair accessible hot air balloon!


There will be quiet areas as well as live music, entertainment and food in the festival village. National Star College’s campus is fully accessible.


It is hoped that this will be the first of many FestABLE events. As hosts, the leadership team at National Star College passionately believe that, with appropriate support, children and young people with disabilities and learning difficulties can reach their full potential. It isn’t about what you can’t do but what you can!


That will be the spirit of FestABLE – working together to improve the opportunities and support for the next generation.

To view the full programme with over 12 parallel streams & to book your tickets please visit www.festable.org

The Axcis May Giveaway will be to win a FREE ticket to this exciting event, so remember to keep an eye on our Facebook page for your chance to enter!

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