Dandelion Hope

By Anita Devi

If aliens were to land on our planet, I wonder what they would make of dandelions?  They are funny kind of plant and yet so potent.  Let me take a moment of your time, to share a few thoughts on dandelions.

Did you know …??

  1. The name dandelion is derived from the French translation “dent de lion” meaning lion’s tooth.  However, the plant is also known by many other names, such as blowball, cankerwort, doon-head-clock, yellow-gowan, Irish daisy, monks-head, priest’s-crown, and puff-ball, to name a few.
  2. Whilst many see the dandelion as a weed, it is in fact a perennial herb plant. The plants, believed to be native to the Mediterranean, were well known by ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians.
  3. The dandelion flower opens to greet the morning and closes in the evening to go to sleep.
  4. There are four stages to a dandelion life cycle – seedling, maturing, flowering and germination.  This is a great time lapse video of the last two stages
  5. Poetically, the dandelion is the only flower that represents the three planets of the sun, moon, and stars. The yellow flower resembles the sun, the puff ball resembles the moon, and the dispersing seeds resemble the stars. 
  6. After flowering is finished, the dandelion flower head dries out for a day or two. The dried petals and stamens drop off, the bracts reflex (curve backwards), and the parachute ball opens into a full sphere. When development is complete, the mature seeds are attached to white, fluffy “parachutes” which easily detach from the seed head and glide by wind, dispersing. The seeds can cover large distances when dispersed due to the unique morphology of the pappus that adjusts to the moisture in the air. This allows for maximum dispersal and further germination.
  7. Dandelion roots, leaves, buds and flowers have all been used for food, medicine and dye for colouring. They are plants with high nutritional value, though excessive use can cause allergies, stomach cramp, diarrhoea and heartburn for some.

In short, it is a plant that keeps of giving. The dandelion life cycle is relatively short and yet in each of its phases, it gives so much.

So, what got me thinking about dandelions?  Was it their invasion during the current season? Below are a few photographs I took recently during a well-being walk.

Dandelion photography (AD, 2021)

In fact, it was a book entitled ‘Dandelion’s Dream’ by Yoko Tanaka. I was looking at books to support post COVID19 conversations.  There are mixed reviews on Dandelion’s Dream.  My initial reaction was …hmm, but the more I looked at this, I could see its potency.  I’ve said this a few times on different platforms – whilst the concept of ‘lockdown’ may be global, the experience is personal and individual. We do need to understand the journey people have been on and what it means to them.

Book Dandelion’s Dream by Yoko Tanaka

The book led me to research poem about dandelions. Here is one I like in terms of imagery and shape.


Free flight

fields of yellow

puffballs flying at will

tiny seedlings manoeuvring

their way through summer skies in elation

seeking new adventures elsewhere

liberty’s timeless flight

fuzzy sky haze

free flight

Dandelions by Writinstuffs @all_poetry https://allpoetry.com/15242269

Dandelions for me represent both hope and generosity. I’ll end with a song … that a field of dandelions could sing … but so could you!

What are your thoughts on dandelions?


Five Key Reflections #HandsUp4HealthyMinds 2018

Last academic year working with Hays Education, I was privileged to deliver a number of Breakfast Seminars or Twilight Meetings to Leaders in Education on ‘Mental Health Awareness’ in schools. In total, we delivered over 12 events to average audiences of 50-100 people.  Those who attended had the influence and authority back in schools to initiate and drive change. These conversations served to not only raise the profile of mental health in schools, but also culminated in us thinking about the assumptions we make and how we can do things differently.

The following is a summary of the 5 main key learning points we discussed across all the meetings in the Hays Education Mental Health Awareness Roadshow and how it relates to World Mental Health Day 2018.  It should be noted the key points from these meetings contributed to a government consultation submission during the same period.

#1 Everyone has mental health and just like physical health we ALL need to invest time in maintaining it.

Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” – World Health Organisation, (August 2014)

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Therefore, mental illness is a condition which causes serious disorder in a person’s behaviour or thinking.

In line with this, we considered three elements:

  • What constitutes the ‘normal stresses of life’?
  • When discussing resilience in schools, do we focus on self-esteem and confidence, missing out the elements of developing self-efficacy and social problem solvers?
  • Are we mindful of the language we use? Do we use language associated with mental illness to exaggerate feelings (e.g. I’m feeling depressed …) or do we sometimes misuse language in jest to describe behaviours (e.g. The OCD side of me …)

#2 Thriving is more desirable than striving!  This was unanimous.

Reflection:  What does thriving for pupils and staff look like in your setting?  What are the barriers to thriving or the stiflers that promote a striving culture?

#3 What to do.  Those who suffer from mental illness need three core things:

  • Respect – this is about an open culture of acceptance
  • Support – access to the right support, in the right way and at the right time
  • A plan – to help manage the wobbly bits of life (every day stresses that are over powering). A named person to talk to, someone to call, when things go pear-shaped etc. This helps promote safe-independence.

#4 Are mental health problems on the rise for children and young people?  This is something we debated extensively and if you really think about it there are arguments on both sides.  We explored what key community leaders had said and why.  We concluded by sharing five top tips:

  1. It is important for ALL children and young to have a named person they trust and can talk to.
  2. Schools need to provide information on the promotion of good mental health for ALL.
  3. Creative outlet is necessary, and schools can think about how they use the curriculum / targeted extra activities to promote this.
  4. Pupils need access to information on mental illness, to reduce the stigma.
  5. Finally, it is imperative, those suffering from mental illness have expedient access to therapies, if they need it.

#5 There is wealth of resources out there and schools need to build a bank of information for staff and pupils to access.

The Local Offer in your area is a good place to start.

A toolkit for schools and colleges by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families

Social Emotional Mental Health by SEND Review Portal

In conclusion, mental health is an everyday issue that we need to discuss more.  There are no easy answers, but together we can begin to shift the tide for everyone!  Remember, everyone has mental health and that’s the message behind this year’s #HandsUp4HealthyMinds World Mental Health Day.

It’s time for everyone to act!

Further reading and resources:

World Mental Health Day Toolkit 2018

Mental Health Foundation

Combined MH Roadshow 2017-18 v2

As educators, isn’t it time we looked at social value for money?

I write this piece not as an expert, but as an advocate for making this world a better place. This blog is divided into three main parts: personal reflections, a few current examples of action for discussion and finally, the what next question.  I begin with a few milestone reflections that help to position my journey to date.

  • First and foremost, I am a teacher by vocation. However, my personal journey and interest has given me a wider perspective on areas associated with social justice and equity, leadership for change and policy development.
  • Back in 2007, I was privileged to work with The Audit Commission on the SEN/AEN Value for Money (VfM) Toolkit. I remember the first meeting well.  I was the newbie on the block.  As I listened to much more learned individuals deliberate on the problem, but little on the solution, something stirred in me. I popped up the confidence to offer a possible solution already available to leaders in schools.  The civil servant in the room immediately knocked my idea down as ridiculous and so I remained silent for the rest of the meeting.  My idea, focused on a participatory process, which clearly added a social dimension to value for money discussions.  By the next meeting, colleagues at The Audit Commission had undertaken some research and the proposal I had put forward was now the leading paradigm for change.  There was one slight exception.  What I had proposed as a participatory process for the good of the community and by the local community, was now a bureaucratic template file that had to be filled in!   This, plus several other experiences, have always spurned my aversion towards review models that are tick list exercises, especially in the field of special educational needs, inclusion and disability.  If there is no underpinning collaborative theory of change – what’s the point?
  • Introduction of the Social Value Act in 2012 and school funding reforms in 2013 provided the platform for me to co-present national briefings on School Funding & Finance. Simultaneously, co-founding a social enterprise to increase community access for special educational needs and disability resources peaked my interest in looking at alternative models.  This is a work in progress, which is now (post SEND reforms implementation) gaining momentum. I recorded some of my earlier thoughts in a Pioneer Post blog in 2013.  The following academic year, I helped co-organise a panel discussion on ‘Do 21st century school offer social value?’  The contributions were passionate and reflected the true diversity of the panel and audience.
  • Around this time, I also wrote to senior officials responsible for the accountability of schools. My question was simply:  how could existing frameworks embrace the Social Value Act (SVA) 2012?  I received a non-committal response.  The revised Common Inspection Framework (CIF) in 2015, didn’t embrace the SVA.  For other reasons, the model and its subsequent revisions in recent years, is an improvement on previous approaches … but also a missed opportunity to embrace SVA.

So where are we today?

Like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2015-2030, the Social Value Act requires everyone to play their part. In effect, it is complicated, as it involves several stakeholders … who all hold different views on what matters and what counts as ‘social value’.  The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 requires public bodies to consider how the services they commission and procure might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area. Commissioners are required to factor social value in at the pre-procurement phase, allowing them to embed social value in the design of the service from the outset.  From a local government perspective, I often cite Croydon local authority as a good example, though there are others on the Gov.uk website. Other case studies from health and social care.

There are multiple ways we can look at this from an education perspective. For example, Dave Boden in the publication Insight (Issue Number 15, April 2018) reflects on demonstrating the impact of personal development of pupils.  Dave Boden is strategic lead at the Grace Academy Trust.  Using a variety of tools and with clarity on the 5Ws and H of measuring impact, Dave argues it is possible to measure impact of the spiritual, moral, social & cultural (SMSC) elements of the curriculum.  I agree!  My Advanced Diploma research thesis in 2002 on the previous National Curriculum and SMSC provides a similar rationale and approach.   Ashoka Changemaker Schools is another great example.  In higher education, many institutions have adopted an approach to considering the social value for students, and of institutions.  However, this isn’t necessarily how impact is currently measured.  This OpEd by Nick Petford might help to clarify a possible vision for the future.  Sir Michael Barber et al (2012 p31) published an Innovation Framework in the essay, “Oceans of Innovation”.  The document is well worth a read.  The key messages chime with a broader perspective of leadership in education and a consideration of wider benefits. For me, leadership has always been about building teams to widen influence and impact.

Innovation Framework

I often hear school leaders talking about the constraints of the current assessment and accountability system.  I find myself often disagreeing.  I do believe there is opportunity for greater autonomy.  However, whether this autonomy is used wisely, nor not, is another matter.  It was encouraging to read in a recent blog by Sean Harford,  about the need for schools/leaders to shift from meaningless data to ‘meaningful assessment of the right things at the right point in the curriculum’.  For sure, there is a debate to be had as to what constitutes ‘meaningful’.  In my mind, I would categorise the social value of learning as meaningful.  Mary Rayner HMI (2016) also clearly stipulated the need for us educators and leaders to ‘measure what we value, not value what we measure’.  What is it you value?  What is it your local community (including pupils, parents and families) value and how do you know?  This brings me, full circle back to the ‘participatory process’ I shared with the Audit Commission back in 2007.  Many settings (cross phase, mainstream, special and independent), still use this method, called a Provision Review to collectively define high-quality teaching and additionality, year on year.  it is cost effective and everyone has a voice.  Please note a Provision Review is not the same as Provision Mapping (which is part of the paperwork approach often put forward).  The strength of a Provision Review lies not just in the process, but in the engagement of all stakeholders, in defining what matters, whilst simultaneously reducing the paperwork!  Social dialogue to define social value.

Call for action

So, what can we do? Below, are just a few questions, which will hopefully act as pointers.  You may have ideas of your own, which I would be interested to hear about.  As an educator and leader:

  • Consider what value you and your organisation add to society, over and above the academic and monetary returns
  • How can you measure this added ‘social value’ and is there a common consensus?
  • How you promote and celebrate added social value?
  • In commissioning and procuring goods and services, how can you/your institution, utilise more efficiently, organisations that clearly define and demonstrate their social value?
  • How is your learning community contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals?  Can you do more?

As I shared, at the onset, I don’t’ have the answers and I’m an advocate, not an expert.  However, I do believe we need the debate and we need to stop missing opportunities.  What I do know is, I want children and young people to grow into confident men and women committed to improving the world, not just for themselves, but others too.  I want children and young people to have an educational experience that is more than just academic.  An experience that develops them as people and leaders, whatever the future holds.  I want individuals (including myself) to think less about the self and more about the other.  None of this will happen, unless we change the paradigm and embrace the importance of social value.  Change does not come without a cost.  However, the gain of a sustainable social value lifestyle, far outweighs the short-term cost.  Are you up for the challenge?  Together let’s be courageous!

Further reading:

Social Value Hub http://www.socialvaluehub.org.uk/

Buy Social https://www.socialenterprise.org.uk/buy-social

Case study: Changing Education system | Margret Rasfeld from Germany (Video) – student voice on social value of education

Three #DigiMeets & PedagooHampshire 2016-2017

#1 Developing and strengthening #Teams 2016

The political events over the last few weeks have certainly served to highlight the power of teams and leadership. There are many facets to leadership; but for me a key aspect is ‘developing & strengthening teams’.

In my professional role, I am part of several teams and I also lead a national team of SEND specialists. These specialists are located across the country, come from different backgrounds and offer an amazing range of skills and expertise. Collectively we deliver evidence-based online CPD across the globe. Our mission is simple: improving outcomes for learners through targeted workforce development.

So how do I manage my team?

1) Choose wisely – in building a team in the first place, I look for people who are not only different to me, but also better than me! I think about the collective dynamic.

2) Clarity – Different people means different perceptions. So, I believe strongly in open dialogue, modelling and harnessing a culture of support & challenge. Nurturing relationships is key.

3) Communication – I invest time in planning my communications and sending timely updates. I get lots of feedback from the regular top tip info-graphic I send out. My team, can also book regular one-to-one time with me and one of my key questions is “How can I support you?”

4) Listen – I am keen for my team to grow in all aspects of their lives. So I listen to what drives them or what they place a value on and make a point to home in on these during interactions. I actively seek out opportunities to support their growth.

5) Encouragement – there is such a joy in seeing someone develop.  I make time to express my gratitude for the work they do. Publicly and privately I honour them for the amazing people they are and not just what they do.

Part of my role also involves liaising with external partners for my team members. Each comes with a different set of expectations; which isn’t always easy.

So, what have I learnt this year:

  • Plan: Investing time in the strategic makes the operational a natural process – forward thinking based on reflective practice is priceless
  • Patience: Recognise some team members need reminders and repetition – knowing the difference between equity and equality
  • Praise: Value what each team member brings to the table – however big or small: it all counts, and diversity is our strength!
  • Performance: When we focus on supported quality input – the output takes care of itself

This year, I also launched the 1st National SENCO Masterclass. My dream is to develop the professional expertise and pathways for SENCOs beyond the National SENCO Award. This has been a different team building approach … but that’s a story for another day!

#2 The Challenging Nature of Leadership 2016

Leadership is not easy. It is not about personality traits but learned behaviours that develop overtime through the synergy of conceptual knowledge growth and experience. Authentic influence is acquired, not an automatic reaction.

In this blog, I seek to focus on 5 aspects around the nature of leadership; sharing some observations and hopefully providing ideas for further development. I do not think there is a single solution to any situation. Effective decision making is born out of open dialogue.

Top tips for success: Use every opportunity to articulate the connection of your vision to your values. Give voice to the direction of travel. Invest in supportive mentors, coaches and friends.

  • Identity

People often talk about leaders being role models. However, this behaviour is rooted in a core knowledge of knowing ‘who I am?’ This identity knowledge is the catalyst for defining beliefs, values and principles – thereby determining character.

Over the years, a number of eminent leaders (including Ralph Waldo Emerson & Stephen Covery) have quoted the following:

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

Thoughts speak from a place of who we believe we are.

Top tips for success: Sieve your thoughts, consider options & be open to new ideas.

  • Clarity

Leaders need to not only articulate where they (and others) are headed, but also define the direction and pace of travel. This is about more than communication. It embraces sustainability i.e. not losing track when distractions come along, but equally being flexible and open; responding to changing circumstances.


  • Challenge 4 Change

Ironically, I think this is the one most leaders find a challenge. They want change, but do not want to be challenged. In recent months, I have seen two common responses by school leaders to challenge. The first to take it personally and in doing so lose sight of the discussion. Fragile egos often get in the way of progress. The second is to respond with ‘I know’ – great way to stop conversations. Since more & more conversations take place on social media, we are in danger of becoming an industry that feeds on false empathy.

Top tips for success: Be open to challenge and if you need to challenge 4 change, avoid seeing it as a trade-off for being popular!

  • Enable

Leadership can be infectious and has the potential to ignite thousands of hearts and minds into leadership. Our big stories feed the wow factor but have a short shelf-life. Our best stories help others feel ‘I can too’.

Top tips for success: Invest in others – share you best stories!

  • Hope

It is too easy to criticize, much harder to be a leader of hope. Hope needs to be real and not just a there, there factor.

Top tip for success: Know what you are hopeful for and share it regularly.

Be the best of who you are, because your best is well designed and unique!

#3 Prepare for success: Leadership 2016/7

We all want success. But what does success mean? What does it look like? Do we embrace success when it arrives?

A man of faith has a dream one night. In it, the Lord appeared before him and said, “Whatever happens, I will be there for you, I will help you”. He awoke felling safe, secure and protected. A few weeks later, his town was hit by floods. The water was up to his knees. The rescue team knocked at this door. ‘No, no, no the Lord will save me!’ He declined their help. The water level now filled the first floor, a boat came by and offered him a ride to safety. ‘No, no, no the Lord will save me!’ He declined their help. Finally perched on the roof, a helicopter flies by and offers to rescue him. ‘No, no, no the Lord will save me!’ He declined their help. The man drowned. When he met his maker he asked why the Lord had not helped him. To which he received the reply, “Who do you think sent the rescue team, the boat and helicopter?”

Sometimes we are so caught up in striving for success, we don’t recognise it when it arrives. Other times, we have fixed views on what we think success ‘should’ look like, we miss out on what it ‘does’ look like. Each of us is unique.

My leadership pledge: to prepare for success; embrace it and enable others to the same!

Success involves change. If it didn’t we would be stagnant! There is a positive synergy between learning and change that accelerates success. Success breeds success. So in effect our journeys are from success to more success! That might be big leaps or small steps. It doesn’t matter. Without the journey, there is no destination. Without the destination, there is no journey. Where to start? Gratitude. Being grateful, I find, helps me to align my thinking. It stops me being distracted by the day-to-day mundane issues and focuses my attention on the bigger picture. So do we really prepare ourselves for success? Do we engender a culture (devoid of jealousy and comparison) to say it’s ok to be successful? Do we allow success to be part of our identity? Are we comfortable in celebrating the success of others? Do we choose a joy-filled lifestyle?

Since I was 14, I have been continually refining my dream on what I want the educational experience to be like for children and young people, in this country and around the world. It’s in my DNA. It takes collective effort and will plus a sustained commitment. Along the way, I’ve taken risks, I’ve made mistakes … and I’ve embraced opportunities when there was a knock at the door. The successes came in all shapes and sizes – they still do!

I wish everyone optimum success in the coming year in all areas (work, relationships, goals, dreams or just doing life).

Have the courage to answer the door and celebrate! 

PedagooHampshire 2016-17 (see photo above)

Simplify: 4Cs + 4Es

Reflections often (not always) include a rewind. So this my Rewind << of #pedagoohamphire16:

As a previous senior leader, I would habitually probe my staff after CPD on not just what they had learnt, but what that would change in the classroom/for pupils. Face-to-face and with established relationships, this was easy to do. So as @vivienne‍ led the final keynote, I was heartened to hear her remind us of the distinction between professional learning & professional development. In recent years, as I have delivered more CPD externally, I have asked attendees what they will do as a result of my input. Too often, the reply was a to-do list! That’s not change. In my field of SEND, I started to shift into strategic planning evaluations. Whilst this had stronger mileage than to-do lists, I still wasn’t hitting the right chord for professional development. Vivienne’s presentation was erudite and energising; hitting the right balance between challenge and support. We were asked initially, what in our thinking has changed?

Successful schools for me, have three core elements:

1) Practitioners have a model OF learning, which they use to identify and address barriers to learning

2) There is a shared language FOR learning, which serves to ignite meta-cognitive dialogues

3) There is an appreciation of the ‘joy of learning’ and the development of #JoyChampions (more on this at a later date)

Working in many schools, as I do, I see a variety of models of learning. A recent one, that caught my attention was: Collect (knowledge/info) – Connect (make links) and Create (apply what you have learnt to develop something new). The children in the school found this easy to grasp, discuss and deliver.

So, what shifted for me?

Rewind <<

The first keynote speaker Patrick @ottleyoconnor mentioned his recent participation in a conference in Vietnam. The focus of the conference was the three Es: energise, engage and empower. Awhile back, I developed the 4Es to support the SEND Reforms. This for me combined the learning and development, we would need to deliver the changes ahead. I still stand by these

What struck me about the Vietnam experience though, was how they mirrored the same conference theme for students and staff simultaneously. So in the same vein, surely the 4Cs above (revised model post #pedagooampshire16) could be used for staff and students. I have already drafted a staff template; which I will use at a CPD in October – watch this space for feedback. Any thoughts, in the meantime – much appreciated. This (as am I) is a work in progress!

Sandwiched between the two keynotes were a number of well-paced thought-provoking sessions and of course lunch! Grateful to all involved.

Rewind <<

That takes me to the start of the day and the night before, both marked by fun social interactions, generosity and encouraging banter.

And that’s where I think I will begin my Monday back at work … socially engaged with a new paradigm. What will I rewind on Friday?

#WomenEd 2015-2017

#1 Being Authentic
I choose me!
This blog post is a prelude to the learning conversation I am facilitating this weekend at the @WomenEd Unconference 2015. The aim of my blog is to encourage reflective thought and dialogue among attendees, as well as those looking in.
Authenticity is defined in the dictionary as ‘real or genuine, not copied or false, true and accurate’. Words such as trust, truthful, authoritative & integrity are often used to describe how authenticity is observed or recognised in daily life.
I like to think of ‘being authentic’ as ‘being intentional’ i.e. values-based and with heart. This implies a deeper awareness of personal agendas. Adopting a very simplified model, personal agendas can operate at two levels: technical and operational.
The specialist knowledge of who we are i.e. our values, strengths, talents, experience, aspirations, joys, hurts, inhibitions, desires etc. We are the only person to have lived with ourselves from birth. Someone once said to me “We are three people – the one we think we are, the one others think we are and the one we really are”. Interesting perspective. Individuals with whom we share an intimacy and frequency of communication often do have a greater insight into us through their objective outsider and empathetic perspective. Equally, often our perceptions of who we think we are and who others think we are do not always align with potential. The early days of The Beatles is a good example of this. As a young band, they enjoyed performing together and they believed they had something to offer to be famous. Several record labels initially turned them down for being too distinctive or without musical gravitas. No-one then knew the legendary phenomena they would turn out to be influencing generations across the world even beyond the life of the band and the life of individual members. The opposite can also be true. We can hold ourselves in higher esteem than we really are. You only need to watch a few shows of the X-Factor or BGT to see this. I guess it’s about accurate personal calibration.
This is the way we communicate who we are to ourselves and others. This is about the synergy of head (our thoughts, decisions and reasoning), heart (our beliefs, feelings and emotions) and behaviour (our actions). I am not implying that we need to share everything we think and feel with everyone. No, there needs to be a discerning filtering process depending on the relationships we have and the roles we are in. We all have vulnerabilities that we need to process in aligning our past, with the present as well as building for a future. This occurs against the continual backdrop of ‘life happens’ (unexpected eventualities). Each relationship carries with it a different level of intimacy and influence that also determines the extent to which we feel comfortable sharing, at what time and in what way. Our personalities also play a part. As an INFJ, I am all too aware of the environment I need to really open up. In addition, I would like to propose that in developing an increasing synergy between our head, heart and behaviour we need to be aware of masks or barriers.
There are times in my life when I have thought something in my head (e.g. I want to forgive X for hurting me), but I haven’t really felt it in my heart or even possibly shown it in my behaviour. We forgive for our own healing; therefore, it doesn’t always involve a behaviour to the other person. We may choose never to speak to them again, but we can still forgive. Awareness of this mismatch/masking behaviour has enabled me to pursue ‘authenticity’ at a deeper level. What I noticed is my behaviour changed, when my heart changed. Memory (real and perceived or active and subdued) also has a part to play. Masking can exist when we pretend to be someone we are not. This simply implies we haven’t sorted the technical or operational stuff out (often unintentionally) or we haven’t connected the technical with the operational. Human beings are complex.
Recently, I tried an experiment. I declared in my head “I choose not to be offended. I choose not to partner disappointment”. I didn’t feel it in my heart (misalignment), but I embraced it in my thoughts. In the weeks that followed, what I noticed was when challenges came my way – these two declarations became my rock for blocking out negativity in my heart and thereby changing my response/reaction. Affirmations (positive and/or boundary-based like my example) often start off in our heads as repeated statements, but as they seep into the heart, behaviours change. Well that’s my experience anyway.
By no means, do I have the answers and writing this blog to explain intrinsic processes hasn’t been easy. But I hope it makes us all think and think differently. If you disagree with what I have said – great … I hope you feel free to tell me how and why. If you can relate to what I have shared again, do please get in touch.
The @WomenEd Unconference has given me the opportunity to articulate some of these issues, but it is an on-going journey. I look forward to meeting some of you at the event and others … may our paths cross at the appropriate juncture in time, experience and life!

#2 Celebrating Uniqueness
So glad I am me
The #WomenEd Unconference (03.10.2015) was more than a historic event or moment in time. It was a catalyst for change – personal, organisational & national.
As I entered the conference what struck me most was the delightful tones of women gathering and chatting. This continued throughout the day – it was purposeful banter! I’m not a great chatterer myself, but I do enjoy listening to others positively and with animated articulation share their perspectives. The opening presentations were both erudite and pertinent. From the first utterance of ‘Good Morning’ on the podium, the supportive and challenging learning process started. We were off to a flying start. This was propelled through laughter, music and a mega emphasis on the Fun Factor!
Women from up and down the country; in all colours, shapes and sizes, with wide ranging backgrounds and experiences led most of the day. This was diversity in action. Sixty odd sessions in total with a breadth and depth of ideas and perspectives. All the sessions I attended were well paced, thought-provoking and led by women being authentic to their experience. There was a dynamic synergy between the ordinary and the extra-ordinary! One presenter prepared her planning notes on a t-shirt … and as participants we were given the opportunity to express our ideas and thoughts on a t-shirt too. This was not a #BTDTGTTS moment … it was a creative step to rewrite the t-shirt & dump the baggage!
I had the privilege of leading a session, entitled “If you’re your authentic self, there is no fear or competition.’ The fluorescent post-it notes were out … and some thought “Oh no! …”, but then there was that magic moment of change & the wow factor took over. These women were on fire and they were sharing in a way that was real and genuine. The focus of the session followed a stream of consciousness from identity to authenticity to fullness of life! Technology was used to engage wider personal networks in the dialogue in the moment … we were sucking up the goodness others see in us and defining our identity at the same time.
By the time we got to the plenary, the pervading thought being where had the day gone? … and yet so much had happened on so many levels! It’s all about relationships – with ourselves and with others.
The final session was not cheesy at all … #genderedcheese is an interesting dialogue. Have a look on Twitter. The notion of #genderedcheese boards makes me chuckle and think about how we change the accepted norm. Sometimes, wisdom presents us with the answers and our challenge is to define the question and then act upon it. The adventure has only just begun …

Each one of us left a different person; celebrating our individual uniqueness as a ‘Women of …. (fill in the blank with a word that best fits you). [If you are male reading this then try ‘I am a Man of (personal positive attribute)’].

We are certainly better for the experience of #WomenEd, the friendships & the start of a journey. Heartfelt thanks to the dynamic #WomenEd Co-ordinating Team, ALL the awesome presenters, the courageous attendees, who took a leap of faith in #WomenEd & our amazing hosts – Microsoft.
Till next time …
#3 What’s your 2016 message?
This is a spontaneous blog! I saw an advert with a bracelet stating, “She believed she could for she did 2016”.

This got me thinking: four months into the year, if I was to design a bracelet message to sum up the year I anticipate (i.e now looking forward) or in the future looking back (i.e. Dec 2016) – what would it say?

Do share your thoughts & ideas … it would be good to look back on these in Dec 2016 & celebrate the joy of the moment!

#4 Be the change you want to see!
Over the years I have lead or facilitated numerous events to support the empowerment of women, in education and the community. These have been organised locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally. I have lead regular local professional groups for women, I have taught refugee women basic IT skills on their arrival to the UK and I have supported youth workshops in the villages of Africa. Talking to young women in Africa, our aim was to show them they had a choice before being tied down with early pregnancy at 14. Especially when that early pregnancy came in exchange for a bar of soap!
This year the theme for International Women’s Day is #BeBoldforChange. Boldness is indeed a desirable quality – the application of courage. Boldness, however does not always imply change. Sometimes boldness is about being still and saying no! Change also comes in all shapes and sizes and our response to change or even what needs changing varies. Change is a desire for what could be and sometimes in driving change, we miss out on what is.
The Milton Keynes #WomenEd team decided to BE the change we wanted to see. As a result, our event is a celebration of ‘What’s your joy!’ We believe ‘our playing small does not serve the world’ – quote from Marianne Williamson.

I’m reminded of a fable. The wind and sun decided to play a game: who could remove the man’s coat the fastest. The wind was confident and blew and blew. It just made the man hold on to his coat tighter. Then the sun shone as brightly as she could. The man feeling really warm had no choice but to remove his coat.

Each and every one of us has something special to offer, a unique gift of joy to give and receive. In Milton Keynes, we wanted to celebrate what educators do over and above their professional calling to feed their joy and the joy of others. The contributions reflect a range of generations working in education, cross phase and a variety of subject specialists. We are delighted an MP will be there to support us #HeForShe. In shining brightly, being the best of who we are – we are advancing the NOW generation!
So our #BeBoldforChange – we are living the moment!
We wish you all a joyful International Women’s Day 2017 #WhatsYourJoy
Call for action:
• What is the change you want to see?
• How to make that a reality in the NOW?
• Make a list of all the unique gifts you have to offer education and the NOW generation and then make time to share and celebrate!

#5 Ripples of influence
October 2018
#WomenEd (as a movement) emerged two years ago against the backdrop of accelerated change in educational reform and diminishing local networks.  Ignited through social media, it went on to be far more than just an online dialogue. #WomenEd became a community of diverse individuals (men and women) supporting each other. My initial engagement was through curiosity – what would a gender community in education look like and what difference would it make? My pre-and post-unconference blog 2015 has been shared above.

A year ago, as a Regional Lead, I was privileged to host a 1st anniversary party We played chocolate Jenga and a whole range of other party games! Chris Holmwood (Senior Deputy Head at Shenley Brook End School) kindly ran the creche. Since then we have continued to hold half-termly meetings in Milton Keynes.
So, what does #WomenEd mean to me and what has been the impact?

For me, there is a central theme that runs through the 8 principles of #WomenEd. – ‘People Matter’ #WomenEd provides a space for us to collectively be the unique individuals we were created to be. To live our purposes (our whys) and develop our plans for further growth.
My why is ‘I believe in the JOY of learning’. As such, I love to see people, of all ages, learn and develop into their potential and fulfill their destinies. I do believe, we each have a unique path to follow and these paths cross for a reason – we have something to give and gain. Giving and gaining are interlinked – when you give you gain; when you gain, you have a bigger/wider responsibility to give away … and so the cycle continues.
#IWD2017 in Milton Keynes was a celebration of women under the theme of ’What’s your joy?’ We had woman from different roles in education sharing their passions/ interests … the things they do, outside the day job, that feeds their sense of fulfillment. What a creative and life-affirming 90 minutes!

As giveaways, children with behaviour difficulties made individual coasters for all the speakers and guests! (See photos above)

Feedback …

We have further meetings planned for 2017-18 including participation in ‘Walking in her shoes’ global event (May 2017) and #IWD2018 already has a great speaker line-up. We are also beginning to team up with other #WomenEd networks in different regions / women in other countries.

So, what’s been the impact?

  • Personally, I’ve become more aware of the strengths colleagues have, as well as the challenges they face. I have further clarified my values and boundaries. Boundaries are not the same as barriers or glass ceilings – it is about choice.
  • As a local network, we are seeing women grow in confidence and self-worth. The regular local meetings facilitate follow up and greater support; which is not always possible on social media.
  • Locally, we’ve put #WomenEd on the map. A local MP recently asked a council employee to consult with us on a prospective project proposal they are putting forward nationally.
  • Nationally, local colleagues have attended the national #WomenEd Unconference 2016 and are developing their own networks, based on common interests.
  • Globally, we have linked up with another women’s organisation and our intent is through technology engage in a live chat at one of our future meetings. The ‘Walking in her shoes’ participation will help girls in less developed countries attend school, by providing fresh water. They won’t have to walk 5 miles to fetch it. We need to invest in the next generation now!

So, to conclude #WomenEd is about relational leadership and the ripple effect of influence. It’s about inner and outer connection. At the heart of it is simply: People Matter … that includes you!
Happy 2nd anniversary to the #WomenEd Community!

Potpourri blogs 2015-2017

These blogs were first published on http://www.staffrm.io as separate pieces over a two year period

#1 Microwave promotions are not the answer!

I wouldn’t say I am an avid blogger. I tend to write after I have mulled for a long period of time & I still feel there is something to be said. I envisage this blog stirring different reactions in different people & that’s ok. I always encourage students to read with criticality, and not with criticism. The two are different, but that’s a story for another time. As is the distinction between teacher wellbeing & teacher workload – watch this space!

Over the years, I have trained, mentored & coached trainee teachers, NQTs, aspiring leaders, middle leaders, SENCOs & senior leaders/ head teachers. To all these groups, I have always shared the four-word mantra: be kind to yourself.

There is no doubt, we have a teacher/head teacher recruitment & retention problem.

A 34-year-old deputy shared with me recently that he was coming to the end of his 6th year of being a deputy & wondering what next? Headship may now be possible, but for how long & then what? Career trajectory, I think was the term he used. The other concern was two decades of headship meant X number of Ofsted inspections. What happened to making a difference to children & young people? I also met a mature student SENCO recently, who is NQT +2 (i.e. 3rd year of teaching) … and she was considering leaving as an option. Like the deputy, this SENCO had been promoted early on in her career because she was outstanding in the classroom as an NQT. What she hadn’t shared, was to be outstanding during that 1st year, she was putting in ridiculous hours. So promotion & additional responsibility added to that without her finding her feet & embedding her practice.

As a senior leader, ten years ago, I remember receiving information from Teachers’ Pension informing me of the need/requirement to work till I was 67! After the initial shock, I called in pension experts to speak to the staff & also held discussions with staff about pacing their career. This was accelerated also by me becoming aware that the route into local authority roles was not going to be an option for long. So, pacing is good, but we live in a society where everything is instant & overnight success an expectation – why? No longer career pathways, but microwave promotions!

With this in mind, I would like to propose a seasons of life model:

0-20 years (Winter) – ROOTS These are the foundation years, where not much may be seen on the top, but a lot of sustainable, deep rooted growth is happening underground through a variety of experiences and opportunities.

20-40 years (Spring) – SHOOTS Growth breaks through & there are manifestations of both current growth & potential (buds). Much support & nurturing is still required, but what was latent before, begins to manifest and have impact. This is a time of strengthening through experience & making risk-free mistakes!

40-60 years (Summer) – FRUITS This is peak career season, when the fruits of previous years’ labour and learning are produced & used effectively in leadership. There is strength, vitality & discernment i.e. Leadership with authenticity, authority & value-based influence

60 plus (Autumn) – HARVEST A time for reaping greater rewards & continuing to pass on much (including wisdom) to future generations. There is variety & contentment.

This model is not ageist, but designed to encourage pace, as well as discourage burn-out of those who peak too soon. It is about honouring ourselves and others. I have been a self-employed consultant for 7 years now & I meet new consultants regularly who seek overnight success. I did not seek my current role; it found me, when I was ready. Admittedly there isn’t a job for life now, however it is important to remember in pursuing a career change, the season cycle is often re-started from roots. There are some transferable skills – sure. But equally, much to un-learn and relearn. Either way pace is vital if you want to be a marathon runner. The alternative is sprinting; but how long can that last?

I wish you all hope, purposeful labour & fulfilling fruit now and in the years ahead.

#2 Forty Shades of Purple!

For the last four and a half years the SEND Reforms seems to have taken over my professional life; to the point where I have had to put my doctoral research on hold. It has been worth it … and yes and I am hopeful of a better future. A new dawn, so to speak.

Learning and enabling others to learn motivates and inspires me. Unpacking what inhibits others to learn and finding solutions fascinates me. However, I also love strategy and change management. Learning is a transformational process. So, it is natural to see how learning and change can co-exist and complement each other. It has been fascinating to watch, listen and interact with different stakeholders with different perceptions during this change process. Whilst each of us approaches change differently we come together around a common goal i.e. improving outcomes for children and young people with SEND and their families.

The SEND Green Paper ‘Support and Aspiration’ was launched in March 2011. The need for an overhaul of the system was well overdue. The first three years of this seven-year change cycle was focused on piloting and consultation at all levels. Three years on from the original Green Paper, the Queen signed off the bill and the SEND Reforms became part of the Children & Families Act for implementation to begin from September 2014. Prior to that systemic preparation was beginning to be put in place across education and health. The foundations, are by no means complete. This is an on-going process of development and refinement; whilst keeping the engine going!

The first year of implementation (2014-15) I have named in my professional diary as the year of compliance. School and settings re-aligning their policies and practices according to the SEND Regs and the 0-25 years SEND Code of Practice. Compliance is a binary change process. You have either done it or not. So, accountability and monitoring is determined by clear parameters. Moving into year 2 of implementation, the focus changes from compliance to cultural shift; from binary to 40 shades of purple! This is where each setting and stakeholder (within the defined legal framework) embed a new way of working and deepening the principles around the changes. Some would argue, that binary compliance has not been fully achieved. I would agree, but I believe that is because implementation involves the process of knowing the law/legal structure, understanding it (including implications), communicating it and delivering it to and by a variety of stakeholders at different points in the process. Change is complex.

I do not think it is going to be an easy year because within a setting it is possible to have 40 shades of purple. Across a local authority it is possible to have another of 40 shades of purple. Throughout the country there are 152 local authorities; no doubt many more shades of purple will exist! However, the legal framework remains statute and at the core of it all.

If the law triumphs, why so many shades of purple? The answer is simple. SEND provision (at the point of delivery) needs to be personalised to the individual, their context & locality and where they are going (i.e. aspirations). If, hypothetically, we were to state; all children with autism must receive xyz provision; it would be going against the very principles that lie at the heart of the change: involving children, young people and their families in decisions, listening, informing and preparing young people for adulthood.

I reiterate once again – it is not going to be easy, but our collective resolve to improve outcomes for children, young people and their families remains at the forefront of the process. Together we will rise to the challenge, of that I am hopeful.

I would be interested to hear from classroom or subject teachers how the SEND Reforms has changed their practice and what more needs to be done at delivery level.

Part 2 #SEND https://butterflycolour.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/send-reforms-setting-based-sen-reviews-are-not-the-solution/

#3 Hit by a parent (almost)!

Many years ago, when I was an SEN Advisory Teacher, I was invited to a school to meet parents of a child that needed further SEN assessment to see whether he had special educational needs. I was left on my own in the room with the parents. So, seeing me arrive with my local authority badge was more than uncomfortable for the family. The school had also failed to have any preparatory discussions with the family about the possibility that their child may have additional needs. They were angry and understandably. However, the father approx. 6ft got up to hit me! Why? I was the one in the room!

SEN Magazine recently published a piece on ‘Difficult parents’. The article makes some valid points. Although I would have preferred the word ‘tenacious’. Personally, I welcome parents who actively pursue the needs of their child/young person & are open to a dialogue. However, there is a caveat: difficult does not mean being rude, ranting, being aggressive or disrespecting other people’s opinions (especially if they differ to your own). Parents may have just cause to be angry, but these behaviours distract from the main focus of the child & their needs.

Social media has seen the voice of the parent grow in volume, impact & influence. Again, I welcome this. However, throughout the SEND reforms, I have also seen rude and aggressive behaviour on social media from parents. There is a tendency to join in everyone else’s conversation & ‘gang up’; especially when they feel the recipient does not align with their level of anger or frustration. Comments parents clearly disagree with are resent out escalating the problem/context out of control, prompting fear & creating more harm. More time & energy is spent on that than finding solutions. As a professional I listen, empathise & take appropriate action. There are many testimonies from parents on my website to edify this. However, in having empathy, I do not have to demonstrate the same level of anger or sceptical cynicism as the people I am listening too.

The SEND reforms are changing practices & behaviours, I am seeing this more & more. However, it is a complex & a slow process. If it was a quick fix it – it would have been done years ago. We recognise there are problems and we are doing our best to address these. But when you have a stream of constant negativity being thrown at you – it doesn’t help. In recent years, I have seen some (not all) parents direct their anger towards ‘organisations’ – the DfE, the Pathfinders, the local authority, the school etc. Any organisation that is genuinely trying to improve things from a specific remit & legal structure. What has been forgotten perhaps or overlooked is the people behind the organisation. They are human, trying to do a good job. They have lives, families & challenges like anyone else. I do believe, through the SEND reforms the professions are genuinely trying to extend a hand of cooperation/collaboration to improve ways of working. It is far from perfect, but the parents also need to value us as professionals. We too have a right to be safe in the workplace!

Returning to my story of the angry father. If it hadn’t been for a classroom table between us, he would have hit me. I choose to conduct my meetings in an environment that is conducive & welcoming to the child/young person and their family (i.e. room arrangements that are safe, inviting, demonstrate equality & where everyone is respected/valued/honoured). That doesn’t mean parents can direct their anger at me & make feel intimidated in my workplace. I am in my professional role because of who I am, not just because of what I do.

#4 Rethinking Maslow’s hierarchy of need

Over the last month, I have had the opportunity to facilitate two local dialogues about how best can we support the refugees. Both discussions started with an open remit to consider all aspects of support: short-term, long-term and capacity building.

Politics aside, I do believe everyone recognises the refugee situation as an unprecedented global problem and that we all have a responsibility to extend a hand of support and a heart of understanding.

Discussion 1:

This focused primarily on immediate needs and effective solutions. For example, should refugees be housed together or integrated into local populations?

Together: the refugees in their plight to safety have formed strong bonds with others from their homeland. Placing them together gives them a sense of security and togetherness; especially when they do not speak the language of their destination country. This could create a concentrated burden on some localities and also create isolated communities. Growing up in London, I was exposed to the ethnic geographical boundaries that often created more tension and misunderstandings.

Integrated: the best way to learn a language is to be immersed in it. Mixing refugees with local residents could support the development of relationships and ease the settling in process. However, equally it is possible to feel isolated amongst people and suffer from increased yearnings for original homelands and lives left behind.  We cannot even begin to comprehend the emotional trauma individuals and families have experienced during their journeys, but we can, through openness encourage refugees to talk and share.

The discussion then flowed into long-term implications: schooling, healthcare, ageing population, cultural tensions, prioritising resources and employment. When resources are fixed and there is deprivation within the country, how do leaders or those in office decide on the allocation of resources?

Our discussions were not conclusive, but they provided us with plenty of food of thought and a desire to undertake further research.

Discussion 2:

This focused on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  The first four layers relating to deficiency of needs. The fourth layer and beyond supporting meta-motivation and self-sufficiency through inter-related communities and networks. Traditionally the model has always been seen as hierarchical. However, with the current refugee situation, is there a need to consider each layer con-currently in vertical strips gathering together at the top vertex? More than a decade ago, I flew out to Sri Lanka to support the post tsunami relief aid work. I worked with teachers and children focusing on post-traumatic stress disorder and emotional resilience. It was a challenging trip on so many fronts and as team leader in my area, I learnt SO much about myself and others in the wake of a crisis with such high levels of loss.

We do not have all the answers and yes, our emotional response is (and should be) to be welcoming, but my question is how? I believe strongly in the value of dignity when serving others. Honouring them not to feel beholden, but valued.  I’m not sure we always make the time to think about dignity, when helping others.

We need to keep debating the issues each day and every day until we find the solutions (plural) and that can only come from a collective and co-ordinated effort. In our schools, we also maybe need to re-think our perception of care in promoting not only self-esteem, but also self-efficacy. So, here’s my big picture question, is it time to re-think Maslow’s hierarchy into vertical stripes offering refugees and children in school con-current aspects of support and development?

#5 Free Hugs

Yesterday a few of us went to a local shopping area and gave away FREE hugs. Why? You might well ask. Quite simply we just wanted to bless people.

January can be dull month after the hustle, bustle and colourfulness of Christmas. So, in a team of five, we chose a spot and stood there for more than an hour just giving away free hugs.

What happened?

Well, as you might expect a few people walked past with the quick reply “No thank you”. As they did, some smiled and others giggled. It changed their shopping experience from some pretty tense expressions to – wow that’s fun and/or different!

Another group of people walked past sharing that they have their partner or little one for hugs. This was such a positive affirmation of family and valuing the people in our lives.

The majority stopped and took up the offer! It was heartening to hear how some hadn’t been hugged in years. I remember one person shared they hadn’t been hugged in more than 10 years! Another said, it was almost a year since her husband had died and she needed a hug. The stories were endless, and people came back for more. With their parents’/carers’ permission a few children came for a hug too. We also had quite a few single parents; who just needed a bit of positive adult connection. One chap even took a selfie with a team member to remember his gift of a free hug.

And yes, I did meet people I know from another context/work … and they were more than happy to join in. Probably took our relationship to a new level of connection.  Something to chat about over staff room coffee.

As we gave away free hugs, we were blessed in return with a hug too.

I am a tactile introvert; which sounds a contradiction. But it’s not. I like hugs and touch is one of my Love Languages Not so keen on talking to lots of people though This was a tad out of my comfort zone. But it was fun and changed lives through a moment of joy! It affirmed how important human connection and community is.

Imagine receiving a shopping free hug – something you would probably go and talk about or remember. I can see you smile as you read this.

We didn’t go in Star Wars outfits … maybe next time!

Till then – May the hug force be with you!

((( virtual hug )))

PS. If you think this is weird – just Google Free Hugs images!

#6 What’s the point?

We’ve all been there – new job, course enrolment, club membership, new account etc and in addition to our personal information we are asked to fill in an Equal Opportunities Monitoring Form.

What’s the point? I ask. I’m not referring to the rights agenda behind this, but more to the point HOW is this information used to promote change or ensure equality of opportunity? For example, imagine a headship recruitment drive. After all the applications have been received – does anyone, regardless of shortlisting or appointment, sit down and analyse how many different ethnic, gender, faith, disability & age groups applied? Does it change how & where jobs are advertised in future?

I worked (mostly in a voluntary capacity) with a national educational charity for over a decade. I was, in many a meeting the only ethnic face in the room. I spoke to the CEO about this on numerous occasions – no response; just a smile! To this day, this charity that has existed for over two decades has always appointed a white British person to senior posts. Gender balance mixed, but not much ethnic diversity for an organisation that claims promote inclusive education.

Years ago, I went to rural school to look around with the prospect of applying for headship. The staff member taking me round made it clear my face wouldn’t fit in and families would be reluctant to accept my leadership. Naturally, I did not waste my time applying. Interestingly, the school in question has recently advertised for a head and assistant head. Over the years, I’ve seen a number of these scenarios in schools & local authorities.

So again, I ask what’s the point? In #highered, I do think the information is more actively used in student recruitment, as part of the widening participation agenda. More institutions are now beginning to explore the data in terms of gender & leadership. But has it resulted in any REAL change or it just an academic discussion?

I would love to hear from organisations & individuals who have used this data (post application process) to change things (especially when a successful candidate has been appointed or the job is re-advertised) – maybe these examples and case studies will help us appreciate their value. If not, we remain asking – what’s the point?

Or maybe we need to re-think and shift our approach from form filling tick lists (for compliance) to something that is tangible and has real value in changing how we provide equal opportunities?


SEND: It’s not about proof, but dialogue!

I’m not a reactive person, by nature.  I tend to ponder over what I hear/read and weigh it up before responding.  Over the years, I have (more times than I care to remember) been openly criticised for not joining in an emotional reaction to something that has happened in the world of SEND.

Our experience defines us!

So before proceeding with this blog, I felt it would be useful to highlight my background; which in turn reflects my perspective.  I do this not to boast, but in humility. I consider it a great privilege to work in education – it has been my dream since I was 14 years old.  At 16, I undertook my work experience placement in a special school.  Education & learning is in my DNA.  So for me, every opportunity is a gift, I value.

My professional & personal history will show that:

  • I have taught early years to postgrad in England and overseas; supporting a wide range of needs of children and making full use of my first degree in psychology
  • I have been a SENCO and senior leader in school with aspirations and qualification pathways to be a head
  • I have led support staff, trained them & trained others in maximizing the impact of teaching assistants
  • I have been an SEN Advisory Teacher; working with schools and individual children/families through the assessment process and annual reviews
  • I have sat on multi-disciplinary/multi-agency panels reviewing SEND assessments
  • For 10 years, I was an active member of nasen, supporting both local and national initiatives
  • In 2007, I was part of the advisory panel, assisting the The Audit Commission develop the AEN/SEN VfM Toolkit
  • As a member of a local authority school improvement teams, I have supported settings (mainstream including academies/federations, special schools and alternative provision), as well as been part of local authority inspection teams for settings in difficult circumstances
  • In a consultative role, I have worked with numerous local authorities (Pathfinder and non-Pathfinder) undertaking provision and finance audits and driving strategic change processes for greater efficiency
  • I have been external examiner, a lecturer and assessor on the National SENCo Award with a number of providers
  • I have led & delivered the MA in Inclusion for three years, taught trainee teachers about SEND and contributed to the development of an undergraduate degree in SEND (covering education, health and social care)
  • I have co-led with a head teacher national briefings on SEN finance and funding
  • For two years, I have been an Achievement for All Coach and Pupil Premium Reviewer focussing on 20% of our most vulnerable pupils
  • I have delivered parenting workshops and governor training on SEND
  • For nearly 10 years, I have been a SEND Online Facilitator/Tutor
  • I have completed my SEN Foundation Legal Training with IPSEA scoring an overall 85% and over 85% for the modules on Duties on LAs, schools & FE as well as Mediation and SEND. 100% on EHC Plans.
  • I have created and published several tools to support stakeholders embrace and implement the SEND Reforms
  • I have also co-written and independently written numerous articles, publications on SEND; some of which have been translated into 5 languages
  • I have led and sustained SENCo Networks in three local authorities and developed the first SENCo Masterclass
  • In the last 10 years, I have probably worked directly with over 350 schools/school leaders across the nation
  • I come from a family, where we have experienced fatality and developmental disability

My point is:  I approach SEND and the main issues that arise during a period of change from a well-rounded perspective.

To the matter at hand.

Recently there has been an unfortunate spate of inappropriate social media messages by a solicitor’s firm, that rightly so, has led to many parents questioning the intentionally of solicitors in the SEND system.  This is not the first time, a solicitor’s firm has posted inappropriate tweets and I have been arguing for a while now for greater regulation over the professional conduct of solicitors.  What makes this recent round of tweets intolerable is they appear to have been explicitly directed in a negative way to parents and families.  On previous occasions, solicitors have taken out-dated and inaccurate information and used it to incite parents against the system and local authorities.  Whether the negativity is directed towards local authorities or parents, I consider it unprofessional, lacking in sensitivity and integrity.

Special Needs Jungle (SNJ) has put forward a ‘Call to Action’ following the recent incident.   The spirit of the call is valid; however, I do wish to raise a number of points in response:

  1. Solicitors already have a Code of Conduct; which has clearly defined principles and outcomes. More information can be found about this at http://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/handbook/welcome.page Therefore we need greater clarity on how this new proposed voluntary code will work in tandem with the SRA.
  2. The main thrust of SNJ’s motion is to:
  • Stop local authorities using tax payers’ money to buy in law firms to represent them against parents at the SEND Tribunal and;
  • To also ask why so many cases are ending up at Tribunal in the first place.

I agree, I have always advocated more efficient use of public funds ensuing provision is put in place for children, young people and those who need it.  I also appreciate most parents do not want to go to Tribunal and therefore the point 7 put forward by SNJ (What’s the thinking behind this?) is something I wholeheartedly support.  In areas, where active participation in mediation is undertaken by both parties with a view to finding a comprise, the outcomes have been amazing and the number of cases going to Tribunal has reduced.  In some areas, however, there is a tendency to opt for the tokenism certificate of mediation, without engaging in the process.  We will need to continue to watch the statistics on this; especially families who initially opt for a certificate, but then engage in mediation at a later date.

If Tribunal is sought, then local authorities have a responsibility to represent themselves in court and this costs money. So my question would be: if SNJ is advocating they do not use public funds for this – where would the funding for legal representation come from?  In Point 11, SNJ advocates paying fines and parental costs; again the question I pose – how would this be funded?  My understanding is that, parents and local authorities are able already to make application costs against either party, though the process could be made simpler/easier.

What is needed?

I have already stipulated my support for a greater emphasis on Dispute Resolution and Mediation.  Many of us nationally are already working on these discussions.

I think, though the biggest shift from an adversarial system is going to come through a change in culture. The Lamb Inquiry (2009) did highlight the lack of parental confidence in the system.  However, when parents received the provision they required, there was high parental satisfaction.  We need to distinguish parent confidence and parental satisfaction to measure true impact.  Similar comments of high parental satisfaction came through many of the Pathfinder Trials, when children, young people and their families were listened to.  The principles of the 0-25 SEND Code of Practice 2015 (p19) are pivotal and we do need to raise their profile more.

As an SEND Advisory Teacher, each case I was involved started with me accepting what was presented before me and adopting an investigative approach.  I never expected parents ‘to prove’ their child had SEND, but to share with me their reasoning and experience.  This for me, is the true spirit of implementing the SEND Reforms.  Assessment applications should not be about proving a need, but sharing and explaining a rationale.  Proof implies judgement and inevitably leads to a legalistic approach.  Investigation implies “We’re listening”.  In all my years of being involved in SEND, I have only come across one case of Munchausen by proxy; which did go to Tribunal.  So my underlying belief is if an assessment application is made; we need to investigate – not expect individuals to prove.  No one submits an application on a whim.  This shift in mind-set and approach opens up relational dialogue.  I have met many parents, who have come into the room (having surfed the web) and told me ‘My child has X’ (self-diagnosis). I have always made it a point to listen and understand why they thought that.  Further investigation follows, and in some cases their perspective has been accurate and in others my investigations has helped them to see it is not what they perceive, but something else.  SEND is complex. Either way, there has always been a sense of mutual respect and open listening.

I am aware, that whilst we are in process of change, an investigative approach that characterises the spirit of the SEND Reforms isn’t fully in place across the nation.  This is a work in progress and I genuinely understand the frustration parents have experienced/are experiencing. Change is complex.

So what I would like to advocate is:

  • A more investigative approach by all involved. Valuing and respecting children, young people and their families as stipulated by the principles in the SEND Code of Practice (p19).
  • A more authentic engagement in dispute resolution and mediation.
  • Greater use of the Local Offer/SENDirect to consider choice during the process – possibly through a split meeting model and time to reflect. Already in discussion with SENDirect & the NHS about this.

I would like to end with a phone message, a parent left for my line manager; when I was an SEND Advisory Teacher. This was in the era of SA, SA+ and Statements:

“I just wanted to say how much I appreciated Anita listening to my concerns and discussing a way forward in a positive, realistic and constructive way.  Anita observed and evaluated my son in a manner that my husband and I agreed with and felt was beneficial to him.  Prior to Anita’s involvement, most people had brushed my son’s problems under a carpet.

 The investigative approach works every time.  Let’s embrace it!

SEND Reforms: Setting-based SEN Reviews are not the solution!

In September 2015, I published 40 Shades of Purple. This blog is a part 2 follow-up, with part 3 (for teachers & TAs) to follow shortly.
The SEND Reforms have been a major focus since 2011. SEND is only one part of The Children & Families Act 2014; which came into effect in September 2014. Page 13 of the 0-25 year SEND Code of Practice (2014) clearly lists the various organisations and individuals that need to have regard to the statutory guidance. Elsewhere, I have written and spoken extensively on implementation of the SEND Reforms; which continues until 2018 in terms of the full cycle of implementation.  The cycle of SEND capacity building and improvement remains on-going beyond this date.
In this blog, my focus is on early years, schools (mainstream, special and alternative) and FE. Chapter 1 (page 25), states (bold formatting added):

1.24 High quality teaching that is differentiated and personalised will meet the individual needs of the majority of children and young people. Some children and young people need educational provision that is additional to or different from this. This is special educational provision under Section 21 of the Children and Families Act 2014. Schools and colleges must use their best endeavours to ensure that such provision is made for those who need it. Special educational provision is underpinned by high quality teaching and is compromised by anything less.

1.25 Early years providers, schools and colleges should know precisely where children and young people with SEN are in their learning and development. They should:
• ensure decisions are informed by the insights of parents and those of children and young people themselves
• have high ambitions and set stretching targets for them
• track their progress towards these goals
keep under review the additional or different provision that is made for them
• promote positive outcomes in the wider areas of personal and social development, and
• ensure that the approaches used are based on the best possible evidence and are having the required impact on progress

For those of us who have been involved in special educational needs for some time recognise and appreciate the challenges and changes that have evolved since the Education Act of 1981.  SEND is no longer a ‘bolt on’. In effect, the delivery of any provision should be integral and embedded within the wider organisation.  Every process of policy change involves the manifestation of different ideas on HOW to implement change. Organisations and individuals with good intentions put forward ideas from their perspective in order to support or act as a catalyst for the changes. This is to be encouraged.
One such proposal that has grown momentum over the last year is the idea of setting-based SEN Reviews (in a variety of shapes and sizes). Having undertaken many in the past (i.e. prior to 2014), I can appreciate the logic behind this line of thinking. I do disagree fundamentally though on the current comparative approach they are being given to Pupil Premium Reviews and in the dawn of a new era SEN Reviews serve only to keep the old in the mask of the new. We need to think and do differently.
The quote from the SEND Code of Practice 2014 cited in this blog holds the key. In order to be clear on what provision is ‘additional to and different from’; we first need to determine what baseline provision is available to all pupils/learners (including any reasonable adjustments that have been made). This applies to all types of learning environments – there is a core personalized baseline plus additionality (which is individualised). It is important for professionals to clearly understand the difference between differentiation, personalisation and individualisation.

In effect, the term ‘SEN Review’ is redundant – it implies a ‘bolt on’. What we need are ‘Provision Reviews’ as part of a wider Provision Management System. During the consultation and preparation period of the SEND Reforms, I had the privilege of working with Pathfinder partners as well as non-pathfinder local authorities. The Local Offer and an outcomes-based accountability system is pivotal to the SEN Reforms being a sustainable success beyond compliance into cultural change. For schools, the strategic key rests in the SEN Information Report; which needs to be updated annually based on a ‘Provision Review’ – that links to the wider school improvement cycle. The methodology for ‘Provision Reviews’ in turn requires a defined theory of change underpinning its implementation. Please note: Provision Management is not the same as provision mapping nor is it a commercial software.
By contrast, SEN Reviews are a summative audit undertaken at a point in time. In order for these reviews to morph into a formative tool for on-going provision delivery, it would require additional admin time and result in more paperwork or the purchase of additional software; which many settings cannot afford, given budget constraints. This is time and funding that could be better spent with the children in the classroom and/or on CPD!  Provision Reviews rely on joined-up teams; they are focused on improving the learner experience and are both time and cost effective.  High long-term sustainability factor.
As a previous SENCo and as someone who trained hundreds of SENCos over the years; I have seen how the old system assumed responsibility for SEN/D rested (in the main) with one individual. The new world places an expectation of every teacher to assume responsibility and for the school to deliver provision (high quality core plus additionality). So again, the new culture is not about SEN leaders (i.e. individuals), but a collective and co-productive dialogue in the community. It is about collaborative SEND leadership and teams. For me, the key is teams – this is only way to truly fulfill the principles underpinning the 0-25 SEND Code of Practice 2014, as stated in chapter 1.
This is not a question of semantics or word play, but clarity on how to embed change so it is sustainable, empowering and capacity building. SEN Reviews, templates and tick lists serve only to provide shortcuts and the illusion that a desirable state of change has been met. When clearly it has not. In March 2015, the DfE published a SEND Reforms accountability document. Table 1 (page 6) states one of the measures of success is a joined up/transparent approach (i.e. teams). SEN Reviews (by their nature) are neither joined up nor do they make clear what the core offer is. Page 9 states

“The governing body and school leaders are responsible in mainstream schools and have duties to use best endeavours to make the provision required to meet the SEN of children and young people.”

How can we articulate ‘best endeavours’ without looking at the whole picture i.e. a provision review? Schedule 2 of the SEND Regulations 2014 (points 1 and 2) states that information published in the local offer needs to include “The special educational provision and training provision which the local authority expects to be available in its area” – once again the emphasis is on ‘provision’ and stipulating an expectation. In order to fulfill this, providers need a mechanism to look regularly at their provision and capacity building opportunities. The mechanism needs to be consistently structured to ensure comparative decision making for parents, but also flexible and pragmatic to be used by a wide range of settings as well as a simple on-going tool to affect day-to-day classroom practice. One day SEN Reviews do not achieve this.  Page 68 in the 0-25 SEND Code of Practice 2014 states that Local Offer needs to include information about:

“approaches to teaching, adaptations to the curriculum and the learning environment for children and young people with SEN or disabilities and additional learning support for those with SEN”.

Page 27 also highlights that

“in practical situations in everyday settings, the best early years settings, schools and colleges do what is necessary to enable children and young people to develop, learn, participate and achieve the best possible outcomes irrespective of whether that is through reasonable adjustments for a disabled child or young person or special educational provision for a child or young person with SEN.”

In effect, neither of these can be achieved simply by a SEN Review that just looks at additional provision at a particular moment in time instead of the on-going whole picture. Recently I read a nationally published article by a local authority Trust implying SEN Reviews/Audits (commercial and recently published government funded templates) could be viewed as a strategic response to coasting schools – really !?! Undertaking a SEN Review as a response/reaction is not the solution. As I have already said, it has to be embedded strategically in the annual leadership cycle of any setting in order to strengthen a team approach. Not just a one-off.

I recognise, my views possibly go against the tide of many (at the moment) – but that is what change (of this nature) is about. Where we have worked with teams to deliver and develop Provision Reviews, the impact on the quality of teaching by all teachers has improved significantly and leaders have found it simple to embrace as an annual process. It’s about doing things differently not doing what we’ve always done in a new way!

If you do what you’ve always done,
you’ll get what you always got.
– Mark Twain

An open letter to those in education

Dear colleagues,

A new year and time to reflect on not just where we are headed, but also how. Towards the end of 2015, there were a number of public blogs and articles that served to highlight how many teachers and schools leaders were now leaving the profession due to increased admin, workload, stress pace of change etc. I emphasize with these challenges and wish each of them every success in the future.
However, in 2015 we also had quite lot of public chatter about the recruitment and retention problem we face and will increasingly face in education. Therein lies the first problem – mixed public messages from credible and esteemed individuals.
In my work, I travel a lot and last year I met on the train a woman (mid to late 30s). We started talking. From my reading material, she guessed I was a teacher and then began to tell me about her dream of training to be a teacher. I was so excited for her and encouraged her to explore different options as well as gave her a few tips, based on the what she shared with me. She said she would look into it. Her parting remark to me, “You are the first person to encourage me to be a teacher; everyone else just keeps telling not to bother – it’s too hard!” Of course it’s hard – we are tasked with learning from the past, to teach in the present in order to build a better future. Teaching is a privilege and every profession has its challenges!
There isn’t a day on Twitter, when there isn’t some sort of scheduled #chat around education or educational issues. Those involved in these dialogues (and I’ve been guilty of this too) believe that in the main they are talking to like-minded colleagues. They are, but in a public forum; where comments/opinions are open to all and recorded! In schools, teachers have professional dialogues within the confines of the staffroom or on a CPD session. They discuss, debate and openly challenge in order to ensure the best outcomes for children and young people. How many head teachers would issue an open invite to any parent or colleague from another school to join in a professional staff meeting discussion? I’m guessing, not many. So we need to re-think; what messages we are putting out there. I would say the same to colleagues at the DfE. The #AskNicky sessions do little to engender parental/community confidence and the reality is the dialogue is open to everyone, not just teachers and leaders. Those of us who enjoy interacting on social media need to be real; but transparency and being completely open are not the same thing.
NQTs use Twitter quite extensively to connect to more experienced teachers and leaders in order to learn as much as they can. Again, not a new concept – learning from those who have gone before. However, they also then get sucked in to other debates about change. Therein lies the second problem – implementing change. There is no doubt the pace of change in education since 2010 has been phenomenal. However, where I think our memories have lapsed is the thirteen years prior. When the Literacy Hour was introduced, I was teaching primary children at the time … those were the dark days! Observed in class on a nationally defined hourly clock! Ten minutes for spelling … move on ten minutes guided reading … move on. There wasn’t time or space for thinking conversations with the children, for pursuing different lines of inquiry, creativity etc. And we were ‘graded’ as ineffective professionals, if we didn’t keep to those nationally set times! It was during this period, that Ofsted changed radically to grading our lessons!
We now have greater autonomy in schools over curriculum, assessment, finance and strategy. Leaders, who separate the operational from the strategic are able to manage and direct change at a pace that is suitable to the local community. They use a robust theory of change to ground their vision and values; not just create ‘to-do’ priority lists that claim to be a school improvement plan. It is too easy to blame the government. The reality is the government simply creates generic frameworks (statutory and non-statutory) for us to professionally and pragmatically work within. They do not and cannot tell schools or school leaders what to do. Admittedly, the removal of the local authority personnel has resulted in local areas not guiding schools on what and how to implement change. Change, in itself is not the problem. As educators, we are in the business of life-long learning; which fundamentally is all about change and continual improvement. Before anyone jumps on the bandwagon of ‘education is not a business’, I would recommend you look up the definition of business.
One of the reasons, I think we in the profession struggle with change is because we assume it means ‘more of’. We are hoarders by nature and so when something new is introduced, we sometimes tend not to let go of the past – holding onto the past and the new simultaneously – added burden. Other times, we do not take time to reflect on what we are doing and how it can be ‘adapted’ (not necessarily changed) to meet the new. During the constraining era of The National Strategies, with my SLT, I developed a strategic management system; so every time a ‘new initiative’ was put on the table, we would evaluate it in terms of the vision, values and current provision. On numerous occasions, we were able to go back and say (with confidence and authority), we don’t need to do XYZ new initiative because this is what we are already doing, this is how and this is the impact it has had. Strategic management gave us the confidence as a team to say “thank you, but no thanks” as well as sometimes shape the policy delivery for others.
Before I end, I feel it necessary to explain why I am no longer in the classroom. I have a sense no doubt someone will come back and say “easy for you to say – you no longer teach!” The classroom has and will always be where my heart is. The truth is simple, as a Senior Leader I facilitated a TA redundancy situation in a community, where there were falling numbers on roll. It wasn’t easy. The year after we had to make a teacher redundant. I did the maths and in order to protect final salaries of my longer serving colleagues, I took voluntary redundancy with the expectation I would be deployed to another school in the area. The school was scheduled to close the following year. My background in special educational needs led to my deployment to a local authority post as a SEND specialist teacher (strategic and statutory casework); which in turn led to my current work. So yes, I may not be currently in a classroom; but across the country, I enable many (who are in the classroom in diverse settings) to fulfill their role effectively. This is supported by my background in finance and Prince2.
I do believe this is a great time to be in education and we have great opportunities ahead of us to improve the system. However, I would also share four reflective thoughts; especially for those in leadership:
1. If you are serious about addressing the problem of recruitment and retention, stop airing negative comments and moaning in the public. Let’s celebrate the positive aspects of the profession and encourage/support each other. Find a confidant to share your worries, issues etc. These need to be expressed, but we need to think about to who, when and how.
2. If you want to positively influence the next generation of teachers, think about open chats in social media – do they help or hinder? Do they foster deeper relationships of trust?
3. Discern the operational from the strategic and use your community’s mission to choose what/when/how to implement new/different ways of doing things. You know your community!
4. Finally, embrace change! Sure, there are always going to be challenges, but I would rather be a part of the solution, than the problem – how about you?

Be the change you want to see!

With every good wish,